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Priorities (Feedback)

Thanks for all your comments. It’s encouraging to see that at least people are starting to talk about the issue.

As you know, Westerners have trouble understanding Japanese ideas about both the role of teachers and the problem of work/life balance, and this story combines the two, so it’s not surprising that we have different ideas about it.

The reality of being a teacher in Japan is that it means you have almost no time to spend with your own kids because you are so busy looking after other people’s. Mind you, I suppose the same thing is true in a lot of other jobs. The problem is that many teachers have to choose between having a career and having a family, and that cannot be a good thing.

In particular, there is a very high turnover of elementary school teachers these days. Many of our female students tell us that they want to teach until they are about 30, and then they want to quit so that they can start a family of their own. Surely it would be better to create a work environment where they could do both.

Anyway, here is some feedback on your comments.

However, if she were in charge of the first-graders, I think she should never be absent!
However, …. , I definitely think she should have attended. 

Like she is the only mother for her son, she is the only class teacher for her students, too.
But surely being someone’s mother is a far bigger role than being their teacher! Students will have many teachers in their lives, but they will only ever have one mother. 

But in Japanese society, her decision isn’t forgivable,
But in Japanese society, her decision is not acceptable. 

I wonder if there weren’t other family members,father or grandparents.
I wonder if there weren’t any other family members who could have gone in her place, such as the boy’s father or his grandparents.

Sorry for bothering.
Sorry for bothering you.

For some reason, I was simply convinced that the story was all about ‘elementary school’!
For some reason, I had assumed that the story was about an elementary school.

Then, the whole story gives me a slightly different impression.
In that case, my views are slightly different.

I read that she’d written a letter to her students and parents apologizing for her absent
… apologizing for her absence

I’m not particularly against teachers to put their families first
I have nothing against teachers putting their families first

She is someone’s teacher but at the same time she is someone’s mother too.
That’s pretty much the view of most Western people, and whichever way you look at it, “mother” trumps “teacher”!

Respondents comments are fifty fifty: about half agreed and half disagreed.
That’s really interesting. I would have expected most Japanese people to criticise her.

I don’t think we have an equivalent of a school ceremony
Hi Kattie, it is difficult to over-stress how much Japanese people love ceremonies. They have them for everything! They even have entrance ceremonies and graduation ceremonies for kindergartens! The only thing even close in the UK would be a university graduation ceremony.

If it were me, I know I would waver a lot!
If it were me, I know that I would find it hard to choose.

If I were her co-worker, I’d rather think how to avoid blame from parents for her.
If I were one of her co-workers, I would rather think of ways to make sure the parents didn’t complain about her.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend.


  1. YU on 2014年04月25日 at 20:59

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback.

    > If I were her co-worker, I’d rather think how to avoid blame from parents for her.

    -If I were one of her co-workers, I would rather think of ways to make sure the parents didn’t complain about her.

    Thank you for the correction, but I don’t think that isn’t what I wanted to say. I actually meant to say,


    I’ve been very busy with kindergarten’s 役員 work. I think this is another crazy point in this country.

    Have a nice weekendend all!

  2. YU on 2014年04月25日 at 21:00


    “I don’t think that isn’t what I wanted to say”
    should be “I don’t think that is what….”

  3. Akira on 2014年04月25日 at 22:15

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your comment.
    Btw, does ‘trump’ mean ‘beat’ or ‘better’ or sth like that?
    If so, can you give me any other example sentences? because I can’t find any sentences using ‘trump’ as verb in my dictionary.

  4. kattie on 2014年04月26日 at 02:01

    Hi everyone,

    One thing that particularly struck me from the link Akira sent was that the ceremony seemed very serious and there wasn’t much interaction between the teachers, pupils and parents. This made me feel that the children wouldn’t really have a chance to get to know her at this type of event and so her absence wouldn’t really be missed – although I can see from your comments that her attendance is probably more symbolically important.

    I think a lot of you might actually be horrified by how informal British state schools are and a lot of British people, especially older people, feel that this has led to a decline in discipline. However, the plus side of this is that teachers and students often get to know each other really well and sometimes even remain in touch after leaving school.

    Hi Biwa,

    I hope you can get this – I’m not sure whether you will understand the Yorkshire accent. The school is in quite a deprived part of the country and the children come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

    Hi Akira,

    The teacher’s approach to Mushy’s stammer was actually inspired by watching the King’s Speech.

