Making sense of a Japanese Teacher’s Room
For those not on the East Coast of the States, let me paint a quick picture of what I am used to concerning public school teacher’s rooms. In all of my schools, there were no single rooms where all the teachers had desks. Each teacher had a desk in his or her respective room and that is their office for all intensive purposes. The only time teachers could be seen conversing together would be in the faculty lunch room. In college, this was slightly different but not by much. The teachers still had separate offices but at least were together in their respective major’s hallways.
In Japan, I have found a different system. There is one central Teacher’s Room (shokuinshitsu) in which every single teacher (including the office assistants and principal/vice principal) has a desk. At my Jr High school, some teachers also have separate rooms closer to their classrooms. Still, every teacher of that subject has a desk there. The only person who sort of has an office of their own is the Principal but I don’t see them in there very often. Typically, they sit at a desk out in the open with everyone else.
I know, thrilling stuff, right? Well hold your horses. What I find so fascinating about this setup is the difference in group harmony that happens. I agree with many of my fellow ALT’s who say that this would never fly in the States. But being an idealist, I would like to believe that there are certain parts that we could certainly profit by taking into consideration. Firstly, there’s the matter of conversations and questions being more easily brought up because you don’t even have to leave the room to get someone. In many cases the Japanese teachers don’t even get out of their seats. Also, it’s easier for parents and visitors to find the teachers they need. Very heavy on efficiency.
Then there’s the whole “Wa” thing. Click it, I don’t wanna post all that here. In a way, it curbs gossip and helps promote group relationships rather than one on one. Not to say they don’t gossip. It just seems like there’s a lot more open honesty and understanding going on than what I’ve seen in schools back home. As in most Japanese situations, these folks seem to be pretty good at biting their tongues… unlike me. I have let to see an open argument or heavy disagreement anywhere, school or otherwise. It’s amazing when I remember how often I see people getting upset with each other back home. Here, everything is done with delicate inferences or behind closed doors. I couldn’t be more grateful at how forgiving they are of my brash American behavior
Yet again, it’s the little things that stick out as most important to me. Like the principal tending the school grounds, planting and pruning in his spare time. Or the staff member who’s sole responsibility seems to play Mom to everyone (she makes tea at several key points in the day for all the faculty, does janitorial type duties, and keeps everyone informed on the social happenings of the day/week). And even the benign neglect that happens from time to time, at some schools more than others. What do I mean by benign neglect?
Well, I don’t think I’ve coined the phrase, but to me it’s like someone goes away and needs you to look after their dog. But you don’t know anything about dogs and have never met this dog before. You may attempt at communicating with it on some basic level but unless you spend lots of your freetime working with it, you end up just sort of ignoring it unless it needs something. I don’t mean to say that they treat me like an animal. It’s just the feeling that happens here. They mean no harm by it. Many of them honestly don’t have the time or interest in learning enough English to even have a broken conversation. I believe there’s also a level of intimidation that I imbue, as do most foreigners here. Sometimes it gets a bit frustrating because I really want to get better at my Japanese language skills and I’m sure some them want to practice their English as well. The hardest part is taking that first step and making sure it’s understood on both sides that mistakes are not only acceptable but also welcomed.
Why a duck in a chicken coop? I think you already know who’s the duck.
With love – M