Working in Japan

Why do schools in Japan transfer teachers every year?

Join us as we delve into the personal experience of an English teacher navigating the transfer culture in Japan. Learn about the challenges and benefits of being transferred to a new school for the teachers, and how it can impact both the teachers and the students.

In Japan, teacher transferring is a common practice that has been part of the educational system for decades. The process involves the transfer of teachers from one school to another, often within the same prefecture, every few years. It happens in March, just ahead of April when everyone starts their new job. If you’re looking for a job in Japan, it’s worth noting that April is the hiring season, so you’ll want to get your applications ready with enough time before then. If you miss the season, you’ll likely be waiting until the following year to be hired.

This practice is aimed at promoting teacher development and increasing the quality of education across the country. However, the teacher transferring culture in Japan is not without controversy, as some argue that it disrupts the continuity of education and can be detrimental to students’ academic progress. In this article, we will explore the history, benefits, and criticisms of teacher transfers in Japan.

The transfer of teachers, or 転生 (てんせい) in Japanese, has a long history in Japan dating back to the early 20th century. This practice involves teachers being transferred from one school to another, often in different regions of the country, every few years. The primary purpose of this practice is to promote the professional development of teachers, provide fresh perspectives, and prevent the development of entrenched interests that could impede educational progress.

The origins of the transfer system can be traced back to the Meiji era in the late 19th century when the Japanese government began to establish a centralised educational system modelled after the Western system. The transfer system was introduced as a means of promoting teacher mobility and avoiding the development of regional or local biases.

The practice of transferring teachers became more widespread in the post-war period as Japan’s economy boomed and its education system underwent rapid expansion. The transfer system was seen as a way to ensure that teachers were exposed to a variety of different educational environments and could benefit from exposure to new teaching techniques and approaches.

Today, the transfer system remains an important part of Japanese educational culture, with most teachers being transferred at least once during their careers. While the system has faced criticism for disrupting teachers’ personal lives and creating instability in the classroom, it is widely viewed as a necessary tool for promoting educational innovation and growth.

Benefits of the transfer culture

The transfer culture for teachers in Japan has many benefits. Firstly, it helps to maintain a high standard of education across the country. By sharing teaching techniques and best practices, teachers can learn from each other and improve their own teaching skills. This also ensures that students receive a consistent education regardless of where they are located in Japan.

Additionally, the transfer culture allows for greater collaboration and communication among teachers. Teachers who transfer to different schools or regions have the opportunity to build new relationships and expand their professional networks. This can lead to new teaching opportunities, career advancements, and a greater sense of community within the education system.

The transfer culture also fosters a culture of lifelong learning among teachers. By constantly exposing themselves to new teaching methods and approaches, teachers can continue to grow and develop their skills throughout their careers. This not only benefits the teachers themselves but also benefits their students, who can benefit from the latest and most effective teaching methods.

Furthermore, the transfer culture helps to break down barriers and promote cultural exchange. Teachers who transfer to different regions can learn about local customs, traditions, and dialects, which they can then share with their students. This promotes a greater understanding and appreciation of the diverse cultures that make up Japan.

Why transfer culture doesn’t work

While transfer culture in Japan has its benefits, it has also received criticism from some educators and experts. One major criticism is that it can create a stagnant and inflexible education system. By relying too heavily on the knowledge and techniques of experienced teachers, new teachers may not be encouraged to develop their own innovative ideas and teaching methods. This can lead to a lack of creativity and diversity in teaching approaches.

Additionally, some critics argue that transfer culture can perpetuate a hierarchical and unequal system within schools. Experienced teachers are often given more respect and authority than new teachers, which can create a power dynamic that is detrimental to the growth and development of all teachers. New teachers may feel pressure to conform to the norms and practices established by experienced teachers, even if they don’t agree with them or believe they are outdated.

Furthermore, transfer culture can also perpetuate gender biases in the education system. Female teachers, who are often seen as more nurturing and emotional, may be expected to take on more administrative and clerical tasks, while male teachers are given more opportunities for leadership and advancement.

Despite these criticisms, transfer culture remains an integral part of the Japanese education system. While it may need to be re-evaluated and adapted to address these issues, its benefits for both teachers and students cannot be ignored.

My Experience teaching in Japan

When I first arrived in Japan as an English teacher, I was completely unaware of the transfer culture. It wasn’t until my favourite teacher announced their upcoming transfer in April of my first year that I realized this was a common occurrence. I was disappointed to see them go, as they had been a great mentor and helped me navigate the cultural differences in the school.

Then, my best work friend was transferred to Iki Island in Nagasaki, leaving me with a new co-worker who wasn’t very talkative. The change in atmosphere was palpable, and it took some time to adjust to the new dynamic.

I’ve noticed that sometimes a transfer can bring about a negative atmosphere change, but on the flip side, it can also bring about a positive change. I’ve had experiences where a new teacher came in and breathed fresh life into the school, creating a positive environment for both staff and students.

Overall, I think teacher transfers can be challenging for teachers and their families, but it keeps things interesting and prevents a stagnant, negative atmosphere from lingering. While some of my friends have found the experience of being transferred to a new school to be fun and exciting, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not always an easy transition. However, in the end, it’s a necessary aspect of Japan’s education system and has its benefits in terms of keeping schools dynamic and evolving.

What Happens When a Teacher Leaves?

The transfer season, which happens in March, is marked by a number of traditional practices, such as 離任式 (りにんしき) or the farewell ceremony.

At the ceremony, the departing teacher gives a speech to express their gratitude to the school and the students. They may also receive gifts from their colleagues, students, and parents. This is a way of showing appreciation for their hard work and dedication during their time at the school.

Gift-giving is also a common practice when a teacher is leaving. Students may give their teacher a present, such as a book or a souvenir from their hometown. Colleagues and parents may also give gifts as a way of showing appreciation for the teacher’s work. Teachers will probably give all of their colleagues a small present too. I’ve received a lot of handkerchiefs in my time, which honestly must cost a lot.

When a teacher is leaving, it’s important to express your gratitude and wish them well in their new position. Common phrases include お () (さま) でした, which means “thank you for your hard work,” and ご苦労様 (くろうさま) でした, which means “thank you for your efforts.” It’s also common to say お元気 (げんき) で, which means “take care and stay healthy.”

Although the practice of teacher transfers may initially appear unfair, it ultimately serves to improve the quality of education for children. It’s true that some placements may not be a perfect fit for certain teachers, but this is simply a part of the job. In Japan, there is a strong emphasis on concluding things on a positive note, and my personal experiences with Japanese schools have repeatedly demonstrated how departing teachers are given a much more heartfelt farewell than what I’ve observed in England. It’s important to remember that every teacher’s dedication and passion for their profession make a significant impact on their students, regardless of where they’re placed.

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