Stress, depression behind twentyfold 10-year increase in resignations of first-year educators

Teachers bolt jobs over mental angst

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The number of first-year teachers who left their job for health reasons has increased twentyfold over the past 10 years, with most citing apparent emotional issues, an education ministry survey has found.

According to the survey, conducted on 25,743 public school teachers who began working in fiscal 2010, 101 voluntarily left within a year for “health” reasons, mainly depression and stress, compared with five in fiscal 2000.

Ninety-one of the 101 who quit were suffering emotional issues such as depression, the ministry said Tuesday.

“We believe (those teachers) suffered from a gap between reality and what they imagined before they start working. . . . Some were believed to have trouble dealing with difficult parents. Some may have suffered from human relationships at their workplaces,” education ministry official Masashi Izumino told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Starting in fiscal 2009, the ministry began investigating the mental health of teachers who quit within a year. In the first survey, 83 of 86 who quit did so reportedly due to such apparent psychological troubles.

Of the 91 teachers last year who quit for such reasons, Tokyo had the highest number, with 29, followed by Chiba Prefecture with six and Aichi Prefecture with five.

To patch its holes in teacher rolls, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government began, in fiscal 2010, rehiring retired teachers to support new teachers at public elementary schools, according to Kenji Yamamoto, personnel section chief at the metro government’s board of education.

Starting this fiscal year, the metro government has been monitoring the emotional state of teachers in their regular health checkups.

“For those who became teachers fresh out of university, it is difficult to deal with children and their parents, especially at an elementary school, because from the first year, they become homeroom teachers and have to deal with many things,” Yamamoto said.

Stress has been an issue not only among new teachers but veterans as well in recent years.

According to an education ministry report last year, 8,627 public school teachers took a leave of absence for health reasons in fiscal 2009. Of these, 5,458, or 63.3 percent, did so due to psychological problems.

The number of teachers taking temporary leave for mental health reasons has been steadily rising since fiscal 2000, the report said. While 0.24 percent of public school teachers took a leave of absence in fiscal 2000, the percentage rose to 0.60 in fiscal 2009, it said.

The education ministry official cited so-called monster parents, who make unreasonable demands, and an increasingly digitized society as some of the reasons behind teachers’ increasing stress.

“There are multiple reasons behind (the rise). . . . One difficulty is guiding students in the digitized world. The Internet is becoming a place where bullying takes place, and (today’s) children communicate more through email. . . . To avoid falling behind the children, teachers have been attempting to learn IT technology. But for some, it is very difficult,” Izumino explained.

According to the education ministry’s 2009 survey, 74.1 percent of public school teachers who took a leave of absence due to mental illness were over 40 years old.