Schools in Japan are separated into 3 grades; ichi-nensei 一年生(first years), ni-nensei 二年生 (second years) and san-nensei 三年生(third years). Each grade has 8 classes of 35-38 students in it. So In my school the classes are named Class 2-1 (second year class 1), class 2-4 (second year class 4), class 3-6 (third year class 6) etc
In America kids move from classroom to classroom, each with a unique schedule. Meanwhile, teachers stay in one room and have their “desk” or “office” in their classroom. In Japan, however, the kids stay in the classroom and the teacher comes to the room and teaches them there. The room is the students space. The teachers have desks in a staffroom with other teachers. Each class has a homeroom teacher that not only teaches them a normal subject in school like math or science, they also teach them ethics and morals. homeroom teachers become a third parent to students since they usually stay with the same students for 3 years.
This system is very interesting to me. The classes and schools are much more focused on community and team spirit. The students do EVERYTHING with their classes. My older Japanese friends still have reunions with people who were in their high school homeroom classes 30+ years after high school. The students have ownership of their classroom and take care of it. They are in charge of cleaning it and maintaining the space. It never gets dirty because the students know if they put gum under their desk they or one of their classmates have to clean it later. I think there is this strange idea in the west that japanese students are superhumanly good. They are all little angels. That is definitely not true. I have some bad apples. However, the community of students makes them stronger and more responsible to each other.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because tomorrow we have ensoku 遠足 (class field trips). In America field trips are always about an outside the classroom learning experience. The activities must be educational. In Japan the activities and trips are mostly about having fun. However, the students are in charge of planning their own field trip. THIS is the learning experience. They must talk with their peers and coordinate a field trip together that everyone can enjoy. They usually follow a basic pattern, BBQ (Japanese style) at an outdoor park, followed by bowling or some other big group activity.
Japanese schools really place value on the students creating their experience, organizing, and planning their own education. This is also clear in club activities. the san-nensei students plan and run their club activities. They teach the younger students how to play basketball. They organize practice times and run practices. The teacher sponsor is just a sponsor. Many times the teacher doesn’t know anything about basketball themselves. The teacher is only an assistant there to make sure the students don’t hurt themselves.
I think giving students responsibility over what they learn and how they learn it allows them to take more pride in their own education. I think american schools could really learn from this part of the system. However, school sizes would have to decrease in America for that to happen and teachers would need to take on a greater responsibility outside their classroom. So, maybe it could never happen. I still want to incorporate this thinking into my own classes when I return to Japan. Someway, Somehow, I want my students to feel responsible for their learning and their learning environment.
Im joining class 1-4 on their ensoku. I’m really looking forward to it. These are my new ichi-nensei students so it will be fun to get to know them better tomorrow. This class is my supervisor’s homeroom. I have a feeling I’ll be doing many events with class 1-4 this year. I hope I like them tomorrow. They seem interesting from the 1-2 classes I have taught them so far this year.
Much love to you all.