Friday, January 28, 2011

"Monster Moms" in Japan

The Japanese school year runs from April until the beginning of the following March. That means of course that this school year is coming to a close soon. Although I don’t teach at a Japanese school, I teach at a school that runs on the same calendar. That also means that my school year will soon be coming to a close. To be honest, I am very excited about that! I’m looking forward to spring vacation. I’m looking forward to having time to go hiking and running. I am also looking forward to more time with my wife and son and to be very truthful, I have aged about 3-5 years during the past school year.

There are definitely many reasons for this. Being an elementary school teacher is like juggling a thousand hats at once. Having your first child throws your entire life for a loop (a delightful, yet sleepless loop). At times, there can be friction within the workplace and of course, at times, parents can cause issues. All of these were factors during this year.

I want to focus a little on the problems of parental pressure. I’m of course not going to go into detail about my specific situation, but I will allude to it and reference to issues I have had in the past as a teacher in Korea, Canada and in Japan.

Many people in Japan (especially educators) talk about how things are changing with regards to parents. The same trends seem to be happening in many other places as well. One important role of kindergarten/elementary schoolteachers is to teach a child to become independent. We give them the confidence and the skills to do things by themselves. Depending on the age, that might be something as simple as dressing him or herself or dealing with complex problem solving issues. We want our students to learn how to deal with the world and handle things by themselves. As teachers attempt to instill independence, a growing number of parents seem to want to encourage dependence. As teachers we tell our students that you are responsible for organizing your books and carrying your bags. Many parents tell them, “It’s ok, I’ll do all of that for you and if anything goes wrong, it’s your teacher’s fault.”

Again, these are not just problems in Japan, but in America, Canada, the U.K etc. As teachers we tell parents that children need solid routines both in school and at home. They need set meal times, homework times and bed times. We encourage parents to take an active role in their child’s education. Read with them. Read to them. Guide them during homework time. Make sure they get the proper amount of sleep. Many parents ignore all of this advice and when their child doesn’t reach a high level of academic achievement, the parents very quickly point their fingers in the teachers’ direction. “It’s all the teacher’s fault.”

It can be a frustrating job. Being a teacher is more than 9-5. Often, it’s more than a job. It’s a vocation. Recently, here in Japan, one Japanese teacher decided to take legal action against a “monster mom.” She has also taken legal action against her former school for not supporting her while she was harassed on a daily basis by a crazed mother demanding more than any sane person should! The teacher had to take a stress leave and suffered from insomnia because of this one mother’s demands.

“Monster Moms” are a serious problem. They create unfriendly environments for teachers, students and other mothers. They set unrealistic expectations for teachers and their children and often take no responsibility for any outcomes. Education starts and ends in the home. Parents lay the groundwork for good students. Parents who fail to pull their weight at home often have to deal with the consequences later. Often the result is a child who struggles in school. Monster Moms are the sort of people who would never take any personal responsibility for their child’s situation. They just point their fingers at their child’s teacher and yell loudly.

I recently liked a story about a Florida State representative who wants to grade parents. This politician is proposing a bill where elementary teachers would have to grade parents as well as the students on report cards. Are you pulling your weight as a parent? If you are not, it will show on the report card as well! I like that.

Monster moms are in every country. The real problem is that there are more of them now than ever. If you teach in America, Canada, Japan or Korea as a public school teacher or as an English teacher you will probably run into some.

The past few months have been rough for me and I have asked myself a lot of serious questions. I have had serious doubts about carrying on in this field. At the end of the day though, I love teaching. I know I am good at it and have dedicated myself to it. I have also been very fortunate to have a principal and administration that are firmly on my side and supportive. Even with that, it can be difficult.

Thanks for reading.

p.s. Remember folks, teachers work harder than you can imagine....give them a break! Show them some respect. "Thank you" always works :)


JY said...

teachers work hard and are unappreciated all over the world. Hats off to teachers! I know I couldn't be one...
Speaking of monster moms, there also is the Tiger Mama syndrome for Asian, in particular Chinese moms... pretty impressive fall-out from that in the US right now.

smurashige said...

Yes, "monster moms" indeed! But there are also "monster parents." I'm a university prof, and have witnessed a growing problem with intrusive parents, but both parents and their students are co-dependently complicit, if you will. I wonder how the students will ever grow a sense of responsibility, or more important, a sense of creative personhood. Fortunately, once the student is 18, then I am required by law (I teach in the U.S.) not to discuss anything about the student with his or her parents. But this nevertheless doesn't resolve the problem. I find a growing sense of entitlement, but not of responsibility.