  5. Fumie on 2014年04月26日 at 06:09

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback.
    >Surely it would be better to create a work environment where they could do both.
    – I can’t agree with you more. If their workload were reduced, the percentage of turnover would be lowered.

    Hi Kattie,

    > ~the ceremony seemed very serious and there wasn’t much interaction between the teachers, pupils and parents.
    That’s so true. It is hard for students to sit still quietly during the ceremony. It’s just boring. As you pointed out, there isn’t no meaning because there is no interaction between the teachers, pupils and parents. It’s just a symbolic event.
    > However, the plus side of this is that teachers and students often get to know each other really well and sometimes even remain in touch after leaving school.
    That could happen to Japanese schools too, especially in elementary schools because in elementary schools the time students and homeroom teachers spend is so long. Homeroom teachers teach most of subjects so their bond would be tighter but in worst case if their chemistry was bad students hate teacher.

    Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

  6. Anne on 2014年04月26日 at 08:24

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback.

    Situation is changing, however, even though ceremonies are just symbolic ones, I guess this mind-set would not disappear.

    Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

  7. David on 2014年04月26日 at 16:21

    Hi Akira,

    Yes, “trumps” means “beats.” It’s an expression that comes from card games, I think. There is a famous card game in my country called “Top Trumps.” There are different sets, and each card contains information about a member of that set. For example, I used to have a set about cars. Each card has a picture of a car and lots of information about it, including things like its weight, its top speed, and the power of its engine. When you play the game, you choose the next card in your pile, look at it, and choose the category in which you think your car is strongest. For example, if the car is a Ferrari, you might pick “top speed.” If the other players’ cars have a lower top speed than yours, they have to give their cards to you. I’m not sure why the word is not in your dictionary, because it’s not unusual at all.

    Hi YU,

    Sorry about that. I wasn’t sure what you wanted to say. Is it something like “If I were one of her colleagues, I would be worrying too much about how to avoid complaints from the parents to think about her situation”?

  8. Biwa on 2014年04月26日 at 18:44

    Hi David,

    Thanks always for your feedback. I had to use lots of “if” sentences this time, and surely it was a very good practice!

    I have three questions.
    1)>If she were in charge of the first-graders, I definitely think she should have attended.

    Can I also say “If she is in charge of the first-graders,….”?

    2)>For some reason, I had assumed that the story was about an elementary school.

    Why do you say “had assumed”? Can’t it be “I assumed that…”?

    3)>I would have expected most Japanese people to criticise her.

    Does this “would” mean future in the past?

    Hi Kattie,

    Thanks for the link. I saw the first five minutes, and yes, the English is hard to get even without Yorkshire accent, but I think the picture helps me a lot.

    Hi Akira,

    You can see some example sentences here:

  9. Akira on 2014年04月27日 at 00:28

    Hi David,

    Sorry but what I wanted to say is that I can find the meaning of ‘trump’ both as a noun and a verb in my dictionary, but I can’t find example sentences using ‘trump’ as a verb.
    For example, can you say ‘Arsenal has trumped Chelsea’ or ‘He’s trumped his girlfriend in argument’? Do they sound nutural?
    I don’t think it’s an important question but I’ve just wondered.

    Hi Biwa,

    Thanks for the link, which is also helpful.
    and I also have same questions as yours.

  10. YU on 2014年04月28日 at 14:01

    Hi David,

    >“If I were one of her colleagues, I would be worrying too much about how to avoid complaints from the parents to think about her situation”?

    Sorry, I’m not 100% sure about what your sentence above means, but I guess that’s what I wanted to say. Thank you.

  11. David on 2014年04月28日 at 15:07

    Hi everyone,

    Sorry about this, but I have decided to take a break from doing the blog for a few weeks. I’m still really busy because of the new house, and I also have a lot going on at work, so it’s quite difficult to find the time to do everything. If you are on Facebook, please “Like” the BTB Press page (or follow BTB Press on Twitter) to find out when the next entry is posted.

    Hope you all have a great Golden Week.

  12. Kaz on 2014年04月28日 at 22:24

    Hi Everyone.
    This is my first time to make my comment.
    I am glad to join for communicating in this blog.

    My family, except for me, are all teachers for high school and university.
    When I was young my mother could not come to my school for the day of school visitation but I did understand the reason so I didn’t dislike.
    However now I am working for the company and my colleagues take day off work mostly 100%.
    Off course their first purpose is for their children, but second purpose is to create the characteristics of a company which everyone don’t have to hesitate to take day off.
    So when I get my kid in someday in the future, I want to be a father who can visit my kid’s school by taking day off.

