Teachers and Teaching in Japan

Professional Mecca or Pressure Cooker?

Authored by: Catherine Lewis

Handbook of Asian Education

Print publication date:  December  2010
Online publication date:  November  2010

Print ISBN: 9780805864458
eBook ISBN: 9780203816318
Adobe ISBN: 9781136721298

10.4324/9780203816318.ch12

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Abstract

Since the 1990s, Japanese teaching and teachers have attracted enormous international attention. On the one hand, some accounts suggest that Japan epitomizes the professionalization of teaching. Teachers carefully refine well-designed lessons through collaborative, teacher-led “lesson study,” and their work substantially influences textbooks and even national policy (Lewis and Tsuchida 1997; Stigler and Hiebert 1999; Fernandez and Yoshida 2004). Not just teachers’ thinking, but students’ thinking is also valued. Large-scale international studies suggest that Japanese mathematics lessons are more inclusive of student ideas and more conceptually focused than their counterparts in the U.S. and Germany (Stigler and Hiebert 1999, 35). In fact, educators in diverse countries around the world—Canada, Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United States, to name but a few—are working to implement Japanese-style teaching methods for students and Japanese-style on-the-job learning approaches for teachers, particularly in the area of mathematics (Kita et al. n.d.; Tsuneyoshi 2004; Lo et al. 2005; Matoba et al. 2006; Isoda et al. 2007; Mimizuka 2007; Takayama 2007). But other accounts of the teaching profession within Japan—particularly those written within Japan—suggest unprecedented levels of stress and overwork for Japanese teachers, and pronounced concern in the media and policy circles about Japanese education (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999, 709; Mimizuka 2007, 722; OECD 2007, 715). This chapter focuses on both issues, seeking to understand both why Japanese teaching and learning methods have attracted sustained attention outside Japan and what the stresses and challenges are that face Japan’s 1.3 million teachers.

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