Wow what a trip. When I signed up to be part of the ASTA/Latitude Group Travel Science Teachers Exchange - Japan, I didn't realise how much I would learn, not only about schools in another country but also about myself. It has been a trip of many firsts with a lot of self reflection of my teaching styles thrown in for good measure.
Tanya's colleagues who were delivering a lesson in a Japanese school
In lieu of World Teachers' Day, I am going to reflect on the differences of a Japanese teacher compared to an Aussie. For starters, on the surface, time spent at school. In Australia we have the trust of our various Education Departments to have an online medium to work from, from home. It may be marking, lesson planning or student data. We have our long day at school which for me as a parent of young children, get to school a little after 8 and leave a little after 4 and spend the nights working after they go to bed. In Japan this is not the case, no student work, no official documents are to leave the school grounds. This is determined by the Japanese Government because of their rules about privacy. This means that all teachers we have met arrive at school about 6:30 am and leave at 8pm or later. In my family, my husband is also a teacher, for us, if we took those hours back to Australia family life, as we know it would be unsustainable.
School students at Government schools attend 5 days a week, however students of the Super Science School which we visited attend 6 days. Teachers work a rotation of 5 days and may have a week day off to replace the Saturday. Class sizes are a lot larger with 41 being the size I have seen the most and the size I was provided to teach, where in Aus my largest class was 32 and only after being asked by the principal if I was willing to take on the extra students.
Teachers don't have permenant tenure at a specific school, most seem to have a max 7 year rotation. This I feel is both good and bad. As a teacher who has been teaching all her life in the same school, I have invested many hours of hard work into helping make the school the best it can be for our students. I know my students, I know my community and I have not found anywhere I would rather live, they are like my extended family. To build the relationships needed to work the extreme days, it would be hard to continually leave and have to build more at each school.
The second issue that I feel is related to their cultural love of life. The teachers stated that they tried to teach the love for knowledge as a specific idea and not as a carrier for their lessons. Approaching it as a specific skill they teach rather than the underlying theme of the lesson as I would. For me to extend a love of teaching I would be making sure to encorporate the 5E's allowing engagement and exploring then explaining ect.
They assess 4 main streams 1. Attitude - interest, willingness and love of learning 2. Thinking and judgement and expression 3. Understanding 4. Knowledge - knowledge being seperate from ability. Using these streams they then teach the 4 content bases: in Elementary School - Energy, Earth, Life and Matter, in High School - Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Geology. In the varied schools we have attended, students do not see the one teacher for science. At the regular high school, students had one teacher that taught 2 h of chemistry then swapped to biology for the year and a second teacher that took the physics and geology. In the Super Science School, teachers were specific, the students studied 2 hours with the Biology teacher, 2 hours with Chemistry teacher, 2 hours with the Physics teacher and then in year 11 had the option of 2 hours private research.
I am also finding that here, and don't get me wrong, it happens in Australia as well, that the teacher has specific ways of teaching content, this is exactly how we learn this item and there is no deviation from the plan. In Government schools all classrooms have the same access to the same resources. The same computers, same text, same furniture and in the primary schools, same nutrition as students are provided lunch. In the SSS this is not the case. Due to the SSS categorisation, schools are provided extra funding to cover new equipment. Teachers teach the individual content items and styles of research but there is a lack of linkages. Japanese teachers provide the individual facts but there is less to no relationship between this knowledge and how it affects society and how students may use it in their daily life. The why behind the knowledge that provides students a context for learning the materials and no links to application.
Again as a teacher who has taught in the one school, who has never been out of Australia, my self reflection on teaching practice has been eye opening. Yesterday I taught a lesson that I have often taught as a fun skills building excersize for younger students on Observations and Inferences. Coming from a school where I know everyone, they know me, we have a rapport, we speak the same language (most of the time) they know my body language, cues and the hidden expectations that underline your lessons.
Yesterday, I felt more out of my depth than on my first day of teaching. I didn't realise that signals I used inheritanty wouldn't work for that class. That there would be lags in information understanding, not just the language as we had 3 way conversations where I would speak, the amazing translater would interprete then provide translation and then students would respond then the translator would explain back to me, but a barrier in skills. I teach working as a scientist skills in my classroom, specific and seperate to content. This is not the case in Japan so for the first run through, my understanding of what I was teaching did not come across clearly. The lesson was all taught on my feet, modifying on the go. Trying to ask questions to students using hand gestures and simple words. As it was observations in closed boxes (thank you Kate) having enough simple vocabulary to describe what was going on, without losing the meaning was difficult. I am pleased to say though, that by the students second box there was progress. I had also asked that if they had thought the answers provided by fellow students were inferences rather than observations to move them to the side. This task was enjoyed by students, allowing an analysis of others understanding to build on their own.
My last message today is apply next year, or if you can't, move out of your comfort zone. Don't spend all of your professional development time to sit and listen to others tell you what they do great, reflect on yourself. Try something new, if it doesn't work the specific way you wanted, look at why that was the case. Was it you, how could you do it differently, was it the day, time, student group or equipment.
Challenge yourself and don't get stale.