  13. Kaz on 2014年04月28日 at 22:28

    Hi Every one,
    This is my first time to make comment.
    I am glad to join for communicating here in this blog.

  14. Kattie on 2014年04月29日 at 06:57

    Hi Fumie,

    I’m typing this at home on my laptop and I can’t work out the copy/paste button but I just wanted to say that I agree it can be difficult when you have only one teacher and you don’t get on with them. This also happens in primary school here.

    In my daughters’ secondary school they had form teachers who were with them throughout their time at the school. This teacher saw them every morning, they also taught their own subject, so the kids got to them very well. My youngest daughters’ form teacher was particularly nice; he sometimes brought in food he’d baked at home and he genuinely seemed to love his work and the kids. I think it helped that he only worked part-time so when he wasn’t teaching biology or being their form teacher, he was off enjoying his other life; rock climbing. Actually David mentioned a card game called Top Trumps, which reminded me that when her year were leaving, he printed up a set of Top Trump cards; a card for each class member which had a photo of them (aged 11) and with their scores for various different characteristics e.g. Lateness 10, Doziness 7, Tidiness 0! Rosie still has the cards – they are a lovely memento!

  15. Biwa on 2014年04月29日 at 11:28

    Hi David,

    Please take your time, and I’m looking forward to the next entry when you are ready. I just hope I haven’t put you off by asking so many questions when you were busy.

    Hi Kaz,

    Nice to have you with us.

    Hi Kattie,

    I love your story about the form teacher. I’ve been watching some other videos about secondary schools besides the one you sent me, and I really think that teachers are not just for teaching their own subjects. They are sometimes a good friend who are a bit older than your classmates, sometimes a reliable adult. Even if you are not that close, I can tell that what teachers say or do can have a great impact on a child’s life. I was a very shy girl when I was small, and I couldn’t raise my hand in class even if I knew the answer. When we had a school assembly, my teacher told me to do the presenter. She gave me the script, and I practiced a lot, and I managed to do it successfully. In retrospect, I really admire how well she had carefully watched each child.

  16. Fumie on 2014年04月29日 at 22:22

    Hi Kattie,

    Thank you for sharing a nice story. Your daughter is really lucky to have such a nice teacher! As you mentioned, he worked part-time and had time for his private life, he could enjoy his work and did well. If Japanese teachers’ workloads were reduced, they could have enjoyed their work better and their skill would have improved.

    I watched “educating Yorkshire” video and how he(Mushy) overcame stammer was so touching!

    Hi Kaz, nice to have you with us!

    Hi Biwa,

    >Even if you are not that close, I can tell that what teachers say or do can have a great impact on a child’s life.
    You are right. Sometimes meeting wonderful teachers even change students’ life.

  17. Kattie on 2014年04月30日 at 05:33

    Hi Biwa,

    It makes such a difference when a teacher really notices the characteristics of each child and helps them overcome things like shyness – it shows how important that teacher was to you because you’ve never forgotten her.

    It must be interesting watching documentaries about secondary schools in other countries. I wish I could understand Japanese and then I could watch programmes about your schools! A few years ago there was a programme about Chinese schools, which had subtitles and it was so interesting.

    Hi Fumie,

    We all (Tom, Emily, Rosie and me) had tears in our eyes when we watched Mushy overcoming his stammer, the teachers were all so kind and sensitive. There is another episode about the maths teacher, Mr Steer, who helps three girls try and pass their maths exam. The girls are not very good at maths and normally don’t work very hard but they really try for him. He’s very dedicated and keeps coming into school to give them extra classes, even when he’s really ill. A lot of people thought the school wasn’t very good when they first started watching the series (It’s in a very poor area with a lot of social problems) but as the episodes went on, people realised that the teachers were really good and the relationships with the kids were excellent – also the banter (do you know this word? it means informal chatter) was also really funny – if you can understand it!! Since then I have heard this programme mentioned on quite serious news and discussion programmes and the school has been highly praised.

    Hi David,

    I hope things quieten down soon.

    Hi Kaz,

    It was interesting to read your entry, I look forward to reading more of your comments in the future

  18. YU on 2014年04月30日 at 11:05

    Hi Kaz,

    Nice to have you with us!

