Teachers leaving jobs The number of first-year teachers who leave their job for health reasons has increased 20-fold over the past 10 years, according to a survey by the education ministry. By “health” most of the teachers mean “mental health.” More than 100 teachers left after their first year in 2010, complaining of depression and stress. Only five quit in 2000. If so many teachers feel that much stress, one can imagine how the students in their classes feel. Of the 8,600 teachers who took a leave of absence for health reasons in 2009, two-thirds cited psychological problems. Others complained of difficulties in human relationships, particularly with so-called monster parents. (Japan Times, Nov 20)

The number of first-year teachers who leave their job for health reasons has increased 20-fold over the past 10 years, according to a survey by the education ministry. By “health” most of the teachers mean “mental health.”

More  than 100 teachers left after their first year in 2010, complaining of depression and stress. Only five quit in 2000. If so many teachers feel that much stress, one can imagine how the students in their classes feel. Of the 8,600 teachers who took a leave of absence for health reasons in 2009, two-thirds cited psychological problems. Others complained of difficulties in human relationships, particularly with so-called monster parents.

The education ministry was reported as saying those teachers “suffered from a gap between reality and what they imagined before they started working.” However, it is the ministry and its education system that seem to be suffering from a reality gap.

What the education ministry needs to realize is that first-year teachers need guidance, practice and preparation, not trial by fire. Without recognizing the particular demands and strains of the classroom, and without sufficient support, even those who do stay are likely to develop superficial coping mechanisms in self-defense rather than developing the genuine skills, craft and insight that high-quality teaching requires.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has started monitoring the emotional state of teachers in their regular health checkups, but many further steps must be taken to improve their working conditions and preparatory education. If teachers do not figure out the complexities of human relationships and learn to handle stress at the beginning of their careers, they may never get on track.

University students who plan on becoming teachers need more and better instruction in pedagogy and psychology. Motivational techniques, classroom organization, lesson structure and leadership values need to be learned at early stages in their studies. Walking into a classroom without a broad sense of where students are coming from and where they need to go is unproductive, confusing, and very stressful.

Certification of teachers is primarily a standardized paper-based exam. What teachers need more than another multiple-choice exam is a solid program of education courses intertwined with extensive practice. These programs are developing in Japan, but at too slow a pace.

Without a broad foundation and practical application in the psychology, pedagogy and curriculum necessary for effective teaching, most teachers are left without sufficient resources when they meet real live human beings.

Aspiring teachers also need more supervised practice before entering the classroom on their own. Japan has a long tradition of master-pupil training in a wide variety of areas, everything from pottery to sushi to business. Beginner teachers are all too often left to their own devices without any apprenticeship.

Most teacher training programs offer only a few weeks of in-class practice at their former junior high or senior high school. That experience is good as far as it goes, but such practice should be continued longer than a couple of weeks.

Instead of being given the chance to gradually accommodate themselves to the rigors of teaching, new teachers are dropped into an overwhelming flurry of meetings, advising club activities and year-round duties.

A lighter workload in the first two years of teaching would allow them to better learn how to handle hundreds of students and multiple tasks. Teachers, and not just new ones, could also greatly benefit from reduced class sizes.

Young teachers also need a degree of autonomy. Instead of imposing the massive number of education ministry regulations, the ministry should allow young teachers a chance to develop their own style of teaching as the best way of increasing their motivation and engagement.

If teachers are not independent, students are never going to be. No one becomes a teacher to follow bureaucratic rules; they become teachers to help students learn.

Schools should also set up better ways of handling so-called monster parents. Establishing a positive atmosphere to handle grievances and discuss children’s problems is essential. At most schools, instead of being handled through regular administrative procedures, dealing with such problems becomes an added burden at the end of the day. Because most schools do not have enough administrators and staff, teachers end up doing administrative work on top of everything else.

Teachers need ongoing education themselves. Unfortunately, without grants, scholarships or time off, most teachers spend their little bit of nonwork time recovering, rather than developing the kind of positive learning they want to inspire in their pupils. The education ministry should set up more chances for continuing education, such as they have done recently by sending some English teachers abroad to study.

If teachers do not have staying power, they are not likely to inspire that in students. Few professions have as broad and powerful an impact as teachers. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher — it is a very demanding profession — but those who want to be teachers deserve all the help they can get.

