Little Power, Many Demands
Even in America, the idea is not as simple as it sounds: Give the best teachers extra pay and recognition and the whole teaching profession will be invigorated.
In Japan, where a giant national teachers' union guards the professional turf, where teachers share equally in the public's respect, and where teaching salaries, though fixed by schedule, are comfortably above those of other public-service professionals, the idea of giving incentive pay was, to some, a bureaucratic blunder.
Now, seven years after its implementation, Japan's version of the American master-teacher concept appears to have backfired mightily, producing far more invective than incentive.
Even before the teaching masters got a single installment of their token 200-yen-a-day pay boost (less than $25 a month), most of them had pledged to give the money to their union.
And, instead of the hoped-for rejuvenation of the teaching corps, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture found it had created yet another battle line in its continuing war with the 650,000-member Japan Teachers' Union (J.T.U).
The J.T.U. believes that the plan to reward so-called master teachers--in Japan they are called shunin--is merely part of continuing government efforts to weaken union influence and enlarge state control over education.
Already, union leaders say, the education ministry uses required trainee programs as "indoctrination sessions" to lobby against union membership, with local education officials enlisted to talk new teachers out of joining the J.T.U.
The shunin system, these union leaders say, is designed to switch the loyalties of the nation's best teachers from the classroom to a well-oiled school bureaucracy.
History of Mutual Distrust
Enmity between the union and the government stretches back to the first days of independence, after Occupation forces left the island in 1952. It was then that a conservative majority in the newly elected Diet, the national legislature, tried repeatedly to disband the J.T.U. because of what it charged were the union's left-wing political objectives.
Today, a mutual mistrust still dominates the relationship. But the constant friction it generates, says William K. Cummings, a sociologist who is the senior fellow at America's East-West Center in Hawaii, actually serves to "shape the national debate" on the direction and focus of schooling.
Despite a recent decline in membership, the J.T.U. remains a strong counter force to the monolithic planning and decision-making powers of the Ministry of Education. And almost daily, the Japanese press reports their skirmishes over educational priorities to a public eager for better schools.
The J.T.U. is currently attacking on several fronts. It opposes the Prime Minister's ad hoc reform committee because it says the panel lacks the broad-based membership a restructuring of the education system deserves. It also criticizes the national budget on the grounds that an increasing share has gone for defense, cutting domestic spending and delaying promised pay hikes and class-size reductions.
A 'Standard Rule' of Obedience
But the longstanding master-teacher feud goes to the heart of the union's grievances--its belief that the bureaucracy puts politics above learning.
Says Makoto Kunishige, a retired principal from Kudamatsu: "In Japanese schools, there is a standard rule. Obedience to higher authority is tied to promotion and keeps discipline in the ranks. Good teachers who are concerned with kids and don't care about staying in line do not become principals or shunin."
Mr. Kunishige says he became a principal only on the eve of his retirement, and then, only because "some high-ranking official owed a favor." On the other hand, he says, "average teachers who are good politicians are often promoted very quickly."
The Kudamatsu principal is not alone in criticizing the smooth-running political machinery that operates the nation's school system. Many educators say that, from the national ministry to the prefectural and city school boards to the schools themselves, there is a remarkable lack of dissent within the administrative ranks.
That is why, Mr. Kunishige and others argue, the checks and balances the union provides are so important to the system's evolution.
Union's Appeal Slipping
But they fear that, little by little, the effectiveness of the teachers' union is being chipped away. Its membership--still strong with roughly 65 percent of the 1 million-member elementary and secondary teaching force enrolled--has dropped by more than 50,000 since the mid-1970's. Now, its strength is basically in urban areas and its appeal to young, beginning teachers is slipping dramatically.
"In the old times," says Eiichi Yokoyama, the director of people's education programs of the J.T.U., "most younger people automatically joined. Now only half of the newly recruited teachers become union members."
At the same time, he notes, the older backbone of the union is retiring. In 1980, about one-fourth of the elementary-school teaching force, 16 percent of lower-secondary school teachers, and 12 percent of the upper-secondary school teachers had taught 30 years or more.
Persuasion, Not Strikes
The ministry's pressure tactics do not make recruitment any easier, Mr. Yokoyama says, but an equally tough obstacle is the "more conservative" bent of today's young people. They have what the union leader calls "diversified demands" that are difficult for the union to meet.
Indeed, the union's most effective tool in meeting any demands is persuasion. Public-service employees have lacked the legal power to strike since the postwar Occupation, and those who violate the ban often find costly economic sanctions awaiting them.
