Sunday, March 18, 2007
End of the school year / the Japanese education system
In Japan, the school season starts in the springtime, not the fall, like it is in the US. So, the end of the school year is upon us- or in this weird limbo stage of March- already past. I taught my last classes in the last week of February and basically have nothing to do during the entire month of March except for preparing for this English Festival at the end of the month.
I am a bit sad that I won't be able to see some of my students anymore, especially my 2nd year English class that I spent a ton of time with. All but one of the boys in the 1st picture are in that class- they are strange kids, but have the sweetest hearts (and some spend more time doing their hair than I do!)
The 3rd year students put together a bound booklet with student and teacher comments/letters and stuff, and I got to write a few congratulatory letters to students (nice caricature of me by one of the students!). Otherwise, I wasn't really involved with any of the end of the year festivities.
Since this is kind of boring technical stuff, I'm just going to go down in list form and you can read it if you're really interested.
# OF YEARS: There are only 3 years of high school in Japan
TEACHERS: Teachers don't get tenure in Japanese schools. Every 6-10 years, they get transferred to other schools (with the maximum limit of a 1 1/2 hour commute). This week, all the teachers have been walking around on pins and needles, awaiting their conference in the principal's office to hear their verdict.
3RD YEAR STUDENTS: They finish classes by early February and spend the whole month preparing for the entrance exams for universities. They come to school about once a week until graduation.
GRADUATION: The graduation ceremony was on March 2nd. The overall sense was that of a funeral... All the students wore their somber black uniforms, all the teachers wore black suits with white ties (black ties for funerals), and both teachers and students were sobbing throughout the ceremony. This was particularly upsetting for me because I was going home in a few days for my grandmother's funeral and I felt like I was already at one. I guess in the US, graduation is a really happy ceremony, all smiles and colorful dresses under the colorful caps and gowns and tassels, bouquets of flowers and uplifting music. With such a small school, the teachers really build a strong relationship with the students over the years and it feels like it's their own children that are moving away/on.
EXAMS: Final exams for the school year come the week AFTER graduation. I don't understand this.
CLASSES: There are 2 additional weeks of classes AFTER Final Exams. I don't understand this either.
CLOSINGCEREMONY: The closing ceremony is the last ceremony of the school year for the students. (It's tomorrow, about 3 weeks AFTER the graduation ceremony). After that, spring break officially starts. **ps. Closing Ceremony photos added 3/21/07. It is a sea of black: uniforms, hair, curtains... the 4 students on the stage who look like they are waiting to be hanged are actually waiting to receive their various awards (sports, photography, etc.).
SPRING BREAK: Teachers and students come to school DURING spring break (also over winter break, summer holidays, etc.) and have classes. Again, I don't understand this.
TAKING TIME OFF: Even though Japanese teachers also get about the same number of days off as the AETs do (about 20 paid days off a year), very few of them actually take days off, insisting that they would cause trouble for their coworkers in their absence. I am going to Hong Kong & China during this time off. I am a lowly AET and have no responsibilities or any duties during this time as I have no idea what classes or teachers I will be teaching with until the first week of school. Some teachers have even been known to take days off and come to school on those days to finish their work- but because they took the day "off", no one can actually ask them to do additional work that day. The fact that I am taking every single one of my vacation days shows that I am a lazy, undedicated, undevoted American.
OPENING CEREMONY: The beginning of the new school year will be on April 9th.
STUDENT / TEACHER RELATIONSHIPS: Students enter the faculty office whenever they want, and call out the teacher's name that they need to see. The teacher drops everything they are doing and runs to the student (This disturbs me because the students grow up with the feeling that all they need to do is call someone and help will be provided immediately). Depending on whether it's exam period or not, the students are escorted back to the teacher's desk if they need help with homework or whatever and discuss the assignment in low voices (so as to not "disturb" others). Sometimes I get a sick sense of pedophiIia with the cute pigtailed short skirted girls sitting so close to the (mostly male) faculty- not to mention that most of the entire porn industry in Japan consists of young uniformed female students reluctantly being molested and worse, by older men. Of course, I don't have suspicions of any of my co-workers, it's just that I feel like the students are coddled a bit too much and the teachers thrive on their popularity with the students since they are not allowed to show emotion to their own spouses and family.
Wow, I wrote a lot more than I expected. I suppose it's my lack of intellectual challenges these days. However, I do refresh my NY times March Madness bracket every 10 minutes to find out how my teams are doing. Several JETs and friends have started a tournament / group since I was told that this was "gambling" and not something I should introduce as "American office culture" at my school. So far, I'm not doing so bad considering my lack of sports knowledge! Damn, I totally screwed up my Midwest picks.