    Hi everyone,

    Like Kaz, I hope that everyone will be able to feel free to take a day off for families in the future too, but I believe that there’re some special jobs in which you shouldn’t always put your family before work. Doctors, nurses, fire fighters, the police, teachers, etc… As everyone says, they’re someone’s parents or partners, but I think people who have jobs like that must fully understand their public role and are required to always conduct work with a high level of professional ethics.

    For example, if a big earth quake occured here again and my son’s class teacher went home to see her own children leaving her students in kindergarten before parents picking them up, I’d be very angry.

    I know it’s a different matter from whether teachers should attend their own child’s school ceremonies being absent from ones of their own schools, but what I want to say here is that I don’t think you can simply talk about them like when you talk about other jobs.

  19. Fumie on 2014年04月30日 at 22:49

    Hi Kattie,

    >It must be interesting watching documentaries about secondary schools in other countries.
    I’m very much interested in knowing what the educations like in other countries so if there is a program showing other country’s classroom, I would definitely watch it.

    And thanks for telling us more about “Educating Yorkshire.” The school and the teachers seems really nice! My dictionary says “banter” is friendly remarks and jokes. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can understand or catch banter.

  20. Biwa on 2014年05月01日 at 11:09

    Hi Kattie,

    I tried to find some videos on youtube that show what highschool life is like in Japan, but I realized that most of the camerawork is awful! The camera goes up and down, so I often feel like car sick…
    Anyway, here are two videos. The first one is very short, but has subtitles, and I think you can at least see how overcrowded the classroom is, and how teacher-centered the classes are. The second one was filmed by a foreign exchange student, so you can get what she’s talking about. I wish we had real good documentary programs like you do.

  21. Kattie on 2014年05月03日 at 02:31

    Hi Biwa,

    Thanks so much for the links – they were really interesting. I particularly liked the one about a typical school day. It didn’t really have a lot of footage of lessons (I suppose it would have been difficult to film it) but it certainly gives you an idea of what a Japanese school is like. In many ways it seems quite similar to a school in the UK but a couple of things struck me; firstly, everyone seemed to have a packed lunch (i.e. food brought from home) and also everyone’s food was very similar and in similar containers – it looked lovely. Secondly, the students cleaned and tidied the classroom at the end of the school day. This does not happen in the UK but I think it’s a good idea. By the way (BTW, who makes the packed lunches?

    Is this school a private school? I thought it might be because it looked like it was ‘girls only’ and also the journey to school seemed long. In the UK most state school are co-ed (short for co-educational) and people generally attend their nearest school which is usually a walk or short bus ride. I noticed the students on the clip were wearing uniforms, students (under the age of 16) also wear school uniforms here but this isn’t the case in a lot of other European countries. However, in the UK the students always try to make their uniforms look different by altering the skirt lengths, wearing ties in different ways etc – is this the case in Japan too? The class did look bigger than here, ours are normally about 25 for the main subjects but in optional subjects they can be a lot smaller. What is a typical class size in Japan and also how big is the average secondary school?

    I tried to send you a youtube link to the documentary on Chinese schools but it didn’t seem to work – it was a BBC documentary (on BBC1) called Chinese School, you might be able to find it. We have quite a lot of documentaries on telly here; the channel with best documentaries and history programmes is BBC4. From what you said, I wasn’t sure whether you don’t have documentaries on Japanese TV or whether you do have them, but they’re generally not very good.

    It’s a bank holiday weekend here so we’ve got 3 days off which is nice. I’m just leaving the office now.

  22. Kattie on 2014年05月03日 at 02:35

    Sorry – when I said ‘By the way’, I put btw afterwards to show that this is the common abbreviation but I didn’t put the brackets in properly. Hope I didn’t cause confusion!

  23. Biwa on 2014年05月03日 at 19:22

    Hi Kattie,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you liked the clips.

    Sorry, my sentence seems to have confused you! We do have documentaries- I think NHK(Japan’s public broadcaster) makes quite good ones- but I couldn’t either recall any programs similar to “Educating Yorkshire” or find any on the net.

    Anyway, yes, the school is a private school. I think all of the public schools in Japan are co-ed. Elementary school (6-12years old) and junior-high (12-15years old) are compulsory, and if you choose to go to a public school, you are automatically assigned to the nearest school according to where you live. Highschools (15-18years old) are a bit different. You have to pass entrance exams, but you have a wider range of choice, which might make the difference in commute time.

    Most junior-high and highschools- both public and private- have school uniforms and also uniforms for P.E., but it’s not always the case. I send my sons (my elder son has graduated this March, though) to the same private school from junior-high, but they don’t have uniforms.