Shinji Yoshikiyo, a J.T.U. member who teaches in the conservative Yamaguchi prefecture, says that for one hour of strike time, his principal would cut his monthly pay check by about $8 for several months. If he were to go on strike for several days, his annual pay raise would be postponed for three months.
While the penalties may not sound drastic, Mr. Yokoyama says the cumulative long-term effect can be a reduction in teachers' lump-sum retirement and pension benefits.
In the 25-year period beginning in 1957, the union leader says, some 751,000 teachers have received some kind of sanction for union-related activities. In addition, 400 have been arrested (with 193 of those indicted), and 126 have been fired from their jobs.
The Paramount Issues
More distressing to the membership, however, has been the union's recent ineffectiveness in dealing with several issues of deep and immediate concern:
Teacher salaries. When the economic boom of the 1960's began to draw prospective teachers to more lucrative positions with industry, the government for the first time began to see the need to buttress society's good will toward teachers with attractive pay. Salaries shot up, rising by more than 15 percent in 1973, then by a hefty 30 percent the following year, when Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka made the decision to put teaching pay scales on a par with those in other professions.
Because of budget problems caused by Japan's huge national deficit, however, teacher wages were frozen in 1982, rose only slightly more than 1 percent the following year, and received another nominal boost last year.
With the budget crisis unresolved, and with the Diet paving the way this fall for further increases in defense spending with its vote to uncap a 30-year ceiling on military expenditures, teachers foresee a future of salaries that are steady-state at best.
Working conditions. The comprehensive nature of Japanese schooling--including the broad, almost parental, role traditionally expected of teachers--has led to ever-widening demands on teachers' time.
Actual classroom instruction, which, according to Yasukazu Nakamichi, an official of the Osaka Teachers' Union, can be up to 30 hours a week for elementary-school teachers (the Ministry of Education says the figure is 23 hours), is augmented by such required tasks as coaching sports teams, supervising extracurricular activities, monitoring libraries, providing guidance and career counseling, visiting with parents, and performing some routine school maintenance work.
Add to that the regular teaching chores of course preparation, administrative meetings, attending school events, and keeping up with developments in the field, says Mr. Nakamichi, and working hours become brutal for some teachers. This would be acceptable, he says, were it not for the current freeze on salaries and government's unwillingness to deal with unmanageable increases in class size.
"Maximum class sizes in the United States and Europe are average class sizes in Japan," he says. "Either teachers should be allowed to work fewer hours or the schools should hire more teachers and cut class sizes."
Some teachers may also balk at the frequent required transfers imposed by the system. Teachers can expect to change schools every four or five years and, if they teach in elementary schools, to routinely switch grade levels from year to year.
But most teachers agree that such flexibility improves the quality of instruction, says the East-West Center's Mr. Cummings, making schools--especially elementary schools--"a seamless educational unit" with no problems of vested interest or protected turf.
'Seven Seals for a Day Off'
The system's long hours, static pay, and regimentation are a different matter, however, and young Japanese teachers are becoming more and more outspoken about the troublesome aspects of their calling.
Kinio Nishimura, an English teacher at the Kudamatsu Technical High School, says his "most difficult challenge" has nothing whatever to do with imparting knowledge; it comes, he says, from the constant requirement to submit to the system's well-established bureaucratic rituals. "You need to have seven official seals to get a day off," he complains.
Mr. Nishimura is in his early 30's and, like many of the profession's younger members, finds he resents the increasing stress that school duties put on his personal life. He is at school most days until after 6 P.M., he says, goes to the office during much of his summer vacation, and rarely finds the time to use his allotted leave.
Now, says the young high-school teacher, he tries to leave school early whenever his coaching and counseling allow, to spend more time with his own family. "School administrators cannot expect teachers to give their lives to schools when schools provide no reasonable salary increases," he says.
Generations of Self-Sacrifice
Such attitudes among the profession's young are near-blasphemy to teachers like Goro Hattori. At 45, Mr. Hattori comes from another generation, one that believes schools impart not only knowledge but also a sense of "what the culture stands for."
There are two kinds of teachers, Mr. Hattori says, those who are worried about salaries, promotions, and workload, and those who "have dedicated their lives to bringing children to a better condition." Only the latter, he says, are worthy of the title sensei--a term for "teacher" implying the highest respect.
