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Opinion

Culture and Education

School Education Today

Jun Kanno,
Professor,
Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

The Pupil and Teacher

I remember a story about my grandmother, who lived to 102, when she was 95. One winter day, my grandmother who lived in Sendai had a visitor. Out of the blue, she received a call from this person at Sendai Station saying "Sensei (teacher), I'm coming to see you now". It was a strange and unexpected visit from a former pupil, nearly in his 80's, who had come all the way from Fukushima. From the Taisho era to the first half of the Showa period, my grandmother together with my grandfather taught at an elementary school in a farming village in Fukushima Prefecture. Apparently, the minute my grandmother saw her former student, she transformed back to her "teacher" self (says my mother, my grandmother's daughter, who told me this story later). She would listen carefully with interest to and at times praise this pupil who had become an old man himself, as he chatted away about the good old days, and this and that. Eventually the old man decided to stay over and he said to my grandmother "please let me sleep next to you". So the old man spent the night with my grandmother, sleeping next to her, and went back early next morning to Fukushima. As he bid farewell to her, he said to her "I'm sick and this will be my last visit". Soon after, my grandmother received a call from the old man's son, informing her that he had passed away. Before his death, this former pupil had wanted to see his elementary school teacher, my grandmother, and sleep next to her.

My grandfather passed away when he was 88, and both he and my grandmother continued to be remembered warmly by their former students. Every year, with each fruit season, they would receive peaches, pears, and apples from former pupils who had become fruit farmers. Sometimes, my grandmother would even receive pears every year from the children of pupils who had passed away, in accordance to their wishes. They would also be invited to reunions held by their pupils and travel to Fukushima to attend these gatherings. We still have the inscribed brazier and clock that my grandparents received as presents from their pupils at home. Such deep-rooted feelings in pupils towards their teachers continue to leave me surprised even today.

The Changing Teacher-Children-Parents Relation

I often feel that teachers are less appreciated by children these days. Lately, we even hear more of teachers being criticized, denied, and pressurized by parents and children, leading to mutual distrust. Being in charge of cases such as classroom dysfunction, violence towards teachers, and problems with parents over education in educational counseling, I strongly sense the changes taking place in the relationship between teacher and pupil, and school and parents. And this change is towards a heartless relationship. This did not just start recently, but began to build up gradually with the economical and social changes taking place in Japan after the war, especially after the high economic growth. Today, children have several "my teacher" in the same period of time. In addition to their homeroom teacher, they also have their prep school teacher, after-school lesson teachers, sports coach, etc. So, in their very long school life, including graduate school, how many "my teachers" will a student have? We also cannot blame parents for being friendlier with the prep school teacher of their children than their school teachers.

Teachers have lost their position as "someone different". In the past, teachers were the people of culture or intellectuals in the community, and to the children, they were someone, neither a parent nor neighbor, who provided "different" knowledge and values. However, this "different" aspect has started to thin in modern times, and teachers today have become a common presence. The Japanese saying in respect to teachers "take three steps back to avoid stepping your teacher' shadow" has become obsolete, and is something that is incomprehensible to the children of today.

What Children Hope for in Teachers

However I pause to think that despite the various social changes and the changes in the relationship between schools, teachers, children, and parents, the children that I meet in counseling sessions have surprisingly innocent feelings towards their teachers; they want to be loved and cherished by their teachers, praised, accepted, and so on. Listening to university students, the teachers they liked, teachers who influenced their career path, unforgettable teachers, still live on in them. The teacher figures that they talk about, at the least, are not much different from mine when I was a child. These are teachers who love children, passionate about education, devote enormous energy to education, are warm people, and introduce new worlds to children. On the other hand, there are also not few teachers who lose their confidence in their work, are uncertain about themselves, or become psychologically unwell. Everytime I meet such teachers in counseling sessions, I hope for teachers to see the innocent wishes of children towards teachers that lie deep inside their outward behavior, because the origin of education remains more or less the same through time.

Jun Kanno
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Background

Born in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture in 1950. Graduated from Waseda University, School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Psychology Major, and obtained master's degree from the same university. Specializes in educational clinical psychology and developmental clinical psychology. Served as Tokyo Hachioji City Education Center Education Counselor for 14 years from 1973, providing counseling to children regarding various problems such as growth disorder in childhood, boyhood, and adolescence. Joined Waseda University in 1987 as lecturer of Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University and was appointed associate professor before current position. Head of counseling room of Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University. Holds classes and seminars on school counseling and clinical psychology. Has concurrent positions as supervisor and school consultant of Education counseling organizations and classes for the emotionally disturbed in Tokyo, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Saitama Prefecture.

Publications

"Fostering Emotional Development of Children" (Honnomori Publication, 2002), "Reflective Family Theory" (Jitsumukyoiku Shuppan, 2003), "Practical Counseling Course for Teachers" (Kaneko Shobo, 2007), and others.