Mr. Parello Sensei

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 27 2012

Japanese Schools: More Down Time and Higher Performance

I’ve been teaching English in Japan for the past two years.  My time here is ending soon, and I’m hoping to make my return to teaching in the US in the fall.  I have a team teaching role in Japan, so I’m looking forward to having my own classroom.  There are a lot of surface differences between Japanese and American schools, such as that junior high school students spend most of the day in the same classroom and different teachers come into their room to teach.  Lessons at my school go from 8:5o to 3:40 (a much more reasonable start time than many American students have to endure), with club activities going until about 6:00 PM.  All teachers have a desk in a staff room where they have a morning meeting every day, and where they plan lessons during free periods.  Class sizes are also larger than in the US, typically with up to forty students.

Overall, the structure of the school is more communal than an American school.  Teachers in American schools are used to having their classrooms as their own private domain.  In Japanese schools there is very little space that could be considered private, as all teachers share the large staff room.

There is plenty to analyze about the differences between Japanese and American schools, but I’ll point out a small one that I think is nevertheless important: break time.  Japanese kids, contrary to what most Americans probably think, have a bit more of it. Although schools vary, there is typically a ten minute break between each class, at the elementary level a well as at the secondary level.  At my elementary school in Los Angeles during my TFA placement, We would go from 8:00 AM to 10:30 without a break.  This was absolutely exhausting for me and the students.  Even now at age 29 I have difficulty staying focused for two and a half hours; for a ten year-old it’s much harder.  Schools in the United States working to close the achievement gap are often highly concerned with packing as much learning as possible into a day, and I fully agree with that.  I’m worried that in the process some schools may be forgetting the importance of allowing students time to recharge.  Ten minute breaks between each fifty minute lesson are great for everyone involved- teachers and students included. Most secondary schools that I am know of in the US have a five minute break, which is just enough time to get to class, and most elementary schools go for pretty long blocks without any break.  Giving a little more down time (and a later starting time) could be beneficial for a lot of students.

Tweaking the amount of break time wouldn’t close the achievement gap by any means, but it might make a lot of people’s days more pleasant and manageable.


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