Ever wonder why teachers look so tired? A poll by the All Japan Teachers and Staff Union (Zenkyo) has found that teachers at elementary and secondary schools each logged an average of 95.5 hours of overtime in one month, an increase of 10 hours of overtime from a decade earlier!

In some classrooms, it would appear, teachers might be falling asleep along with their students!

The poll focused on the month of October last year. It included teachers — either with regular or post-retirement jobs — at elementary, junior high and high schools throughout the country.

Most of the overtime, 73 hours, was logged at school, with the remaining overtime taken up by work at home.

Junior high school teachers posted the most overtime, at 114 hours. Full-time high school teachers clocked 100 hours of overtime per month, and elementary teachers, 94 hours of overtime.

These hours add up to days that teachers could put to better use by relaxing and resetting themselves for what is one of the most demanding and important jobs in the country. Teachers are being worked to the point where they cannot do their jobs with adequate energy, attention and care.

Japanese students throughout the country are being taught by teachers suffering from chronic exhaustion.

The staggering amount of overtime likely contributes to the reports of increasing job dissatisfaction, more sick leave taken, and the high resignation and dismissal rates among teachers.

Teachers spent most of the overtime on club and “circle” activities, as well as on writing reports, supervising students and taking care of so-called monster parents. None of these tasks would fall under the typical requirements of a regular workload. Teachers also spent time on class preparation, which at least can be said to have resulted in some immediate benefit to students in the classroom.

Teachers’ downtime could be much better directed. For most teachers, their downtime — when they have it — should be spent on self-improvement, building their own knowledge base and expanding their worldview.

Teachers need to read, study and relax to be ready to teach well. Most teachers work overtime because they are committed to quality education, but the education ministry should take steps to ensure that teachers are given adequate time off so that they can be ready — physically and mentally — to be a strong human presence in the classroom.

Overworking teachers seems to reflect a view of teachers as club leaders, form-fillers and babysitters.

While no one wants to remove sports, parent meetings or accurate records from the school system, teachers must be given time to improve the level of instruction in classes. Being forced to work overtime to the extent revealed in this poll means that Japanese education will have a hard time making much progress.

Reducing overtime would mean that teachers could get back to what they do best — teach!

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