Thursday, 25 May 2017

Over-worked Teachers

A few weeks ago the Asahi Shimbun published an article reporting that public school teachers are now considered at risk of death from over work (karoshi). The article opens with
The minister of education, Hirokazu Matsuno, expressed shock at a survey that shows teachers at public elementary and junior high schools are regularly putting in 11-hour days, placing some at risk of dying from overwork.
The General Union also wrote on the topic recently, pointing out that teachers are not given over-time pay for these hours:
33.5% of teachers in elementary schools and 57.6% in junior high schools perform overtime work for more than 80 hours a month - far beyond the level of recognition of workers' accident.

"Club Activities On Weekends" take an average of 2 hours and 10 minute - almost double that of the 1 hour and 6 minutes from 10 years ago.

The entire document (and its results) can be found (in Japanese) here:

It's also important to remember that there is no overtime pay for teachers working at public schools.
I don't want to minimise the really awful reality these statistics are revealing. Public school teachers in Japan do work ridiculous hours. However, because I always like to take a slightly different view here (otherwise, why would you bother reading my blog?!), I'm going to point out that in my experience teachers work in ways that are very unproductive and time wasting. This may sound like victim blaming and I hope it will be clear by the end that I am talking about the work systems, not individual practices, so stick with me. Long time readers may remember this post I wrote back in 2012, Teachers Don't Spend a lot of Time Teaching. In it I wrote:
If a teacher wants to make an original worksheet rather than copying one from a resource book, nine times out of ten they will painstakingly draw it up by hand with a pen and a ruler, then photocopy clip art from a book, trim it to the right size and glue it to the worksheet. I had always assumed that this was a result of the pervasive inability to use computers (until two years ago teachers in public JHSs in my city shared one PC per school, and that PC ran Windows ‘95). A fellow ALT one day made a worksheet on his laptop, though, and the teacher asked him to remake it by hand because the computer version was “cold” (impersonal or unfriendly). So it may be that it is a preference and not just technological incompetence. This preference extends beyond schools. I once spent three hours working at the board of education making an index for a big folder of documents. I was given stickers, stamps and ink pad, a cutting board and a box cutter. I had to stamp numbers on either side of the sticker, cut it in half and then match the outer edges neatly while sandwiching the page margin between the inside edges to make an index tag. The kind you can buy in packs of fifty for a dollar that would also look much neater than my ink smudged, crookedly cut ones (but lacking the heartfelt warmth of all the swearing I did while making them). 
 Doing everything in the complicated, inefficient way possible seems to be considered a virtue in the school system, and I think part of the reason is the glorification of overtime hours that extends into Japanese working culture more generally. I'd like to illustrate what I mean with a personal example.
One Wednesday at my then JHS I had an insanely packed schedule. I was at school from 8 for a staff meeting, taught all six periods and marked literally hundreds of test papers in my lunch "break". I was running the whole day, and because my desk was directly in front of the VP's desk I know he saw how hard I was working and how huge the stack of papers I was marking was. I left for the day about fifteen minutes after the end of my official working hours, having been in half an hour early and not had a lunch break. "Must be nice to leave so early" he said.

The next day my naginata club happened to be using the gym at that same JHS for training (we usually used the police dojo but it was temporarily out of action while they tried to recreate the crime scene from an incident with a car driving off the roof of a shopping centre, using tape and cardboard boxes up, true story). Naginata was at 6 but there wasn't any point is going home so once my much less busy day was finished I pulled out my laptop, did some blogging, made a round of coffees for everyone in the staff room, fed the school turtles, and generally bummed around doing nothing in particular. Come 6 I fare-welled the VP as I headed off to the gym and HE said... "Thank you for your hard work today. I'm so impressed." I'd been doing nothing related to my job at all, quite openly too since I was off the clock, and he praised me. The day before I had completed a monumental workload and half killed myself in the process, and he'd had a jab at me. That's what the work culture is like. It doesn't matter if you sleep at your desk half the day, spend another quarter slowly making drip coffee (a favourite past time of many of my JHS colleagues), and do your work halfheartedly for just the remaining quarter. It's the hours you are physically present that count, not what you achieve.
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  2. Holy cow, there are teachers being students and they're still being over worked... feel bad for em.


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