The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher Teaching students by moonlight

    Last week, we learned what a junior high night school was and, as I mentioned, today we are going to hear from a teacher of one of those schools. The person I interviewed just started as a junior high night school teacher last April, so she is in the middle of figuring out what this job is like. In other words, we can get her fresh impressions of this type of school.

    (Please note that at the request of the interviewee, we are keeping this person's identity a secret.)

    night school illustration

    1. What is a public junior high night school?

    It's a public school for those who were not able to complete their compulsory education. Although there are different requirements depending on the location, it's open to both Japanese and non-Japanese people.

    2. How many night schools are in Japan?

    36 Schools.

    3. Are there any regional features among junior high night schools?

    In recent years, the majority of students have been non-Japanese people. Depending on which region of Japan you look at, the ethnic majority in any given school varies greatly. For example, the school I work for is located in Tokyo, near Shibuya. Until 5 years ago, the majority of students were Japanese orphans from China who had returned to Japan, but in the past 2-3 years the number of Nepalese students has been increasing. We currently have 61 students in total and over 20 of them are Nepalese.

    The majorities even change from school to school in Tokyo alone. I've heard that one of the eight schools in Tokyo has a lot of Brazilian students. Knowledge of these schools often spreads by word of mouth among certain communities, and that seems to explain the increases of certain ethnicities in certain schools. Since the location of our school is very close to Shibuya, teenage students or ones in their early twenties tend to come to our school. It is also known that there are a lot of Korean students in Osaka and a lot of Burakumin students in Nara.

    4. What does a night school teacher do?

    It's basically the same as what a daytime schoolteacher does. The only thing that differs from daytime teachers is how to approach the students. Since many of the students can't understand Japanese very well, we have to be creative with lessons. For example, we often draw illustrations or do charts more than writing. Some teachers also use tablets to search for words in a student's native languages when they don't understand during the class.

    5. What is the difference between day and night schools?

    The duties are the same. The difference is the time of the lessons and students, and their level of Japanese language skill determines which class they're in. Other than that, it's basically the same. We have school trips, school lunches, and classroom cleaning time just like ordinary schools do. We have sport festivals including volleyball and basketball tournaments.

    The eight junior high night schools in Tokyo compete against each other in those tournaments. One unique event we have, since there are so many non-Japanese people, is an "International Foods Exchange Party" where everyone brings their own country's cuisines. As for school hours, the first class starts at 5:30pm and the last one ends at 9pm. Before the classes begin, we open a self-learning room at around 3pm, so the students who want to study can feel free to come earlier and study. We also have activity clubs set up before and after classes. Depending on the club, it lasts for 30 minutes to an hour a day and they are held 2 to 3 times a week.

    6. Do night schoolteachers communicate with daytime schoolteachers?

    Although we use the same building, there is an atmosphere as though we teach in different schools. We don't avoid communicating with each other, but since the school time and curriculum is completely different, we don't communicate very often. It's difficult to work at both daytime and night schools, so we just do our own jobs. Perhaps we would talk more if some event was held that encouraged communication, but nobody has really found it necessary.

    I work as the volleyball coach for the daytime school students, but I prepare for classes on weekdays so I can only attend their games on weekends. There is a fulltime coach from the daytime school, as well. I just help out. Since it would often take up your weekends, not many night school teachers get involved in such things either.

    math textbook and homework illustration

    7. What subjects do you teach?

    Math and Japanese. In our junior high night school, the proficiency level of each student determines which classroom they are placed in. The lowest level classroom presents grade one content, such as doing addition on a piece of paper, learning words, kanji, and reading comprehension of grade 1 level material. The highest-level class presents content typical of the third year of junior high school.

    I teach grade 2 Japanese and third year junior high math. What I just described was for regular curriculum classrooms. In my school, there are Japanese classes for non-Japanese people outside of just the classes following a regular curriculum. Since such classes are for those who barely understand any Japanese at all, the curriculum focuses on Japanese as a second language and it includes practical activities, such as physical education, home economics, and art. Only students in a regular curriculum classrooms learn math, science, or social studies.

    8. What are your typical hours?

    Even though classes are held from 5:30pm to 9:30pm, I work from 1pm to 9:30pm.

    9. What's the best thing about being a night school teacher?

    Each classroom only has 3 to 10 students. Since they are small classrooms, the time and focus that a teacher can direct towards any one student is much larger. The ages of the students are also close to mine, so we are all friendly. Students often speak to teachers in a positive and polite way. There are also older students, as well as multinational students, so teachers are often able to learn a lot from them and about their respective countries. We can learn what it is really like to live in other countries and not just from what is reported in the news. I got more interested in the world outside of Japan after working here.

