Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Crumbling Pedestal: Changing Images of Japanese Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Crumbling Pedestal: Changing Images of Japanese Teachers

Article excerpt

Public school teachers in Japan face severe challenges. (1) Traditional values of respect for schooling and teachers have faded into a consumer-oriented demand for schooling that promises to lift families into an increasingly elusive prosperity. A falling birth rate has forced the closing of schools and has brought increased competition with private schools (Benjamin & James, 1989; Hida, 2003). As a result of student disengagement and falling achievement levels, governmental reforms are being implemented that are more open and less lecture oriented, focusing on individuality and creativity (Cave, 2001, 2003; Choy, 1999; Ishizaka, n.d.). Lack of time and competence in implementing these changes leave teachers even more vulnerable to disrespect (Fujita, 2000). Parents raised during years of prosperity indulge their children and place blame for academic and social failure on teachers rather than exercise the parental guidance that would be expected of them in earlier generations (Kudomi, 1999).

Extending Ogbu's (1999) attention to the role of community forces in academic achievement, my earlier research in the United States and the United Kingdom (Gordon, 1994, 1997, 2000a, 2000b, 2003a) suggests that images of the teaching profession generally held in communities and perpetuated by many adults involved with young people can contribute to lack of support for teachers, disengagement from schooling itself, and discouragement of capable young people from entering the teaching profession. Changes in the images of teachers both reflect and affect community attitudes and thereby weigh heavily on who elects to become a teacher as well as how that decision affects the schooling obtained by an increasingly diverse student population. Aspiration to a career in teaching is a crucial indicator of the engagement with schooling necessary for academic success, especially among students who lack the advantages of financial and educational support from family sources in creating career options (Gordon, 2003b).

RESEARCH METHODS

The research for this report commenced in 1996 with an introduction of the author by a Japanese colleague to leading researchers in the sociology of education and human rights in the Osaka and Nagoya area. These individuals, upon learning of my research in the United States and Britain on the role of community attitudes toward education in low-income, urban contexts, then introduced me to individuals who they felt would be interested in my prior work and my reflections on comparable situations in Japan, primarily teachers and community activists in the Burakumin and Korean communities of the Osaka area. Although the research for this report was obtained between 1996 and 2001, the analysis of the work is nested within a larger context of research, including four additional research trips to Japan between 2002 and 2004. Invitations to visit schools were received from administrators and teachers who had established trust with the scholars and activists familiar with the author's research. This access enabled the author to observe numerous classes, conduct both formal and informal interviews, and gain entrance to situations and conversations that normally would have been out of reach to an outsider. Because these schools were well known to my colleagues, I was able discuss my findings with them, enlarging and deepening my understanding of the context. During the research duration of 1996 to 2001, the author conducted personal consultations with 22 Japanese researchers and activists, representing a variety of perspectives and experiences.

The comments quoted in this report (2) are based on 113 structured interviews with 69 teachers and 44 parents. Japanese assistants interviewed 36 teachers and 44 parents in Sendai, Osaka, Sakai, Kyoto, Nara, Nagoya, Tokyo, and Saitama. Another 33 interviews with teachers and administrators were conducted by the author in Hiroshima, Tokyo, Osaka, and Hakodate (Hokkaido). …

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