Every day in the Japanese school I work at appears to be opposite day. If you went to school in the states, you might find these differences in Japanese schools interesting:
1. The students stay in their classroom. Instead of moving from class to class, they stay in the same room all day. The system somewhat resembles elementary school in the States, however the difference being that the teachers move from class to class throughout the day. Therefore, no teacher has their very own classroom. Instead, the teachers have a desk in the staff room. That means for every class, they have to carry everything they will need with them into the classroom for that particular period.
2. The kids earn their keep. Ask a student in the US to clean up after class and you will find that you might have well just asked them to extract their own teeth with a pair of pliers. Me? Clean?? What?! You must be insane!
“But Miss Jensen, that’s not my candy wrapper on the ground!”
“But Miss Jensen, my toe hurts!”
“But Miss Jensen, I think it’s more fun to watch you run around the classroom at the end of the day putting up chairs, scraping gum off desks, and salvaging broken pencils!”
That does not fly here. Because the kids are in charge of their own classroom, they have to keep it clean. They each have specific jobs that they must do every day. I’m not sure what happens if they don’t do their job, but I did hear a rumor about it. Supposedly, a student forgot to clean the chalkboard after one of the classes. The next teacher came in, ready to teach, but found that the chalk board was completely covered. This one student is supposed to clean the board every day after every class. There was NO excuse for forgetting. The teacher, enraged that the board was not clean, refused to teach the class that day. Some of you may be thinking “hurray!” but I guarantee that is not what the student was thinking. Being disciplined in Japan, especially in front of your peers, is one of the most humiliating things a person can experience.
Also, because the students are expected to clean, there are no custodians. The students clean the entire building.
3. You don’t have to worry about anything being stolen.
I can’t imagine there is a single school in the United States where theft isn’t a concern. One the other hand, I bet there are hardly any schools in Japan where theft is a concern. Every day when the students arrive, they take off their “outdoor” shoes and slip into their “indoor” shoes. In the process, they leave their outdoor shoes in a cubby at the entrance to the building. In the States, at least a pair or two would go missing here and there. Imagine leaving your Nikes in a cubby! If they didn’t go missing, there would be sure to be a few pairs vandalized. Think about the damage that happens just to the outside of lockers in the States. The students also leave important items in their classroom without fear of theft. The students also come and go from the staff room without any concern. I know in the US this would be a bit troublesome considering that there is not always an adult present in the staff room.
4. You could hear a pin drop during assemblies. My first assembly here was my first moment of “culture shock.” I was incredulous at the sight before my eyes. Every student in the school (which is about 800) were sitting in perfect lines in the gym. Each student had their eyes trained attentively on the speaker. Not a student was whispering to their neighbor or even shuffling in their seat. This went on for over half an hour. I am not exaggerating when I say not a single Junior High student was out of line. I can’t confirm that their minds were on the presentation, but their body language certainly did indicate perfect participation.
The real shock came to me when the assembly ended. Instead of a hysterical exodus from the gym, the students waited patiently for their turn to leave. I’d like to think in the States I had my own students trained decently well for assemblies, they usually didn’t try to leave until I gave them the green light. However, the students in Japan didn’t even need teacher guidance. Each class knew exactly the moment when it was appropriate for them to leave, and they did so with such attention to detail it was practically dazzling. There was no rushing, pushing, or even sound.
I have to say that assemblies were one of my worst fears when I was teaching in the States. As I mentioned before, my kids were usually pretty well behaved, but I always worried about how my students would reflect upon ME while we were at assemblies. I would get incredibly nervous before assemblies, and I would be absolutely horrified when something did go wrong. I still remember one time when I had to yell at my class after an assembly. If you know me (or were one of my students) you know that I rarely ever yell. It obviously means I’m very serious if I have to yell, but it should be known that it is by no means something I enjoy doing. After I have to yell, I often feel so awful and disgusted that it’s difficult to teach afterwards. That being said, I would LOVE it if U.S. schools could take some tips from the way Japanese school assemblies are run. I’ll have to ask for some advice, but I think a big part of it is putting the fear of you-know-who (of course I only mean that figuratively) into the students in a big way.