My experience is but a small blot about teaching in the two countries I speak about below. Don't take what I say to be universal truths.
I am from Jamaica and I taught in high school there for five years. I have now been teaching in Japan for 13 years. In Japan I have taught at the elementary, junior high and high school level.
In Jamaica I taught at two high schools in two cities. I have taught at 6 schools and 2 junior high schools in the Japanese country side (this was when I was on the JET Programme over a 5 year period). I have also taught at two high schools here in Japan. I am still teaching in a high school in a city here in Japan now.
Let me talk a bit about how teaching in Jamaica, a developing country lines up with teaching in Japan, a developed country.
In both countries I teach English Language and Literature principally to high schoolers. On the JET Programme I was teaching ESL.
Some Similarities I Find Teaching in Both Places
Teaching in both countries, like anywhere else in the world, requires passion and drive. This is essential to effectively deliver the contents of the curriculum and facilitate learning. I am preparing students to be lifelong learners, as well as, to do well in their final exams. This means balancing engaging content with relevant preparation and practice for different assessments. Consequently, like every responsible teacher, I do backward planning and craft lessons with the above in mind.
Students are students everywhere. There is the thinking that all Japanese students are docile and cooperative learners all the time. Many of my friends in Jamaica and other places think teaching in Japan is a magical land without any issues with students. At the very least, there is still the struggle of getting homework from all students on time without pithy excuses.
I also have the same level of satisfaction interacting with students. For the most part students are open and trusting and if you keep the standards you set for them, you will get on like a house on fire. Of course there are other components but that’s basically it.
Building relationships with colleagues work in much the same manner, even though in Japan, I work with people of various nationalities. We share a passion for our craft and like personalities gel and such. We work well professionally. There are of course some challenges because of viewing things through different cultural lens and being socialised differently. This is an advantage I find to help me mature more.
There are of course others but I will talk about those as time goes on.
What’s are the key differences I find teaching in Jamaica and Japan?
For me the most notable is the infrastructure. Interestingly, in some of the schools I have taught at in Japan ‘chalk and talk’ is still prevalent. Since, I have been teaching in the IBDP this isn’t the case. We have better access to technology – this doesn’t mean there isn’t more that’s needed – so that I can use this to further engage students. Students are also able to transfer skills they have learned to be more active contributors in classes. This also pushes me to learn more about what is out there that I can use in my classroom. I know more schools in Jamaica are on the same track compared to 13 years ago when I was teaching there.
The layout of the classroom and space, in the schools I have worked at in Japan, tends to be more suitable to getting around. There are on average about 30-35 kids in a classroom in Japan, while in Jamaica it can go up to 40 and above in a smaller space. This means it’s not so easy to move furniture and form groups as we do different activities. One thing that struck me, the first time I went into a Japanese classroom, was how much light came in through the big bay windows.
It’s a given that I earn more money here in Japan. In Jamaica, some of what I failed to get in money I got in time off, especially during the summer. Cumulatively, teachers get more time off and paid less months of the year in Jamaica. It is just multiplied by 12 (correct me if I am wrong). There are no built in holidays for only teachers in Japan; teachers have to use paid leave to take time off when students are off. This is with the exception of December 28th – January 3rd. Also, teachers work from 8:30 – 5:00 like other civil servants. In addition, there are a number of Saturdays that we go in for parents’ meetings or tests and other events.
Summing up my Thoughts
I am blessed to teach in both Jamaica and Japan. My time teaching in Jamaica has helped me to transition into effectively doing the same in Japan. I am honing my skills through practicing my craft in both places. Ultimately, I want to do a 180 and transfer some of what I am learning here in Japan to the classroom in Jamaica.
At the core, teaching English Language and Literature in both places is the same. If I am not passionate, focused and open-minded I can’t serve my students, whether in Jamaica or Japan. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had in both places, to push me to keep working hard to help my students. I don’t think one is better than the other though certain structures differ. It could be that I have just had the advantage of teaching in relatively high level schools in both places. There is some truth to this.