A recent spot check of working conditions of teachers in Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Tottori and Okinawa by the Board of Audit concluded that teachers in Hokkaido and Okinawa misused their working hours. The Board of Audit will ask the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to demand those teachers return part of their salaries to the authorities. While inappropriate use of work time should be discouraged, the report sounds more like a witch-hunt than a serious investigation.

The spot check was aimed at teachers who allegedly engaged in union activities during working hours. The Board of Audit also claims teachers took extended breaks or attended education meetings without using their paid holidays. However, calculating working hours in this way involves a misunderstanding of actual working conditions for primary and middle school teachers. Teachers are required to spend long hours at schools even during holidays and some schools monitor teachers’ whereabouts. If teachers are not trusted, how can they inspire trust in students?

The report fails to recognize that teaching is a stressful and demanding job that is vital to the development of Japan’s young minds. To do their job, teachers need adequate time off, not heavier oversight and stricter accountability. When teachers are forced to attend pointless meetings, supervise circle activities or, as is often the case, simply do nothing other than show up, their time is being wasted.

To perform well, teachers need downtime to reduce stress, develop new techniques and read and think about education. Good teaching requires mental readiness and huge amounts of energy. Because the best teaching is rooted in teachers’ character and experience, teachers are, in essence, always working. It is doubtful that the Board of Audit will compensate teachers for all their thinking and preparation time, since it is part of their everyday life.

There may in fact be teachers who abuse their work time and they certainly should be held accountable. However, all teachers at primary, middle and high schools need more time off, greater flexibility in how time is spent and a trusting atmosphere. Being investigated in this way does not nurture the autonomy and independent thought that educators require to perform at their best.

By micromanaging teachers’ activities during working hours, especially during what should be holiday time, the overall quality of education is harmed.

The Board of Audit should direct its activities toward investigating genuinely serious abuses in other spheres and allow teachers to get back to responsibly managing their own time.

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