    >in the UK the students always try to make their uniforms look different by altering the skirt lengths, wearing ties in different ways etc

    I laughed when I read this because that is exactly what Japanese students (including me in my school days) do, too! Actually, having no uniforms is one of the things I like about my son’s school because one design doesn’t fit all, and to dress accordingly is part of education, isn’t it!

    And the boxed-lunches which are called “bento” in Japanese seems to look very unique to people in other countries. I have seen on TV that “bento” has become popular among working people in Paris because they are handy and pretty, also cheaper and faster than eating at a cafe. Also the way various food are put all together in a box seemed to attract many people. They said that the bento shops are selling very well. Are they really that different from the lunches you bring to school/work? Anyway, most junior-high and highschools don’t serve school lunch, so you have to either bring your own, or buy something on your way to school. However, some private schools have cafeterias, so it depends. My sons eat at the cafeteria on weekdays, I make bento only on weekends when they have volleyball practice. I’m lucky! I’m not really sure, but I think in most cases, mothers prepare the bento. Of course, you don’t need to cook everything from scratch, you can pack leftovers, stock boiled vegetables and other things, so it takes only 10-15 minutes for me to make one.

    Regarding the class sizes, I think the average is about 40. In our nearby public junior-high, they have 8 classes in one year(grade), so the total number of students would be 40(students)x 8(classes)x 3(years)=960 students. However, the size of the school might differ a lot depending on the area where the school is. In the countyside, both class size and school size might be more compact. Anyway, most of the subjects are taught in this size, thus teacher-centered lessons, and it’s been a big problem since before.

    Seems like I have written too much so I’ll write again later. Have a nice holiday! We’re also having a holiday until Tuesday! Hooray!

  24. Kattie on 2014年05月04日 at 06:42

    Hi everyone,

    Did you hear the awful news about the British school teacher who was stabbed by a pupil in the classroom last week? It’s really shocking and we don’t know all the details yet but apparently she was a really popular teacher who’d been at the school for years and was due to retire shortly. I think the student was known to be a bit strange but obviously no-one would have believed something like that would happen.

    Hi Biwa,

    Most UK schools
    and colleges don’t have uniforms for 16 to 18 year olds.
    < and to dress accordingly is part of education, isn’t it!

    Yea I agree but I think one of the problems with not having a uniform is that there can be a lot of peer pressure to wear expensive, fashionable clothes which is particularly a problem if your family cannot afford to buy whatever is deemed cool.

    By the way, just in case you're interested, here are links from daughters' primary and secondary schools – they left quite a few years ago now – You might notice something called the Ofsted report – this refers to the government inspection of the school and it helps parents decide which school they want their children to go to.

    I think they are fairly typical state schools except the primary school was very small when my daughters were there and the secondary school was one of the biggest in the UK (about 1500 students between 11 and 16). We don't generally have junior high schools.

    I hope you are all enjoying the long weekend. The weather's really nice here (for the UK!) and I've been busy trying to tackle the new garden.

    David – I hope the house is coming on well and you're getting the chance to enjoy it now.

  25. Biwa on 2014年05月05日 at 11:33

    Hi everyone,

    Did you notice the earthquake early this morning? It was quite big. I hope you are all okay.

    Hi Kattie,

    Sorry to hear about the horrible news. I wish the student had had at least someone to tell about his worries. It’s really sad that he was cornered(?) to feel that he had no other choice.

    By the way, thanks for the links. The site for Marple Hall was particularly interesting that it even made me want to go!

    I noticed a word “house.” It reminds me of typical British school dorms like the ones in Harry Potter, but it seems more like a “team” where students cooperate with each other throughout their school life. At my sons’ school, they form four teams (vertically split from 7th-grade to 12th-grade) when they have sports festivals and other school competitions. I was wondering if it was something similar.

    Overall, I think British schools have a good culture of trying to improve with all people (the state, schools, students and parents) involved. The schools seem to disclose as much information as they can, and in turn, people give constructive feedback (not only complaints), which creates a virtuous circle. We don’t have anything similar to the Ofsted report, which is a real pity. Actually, there is an argument at the moment whether schools should disclose achievement test scores or not. Many people say they shouldn’t because it would be unfair to the lower score schools. To me, it sounds a lot better to disclose and try to make the school better. I think it’s another bad side of Japan that they take equality for same.

    P.S. How’s your garden going? I’m baking a cake this afternoon because tomorrow is my youger son’s birthday.
shemale lesbian.