    10. What's the worst thing about being a night school teacher?

    It is very difficult to convey to students the nuance of things that are uniquely Japanese. Particles and onomatopoeia are particularly tough. For example, there was a sentence "ツルツルして すべりやすい。(tsurutsurushite suberiyasui)" and my student asked me what "tsurutsuru" meant. I explained that it is onomatopoeia for "slippery" or "smooth", but that suberiyasui also means slippery. For those who don't understand both Japanese and English, it was very difficult for me to explain. Also, there are so many cultural differences that it's not only difficult to teach the Japanese language, but also our mindset, our conduct and our manners. Those things are very difficult for me. The worst thing is, however, that there are many students who cannot attend due to their jobs or their family problems, and most of them withdraw from school. There are also some students who cannot really be involved with events or activities outside of usual classes and I think that is a shame.

    11. What's the funniest story you have from being a night school teacher?

    On June 8, there was a volleyball tournament among the eight junior high night schools in Tokyo, and our school won. It was really fun for all of them and I was so happy for my students. We practiced three times a week after night school on top of the 3 days of special practice before the tournament. Both students and teachers had been practicing so hard so they could win, so we were very happy to get the result we did. Students who didn't play in the game did a really good job of cheering for our team too. They were such exciting games. When the other school took the first set, the teams' mood went way down, but all the teachers and students only cheered louder and they were able to get their minds right again. When we won, students were doing the victory dance and I thought it was a very international show of a good emotion because Japanese students don't usually dance. Anyways, getting that win was a really good moment that shows what can happen when we all come together and work towards the same goal.

    12. I imagine being a night school teacher gives you some free time during the day. What do you do during the day?

    Just ordinary private errands. I don't do anything specific. My workday is 8 hours long, so I basically have the same free time as the other people working in offices.

    13. What do you think are the best aspects of the Japanese education system?

    I think Japanese education is very tolerant. It's certainly fantastic that we are this devoted to and enthusiastic about the education of non-Japanese people.

    14. What are the worst things about the Japanese education system?

    I haven't found any, yet.

    15. Why are kids going to school at night instead of during the day?

    It's not their choice. Our students are people who can't meet the requirements of daytime school, so they just come to night school instead.

    They are Japanese people who couldn't complete their junior high school education for some reason. The reasons are various. Some couldn't go due to illness, or their parents didn't let them go to school. We have a student whose parents didn't let them go to school, and he tried to work after their death, but couldn't find a job because he had no education. Then he came to night school. Others stop going to school because they're being bullied, or because of their parents' death. There is also a student who was raised in a religious group and had never been enrolled in Japanese compulsory education, but then he came to night school after he became an adult.

    Non-Japanese students have various reasons too. Some of them had to move to several new countries due to their parent's job and couldn't finish the junior high school education in their own country. Others just grew up in a country that didn't have a proper educational system. Some students actually came to Japan when they were under the age of 15 and went to daytime school for a while, but they couldn't get along with people or make any friends, or they gave up studying there because they didn't understand Japanese very well. Later on, they decided to come to night school to complete their compulsory education.

    faceless human student illustration

    16. Who are your students?

    In my current class I teach one person from Bangladesh, one from Thailand, one from the Philippines, and one from Nepal. Four of them are teenagers and one is in his 40's.

    17. Why are international students increasing?

    The rapprochement reached between Japan and China in 1972 increased the number of Japanese orphans in China returning to Japan, and they and their families became the majority of students. Since the late 1970's, Indo-Chinese refugees increased. Since the 1990's, non-Japanese people increased in Japan as a result of people's jobs, or due to the increase in international marriage, and their kids and family members started coming to night school. After that, there was a time when Afghan refugees increased as well.

    When times change, as reflected by international situations and the internationalization of Japan, the students have gradually changed along with them.

    18. Can you tell us about a student you've helped a lot?

    I've just started this job, so I haven't had any specific student yet.

    19. Are there any specific problems that international students have?

    They are uncertain of their likelihood of staying in Japan. (If they are not sure how long they can stay in Japan, it can discourage them from studying.)

    20. Is there anything else you want to say about your job?

    While teaching non-Japanese students, I've learned that foreign workers have helped Japan a lot. We don't just pay them for the work they do. They are supporting Japanese society. With the rapid decline of the birthrate, we have to treat such workers really well. I think Japan will come to rely on foreign workers more and more in the future. Therefore, offering education to non-Japanese people who play an important role as citizens in Japan, teaching them not only general knowledge but also Japanese manners and conduct, is very important too, I think.

    Night school was originally aimed at Japanese people who could not study because of the war, but now most of the students are non-Japanese people. In our school, only 4 students are Japanese. Our students are as varied as their historical backgrounds. I think it is essential to offer a great education to non-Japanese people right now because if they learn a lot at our night school and enjoy themselves while doing it, they might come to think really fondly of Japan and then one day repay Japan for its kindness. They might work hard for Japan, or they might become a great bridge between Japan and their own countries. Right now, my students all like Japan. Being kind to each other – It is in this way, I believe we can foster great international relationships.