Current concerns (21) Senior teachers feeling strain

Senior teachers feeling strain / Health issues, heavy workloads spur record number to seek demotion

Masahiro Umemura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Underpaid and overworked, more and more of this nation’s senior teachers have had enough.

A record number of teachers at public primary, middle and high schools were removed from managerial positions at their own request in the 2008 academic year, about half of them stepping down from midlevel posts.

According to a survey conducted by the education ministry, 179 such teachers were demoted in the 2008 school year through March, an increase of 73 from the previous year and the largest number since statistics were first recorded in the 2000 academic year. There was one case of a principal being demoted to vice principal, but most went from managerial posts to becoming rank-and-file teachers.

The latter group included three principals, 27 vice principals, 55 head teachers and 89 middle-ranked teachers who served as shukan (supervisors).

Regarding why they asked to be demoted, 95 teachers, or 53 percent of the total, cited health issues, including psychological ones. Forty-four, or 25 percent, referred to problems involving their job responsibilities, and 40, or 22 percent, cited family concerns, according to the survey.

Kaoruko Magane, chief psychiatrist at Sanraku Hospital in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, which is affiliated with the Tokyo School Teachers Mutual Aid Society, has examined many teachers who are feeling snowed under at work.

“More and more teachers are feeling stuck at work and worrying whether they’re qualified for managerial posts. One of the reasons is teachers’ busy schedules,” Magane said.

Teachers are laden with various tasks in addition to those involving direct contact with students–including compiling reports for education boards, dealing with students’ parents and negotiating with local communities, and attending conferences on student guidance and academic and career counseling.

Those in supervisor posts have a particularly heavy burden. They must represent principals and head teachers in various negotiations while also doing their originally assigned jobs as homeroom teachers and supervisors of extracurricular activities.

Recent years have seen an increase in cases in which parents and neighboring residents have repeatedly filed complaints with schools. According to Magane, a growing number of teachers have been coming to see her about trouble with parents.

“Three years ago, such cases accounted for 20 to 30 percent [of the total] but the percentage has soared to nearly 50 percent,” she said.

Even if a teacher is promoted to a supervisory role and thereby burdened with a heavy workload, his or her salary increases by just 10,000 yen a month, with no special allowance for serving in a managerial position. Even when midyear and year-end bonuses are included, a supervisor’s salary is only about 200,000 yen more than that of a rank-and-file teacher. As a result, some complain the money is not worth the busy schedule.

Such a small difference in salary does little to prevent those in supervisory posts from seeking demotion, observers said.

The ministry survey revealed another record-high figure in the 2008 academic year–315 newly recruited teachers were not hired at the end of their one-year trial periods. Many of them quit midway of their own volition, despite having once chosen teaching as their lifelong profession.

Thirty percent of those who resigned are said to have been suffering from psychological difficulties.

People tend to worry about the gap between ideals and reality in any profession. In the case of teaching, however, even rookie teachers are asked to do jobs expected of the vocation regardless of their experience and ability.

For example, if they are homeroom teachers, they tend to deal with students and their parents through direct contact and try to resolve trouble by themselves because they are in an environment where they cannot easily seek advice from their superiors and senior teachers.

Supervisor posts were established to improve this situation. Supervisors are supposed to give young teachers guidance, but their own jobs keep them too busy to fulfill this responsibility.

This seems to be a vicious circle teachers can fall into.

“There are many cases in which even veteran teachers in managerial positions find it difficult to deal with bullying and parents’ complaints,” said Hidenori Fujita, a professor of educational sociology at International Christian University. “We must lessen the burden on teachers by establishing divisions in education boards to deal exclusively with such issues.”

To encourage direct contact between teachers and students and thereby invigorate schools, it is essential to reexamine work assignments and reduce the burden on teachers, as well as to improve pay conditions so teachers are properly rewarded for the jobs they do.

(Daily Yomiuri Nov. 13, 2009)

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