Saturday 12 November 2011

Japan teachers quit in record numbers

Many leaving because of 'monster parents' and stresses of the job
By Julian Ryall, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2011

TOKYO: The terrifying roar of 'monster parents', combined with Internet-capable students and the day-to-day pressures of the job, are forcing record numbers of Japanese teachers to give up their jobs out of concern for their health.

A study by the Japanese Ministry of Education revealed that the number of first-year teachers quitting for such reasons has jumped twentyfold in the last decade.

The report examined the well-being of 25,743 teachers at public schools across the country who began working last year. Of the number, 101 left the profession before the end of the academic year ending March 31, citing health reasons, compared with just five in 2000.

'We believe there are problems among many of our new teachers,' admitted Mr Yuki Nakamura, head of the Elementary and Secondary Education Planning Division at the ministry and one of the authors of the report.

'One problem is that young teachers lose their self-confidence soon after they start their first job,' he said. 'They have a very good image of the profession before they join, but soon after they start, they have to deal with many problems and they have many duties, so they lose the belief in themselves.'

Another problem that faces teachers here afflicts almost everyone in Japan: long hours. The regular working day is eight hours, Mr Nakamura said, but teachers put in an average of 42 unpaid overtime hours every month, the survey showed.

'New teachers are required to take charge of after-school clubs, so they have to deal with parents, and we have found that to be a serious problem for many of them,' he said. 'It can be very stressful.'

The issue of overly demanding mothers and fathers - dubbed 'monster parents' - has also risen in recent years.

In January, a female teacher at a primary school sued the parents of one child for five million yen (S$83,300), claiming the situation with the parents was making it impossible for her to sleep, infringing upon her human rights, and seriously threatening her career.

She filed suit after the mother protested to the teacher over an incident involving her daughter and another pupil. Apparently unsatisfied with the response, she wrote eight insulting messages in the parent-teacher liaison book, and submitted a letter to the school board that the suit claims defamed the teacher.

The mother, who was required to appear in court to defend her actions, claimed she had done nothing wrong and was simply trying to prevent her daughter from being discriminated against.

Indeed, the attitude of Japanese parents towards teachers has changed radically in recent years, based on anecdotal evidence. Students and parents alike once respected educators, but this has been replaced by a generation of parents who constantly complain, make unreasonable demands, and bully teachers into submission over the smallest issues. Some teachers have even been forced to resign after crossing groups of parents.

Some parents have insisted that the results of sporting events be changed to make their own children's performances look better, while others have insisted that schools wash their children's gym kits and even clip their fingernails.

One teacher was told to prepare a pupil's packed lunch; another had to chauffeur a student from her home every morning. One mother even berated a teacher, after her child threw a stone through a school window, for carelessly leaving the stone lying around.

Elsewhere, teachers have even been asked to give families a wake-up call in the morning, while another parent demanded that the teacher let her son sleep in class because he had been busy.

Teachers are also finding themselves left behind in Japan's rapidly high-tech society, where many children now have smartphones and communicate via e-mail. This has given rise to a surge in cases of online bullying that teachers are finding difficult to control.

Educators are being trained to deal with these situations, but are reportedly finding it difficult to keep up with the advances in social networking.

Ninety-one of the 101 teachers who resigned during their first year in 2010 said they were suffering emotional issues, including stress and depression, with teachers in Tokyo most at risk.

The ministry's Mr Nakamura pointed out that stress is also affecting veteran teachers.

According to another report, 8,627 teachers took leave of absence for health reasons in 2009, of which more than 63 per cent said they needed a break due to psychological problems.

The ministry said it is coordinating with the local education authorities to provide support to new teachers, including additional training in how to cope with difficult situations, and the introduction of counselling facilities.

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