Crossroads of Humanity

Dec 5, 2012

In It Together by Cody L. Martin

Join me in welcoming author, Cody L. Martin. He was born in Edmond, Oklahoma but raised in Wyoming. After moving to Alabama and attending the University of Alabama, he moved to Japan to become an assistant English teacher in Yamaguchi Prefecture, helping teach junior high school students. He currently lives there, with his wife Yoko.


I'm a teacher, first in the public sector with middle school students, and now as a tutor. I wasn't trained as a teacher or got a degree in teaching. I don't even teach in America. I teach in Japan. And it's different.

I came to Japan five years ago on the JET Program. For five years I taught at the junior high level, the American equivalent being 7th through 9th grade. Even though my own middle school days were far behind me, I remembered enough to realize how different the school system was, and I'd like to talk a little about that now.

First, please forget the image of obedient, uniformed kids sitting in rows, dutifully hanging on the teacher's every word, and writing in unison. Just like America; Japan has the quiet kids, the noisy kids, the ones that can't sit still, the nippers and the book readers. They're not drones, they are their own individuals with just as widely varying personalities as you'd find in any classroom all over the world. While a higher importance may be placed on tests than in America, they don't spend every waking second cramming and studying, and don't burst into tears when they get less than 100% on their tests. I've seen a student get a 98% on an English test and two seats over in the same class, a student got 10%. All kinds.

What surprised me the most as I worked in the Japanese school system was how much the students work, not just on class work but other things as well. Like most schools in America, kids here have about six classes a day, fifty minutes each. They have homeroom before and after each school day. Come lunch time, there is no cafeteria. Students are assigned lunch duties and they must get the food from the lunch hall, bring it to the class, and serve it to each student. For the most part, food can't be refused and 'trading' is looked down on. If you don't like what you're eating, you're out of luck. At the end of the day comes cleaning. There are no janitors, every student is assigned a task and everyone, teachers included, help cleaning the school and the school grounds every day. This includes putting all the trash together, wiping windows, sweeping, and washing the floor with a rag on your hands and knees. No mops here.

Unlike American schools, most students don't have homework every day. They wouldn't have time since most students are in some sort of after school club: baseball, table tennis, volleyball, art and many more. These activities start after cleaning time, around 4pm, and let out...whenever. I've seen kendo club players still at school at 8pm. Most clubs, especially sports clubs, also have practice on Sundays and Saturdays.

By now, you're thinking this is pretty draconian, "But at least they have summer break, right? Three months of vacation, family trips, and free time." Summer break is forty days, and since it is not in between school years (the new year starts in April and ends in March), the students have summer homework and, mostly for sports, club activities almost every day. When I told my students about American summer break, they all wanted to go to school in America.

I'm not trying to paint a bleak picture. These kids enjoy school. They have Sports Day and Culture Day, class trips, and fun events. By working hard together, either through cleaning or clubs, these kids get to know each other. Unlike America, students stay in one class room, the teacher for each subject comes to their classroom. The kids are almost always together, doing things together. Junior high is a precious time for them and an important time to make friends. They may seem to have rough. But they have it rough together.

"Adventure Hunters" is Cody's first novel. When he isn't writing he enjoys watching movies, listening to Morning Musume, and reading.

1 comment:

  1. The system there seems to instil better values and with the teacher going to the classroom it seems more workable. If those values were applied in Europe or America what a difference it could make.
    Nice Blog Cody.