Thoughts on Order in the Japanese Classroom

June 1, 2017

I’ve seen my share of corporal punishment in Asia. Nothing so severe that a teacher has actually started beating a student in public (hopefully, I would have interceded), but there have been cases of students in Korea being told to squat while holding a heavy book with their arms outstretched, and younger students being grabbed by the ear.

I have to evaluate each situation when I move to a different country, and a new school. So much of what I think might merit punishment in an American classroom is overlooked in Japan, while an offense I believe deserves little to no attention may result in severe yelling.

Despite the stereotype of the Japanese school system as being full of nothing but child drones mollifying themselves to a teacher-lecturer, I’ve found classrooms are usually a hive of activity (excuse the pun). Of course, it is still difficult to get students to express themselves in English or Japanese, but they’re certainly not just sitting in their seats waiting for class to end… most of them, anyway.

Some students sleep through nearly every class. Rather than being shaken awake or yelled at by teachers, as I would expect this would be treated as a sign of disrespect in the states, Japanese students are usually left alone to rest. There could be many reasons behind this thinking: that students have been studying so hard at home they weren’t able to sleep properly; that they attend a cram school; that they commute for two hours one way to school and need to get up ridiculously early.

There are plenty of slackers thinking they’re smarter than the teachers and furtively browsing the internet on their phones. However, though they know using their cell phones in class isn’t allowed, most don’t have a problem with openly talking to their friends at a normal volume during a lull in the lecture. Granted, it doesn’t last long, but more students talking to each other seems to be tolerated.

Another reason Japanese classrooms are so active is an aspect of how schooling works in this country. While generally students do sit and listen to their teachers at the front of the room, older or more knowledgeable students are encouraged to help their younger peers by getting out of their chairs and moving to where they’re needed, offering a bit of instruction or filling in the blanks. This caught me off guard at first, because my instinct was to tell them to sit down and tend to their own work. However, it’s just another part of teaching in Japan.

What are students like in the classroom of your country?

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