Teachers bolt jobs over mental angst (Japan Times, Nov 10)

The number of first-year teachers who left their job for health reasons has increased twentyfold over the past 10 years, with most citing apparent emotional issues, an education ministry survey has found.

According to the survey, conducted on 25,743 public school teachers who began working in fiscal 2010, 101 voluntarily left within a year for “health” reasons, mainly depression and stress, compared with five in fiscal 2000.

Ninety-one of the 101 who quit were suffering emotional issues such as depression, the ministry said Tuesday.

“We believe (those teachers) suffered from a gap between reality and what they imagined before they start working. . . . Some were believed to have trouble dealing with difficult parents. Some may have suffered from human relationships at their workplaces,” education ministry official Masashi Izumino told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Starting in fiscal 2009, the ministry began investigating the mental health of teachers who quit within a year. In the first survey, 83 of 86 who quit did so reportedly due to such apparent psychological troubles.

Of the 91 teachers last year who quit for such reasons, Tokyo had the highest number, with 29, followed by Chiba Prefecture with six and Aichi Prefecture with five.

To patch its holes in teacher rolls, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government began, in fiscal 2010, rehiring retired teachers to support new teachers at public elementary schools, according to Kenji Yamamoto, personnel section chief at the metro government’s board of education.

Starting this fiscal year, the metro government has been monitoring the emotional state of teachers in their regular health checkups.

“For those who became teachers fresh out of university, it is difficult to deal with children and their parents, especially at an elementary school, because from the first year, they become homeroom teachers and have to deal with many things,” Yamamoto said.

Stress has been an issue not only among new teachers but veterans as well in recent years.

According to an education ministry report last year, 8,627 public school teachers took a leave of absence for health reasons in fiscal 2009. Of these, 5,458, or 63.3 percent, did so due to psychological problems.

The number of teachers taking temporary leave for mental health reasons has been steadily rising since fiscal 2000, the report said. While 0.24 percent of public school teachers took a leave of absence in fiscal 2000, the percentage rose to 0.60 in fiscal 2009, it said.

The education ministry official cited so-called monster parents, who make unreasonable demands, and an increasingly digitized society as some of the reasons behind teachers’ increasing stress.

“There are multiple reasons behind (the rise). . . . One difficulty is guiding students in the digitized world. The Internet is becoming a place where bullying takes place, and (today’s) children communicate more through email. . . . To avoid falling behind the children, teachers have been attempting to learn IT technology. But for some, it is very difficult,” Izumino explained.

According to the education ministry’s 2009 survey, 74.1 percent of public school teachers who took a leave of absence due to mental illness were over 40 years old.

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Give teachers time, not a fine (Japan Times, Oct 30)

“A recent spot check of working conditions of teachers in Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Tottori and Okinawa by the Board of Audit concluded that teachers in Hokkaido and Okinawa misused their working hours. The Board of Audit will ask the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to demand those teachers return part of their salaries to the authorities. While inappropriate use of work time should be discouraged, the report sounds more like a witch-hunt than a serious investigation.  …

However, calculating working hours in this way involves a misunderstanding of actual working conditions for primary and middle school teachers. Teachers are required to spend long hours at schools even during holidays and some schools monitor teachers’ whereabouts. If teachers are not trusted, how can they inspire trust in students?

The report fails to recognize that teaching is a stressful and demanding job that is vital to the development of Japan’s young minds. To do their job, teachers need adequate time off, not heavier oversight and stricter accountability. When teachers are forced to attend pointless meetings, supervise circle activities or, as is often the case, simply do nothing other than show up, their time is being wasted.

To perform well, teachers need downtime to reduce stress, develop new techniques and read and think about education. Good teaching requires mental readiness and huge amounts of energy. Because the best teaching is rooted in teachers’ character and experience, teachers are, in essence, always working. It is doubtful that the Board of Audit will compensate teachers for all their thinking and preparation time, since it is part of their everyday life.

There may in fact be teachers who abuse their work time and they certainly should be held accountable. However, all teachers at primary, middle and high schools need more time off, greater flexibility in how time is spent and a trusting atmosphere. Being investigated in this way does not nurture the autonomy and independent thought that educators require to perform at their best.

By micromanaging teachers’ activities during working hours, especially during what should be holiday time, the overall quality of education is harmed.

The Board of Audit should direct its activities toward investigating genuinely serious abuses in other spheres and allow teachers to get back to responsibly managing their own time.”