An elementary-school teacher in Yokohama, Mr. Hattori exemplifies the traditional spirit of self-sacrifice that has earned for Japanese teachers the society's admiration. He spends much of his free time and discretionary income collecting and creating video resource material for the moral-education classes he and his wife conduct in their respective schools.
Also, he drives himself to make every class the best it can be. In music classes, he says, he must strain his voice to reach the proper pitch for his children, but to do otherwise would be to fail them.
Mr. Hattori has no problem with the way schools are organized or run. He reserves his criticisms for teachers--like Mr. Nishimura--who he says have "lost a sense of what schools were established to do."
The public, too, is becoming more critical of the once-revered teaching profession. Teachers are more likely to be blamed than policies or institutions for such current social problems as the increasing rates of juvenile crime and school violence.
But such experts as the Nagoya University educational sociologist Hidenori Fujita say that the causes for declining respect are complex and multidimensional.
Schools have become "secularized" since the postwar reforms, says Mr. Fujita, giving both parents and teachers the freedom to express differing opinions and attitudes on a wide range of educational matters. He explains that before the war the education system was used to further the so-called "Emperor system," with its rigid lines of authority and its unquestioned social compacts.
The influx of the more questioning postwar generation into the teaching ranks, coupled with the changes brought about by economic growth and urbanization, has produced "a qualitative change in the linkages between school, family, and community," he says. And with that change the old moral authority of the teacher has been gradually undermined.
The vast extension of educational opportunity during the last decades has contributed to the undermining, the sociologist adds. "Until recently, school had been a single, monopolistic agent of cognitive training," he says, "and teachers had enjoyed a monopoly of knowledge, skills, and even moral authority."
Now, many parents have educational credentials equal to or greater than those of their children's teachers. This fact, along with the rise of the supplemental juku and yobiko cram schools, has demystified the public-school teacher's role in perpetuating the culture.
Other educators place a large share of blame for the profession's current problems on teacher training.
Most Japanese educators agree that education schools, like their American counterparts, suffer in general from a lack of prestige within their universities. Perhaps as a result of this relatively poor academic standing, says the Hiroshima University education dean Yutaka Okihara, too many schools put their emphasis on theoretical research and neglect practical training.
In fact, teacher certification takes only a few weeks of actual classroom experience. Prospective high-school teachers usually either intern for three weeks at model schools attached to their universities or return to their own high schools for a similar period of practical training.
The situation has led to a system in which teachers must learn on the job--often at the expense of classroom discipline and personal well-being.
"It was only this year, during my fourth year of teaching, that I really got the guidance I needed from a senior teacher," says Reiko Okido, an elementary-school teacher at a rural school in the Yamaguchi prefecture.
"When I started, I felt I should cover everything in the curriculum guide," she says. "I thought I was doing everything halfway. I was weak and at a loss. I didn't know what to do."
Ms. Okido's husband, a junior-high-school science teacher, says he had trouble disciplining his students in his first years but has gradually learned through experience.
"At the beginning, I always put pressure on those who did not obey,'' he says. "Nowadays, I sit back and watch more. I see why they misbehave, what is missing."
'Time for Practical Training'
Among the suggestions being offered for dealing with the teacher-training dilemma is a controversial recommendation that an entire internship year--spent with supervision from master teachers--be required before certification.
But though teachers'-union officials say they want a better training system--one that "prizes and allows time for practical training"--they call the one-year internship a "dangerous" proposal they cannot support.
The J.T.U.'s Mr. Yokayama explains that teachers are appointed by education boards on the basis of their test scores. And, while he admits that the Japanese testing system has its faults, he says the tests provide "some kind of fair and democratic system of recruitment." With the proposed internship system, he says, "applicants could be ideologically controlled."
Determining who is hired and who is not will become a greater problem with time. Already, more teachers are trained each year than are needed to fill school vacancies. As the baby-boom population now entering secondary school leaves the system over the next few years, selectivity in teacher hiring will be even more acute.
Still a High Calling
For despite the profession's problems, teaching is still considered a high calling in Japan. Hiroshi Kida, director of the National Institute for Educational Research, says that the vocation's status sustained it even during periods when pay was low. Now, he says, with the further inducements of good pay and security, "teaching continues to attract able students."
In fact, the lure of teaching is so great today among the Japanese young that more than half of those who try to enter the teaching ranks each year are turned away.
"There are more than 100,000 applicants for teaching positions each year," says the J.T.U.'s Mr. Yokayama. "Only 30,000 to 40,000 actually become teachers. The rest are just paper drivers wanting a license."