The PTA in Japan
Yep, it’s called the PTA here too, though not everyone knows it stands for Parent Teacher Association. Still, this is another instance of Japan taking a western idea and running with it. In Japan PTAs are powerful organizations that have teachers running for their suits and bowing a whole lot.
What the PTA is in Japan
The Japanese PTA is usually composed of parents from a single school, though sometimes it may include kindergarten, elementary, and junior high schools in smaller communities. The PTA usually elects members to act in various roles from chief, to accountant. As with western PTA’s their role is to represent the parents to the local board of education and the school, yet they do far more as well. In Japan, the PTA has far more clout, perhaps most easily seen by the fact the PTA chief is usually considered on a nearly equal social level as high government officials. Principals, teacher, even Board of Education officials will usually differ to the PTA chief in social settings.
PTAs have their own meetings where they help guide the educational decisions of the school, but more than that they have several events throughout the year to tie their children, teachers, and the community together in a positive way. Smaller PTAs also tend to be a part of larger ones (schools have their own, as do towns).
Interacting with Teachers
There are several ways parents interact with teachers in Japan. Every year, PTAs usually throw a kangeikai or welcome party for the new members of the PTA and for the incoming teachers. These are usually more informal (depending on the size of the school and PTA, the larger the school, usually the more formal things get) and include food, drinks, and occasionally performances.
Then there are the open classrooms. Just yesterday, on a Sunday, school was open for a regular day so that parents could attend and watch their students in class. Afterward, lunch was served by some of the mothers and then they parents and teachers teamed up against the students in their after school sports activities.
In Japan, teachers have a far greater responsibility for their students than in the west. Not only do they teach subjects, but home room teachers are also in charge of discipline, coaching sports, and acting as counselors. They often can’t rely on notes to parents as they are often expected to deal with issues in school, even and perhaps especially, when they involve the home. Still, it is critical for teachers to communicate with parents about their children, so there are often days where school ends early and teachers visit students home (no parent teacher conferences at school here!—- in all seriousness this may only be in rural areas, if you know something different comment!)
Finally, there is usually a sobetsukai to say goodbye to the teachers leaving and PTA parents graduating on at the end of the school year.
More PTA Events
Throughout the year the PTA usually holds several other events to promote the education and health of their children. One school threw yearly mothers’ day and fathers’ day events where they spent the afternoon with children, then got to spend the evening enjoying a bit of freedom at their spouses’ expense. Another common practice is for fundraising events. Over the next few weeks here, almost every weekend there will be a ground golf tournament by a local school’s PTA. A fun day of hitting things with sticks will help pay for events like the chibariokai.
The chibariokai might be only a local event, but essentially its purpose is to energize and encourage third year students as they buckle down and begin preparing for their jr high entrance exams. Usually, this party happens in the Fall or late Summer and is all about the third graders. They eat, play, and relax, in the knowledge they may not be able to do so soon.
Japan is known for a hard work ethic. Many parents have to work to support their children financially, and this often means long hours outside the normal 8 hr shift common in the States. Many parents can’t help but leave their children in the hands of teachers (who also are stuck with that ethic and are often required to stay 12 hours or more at school). Thus their involvement is less day-to-day and more of big bursts when they can. Of course, like any system, there are positives, negatives, and plenty of exceptions. In the end, the majority are just trying to do their best.
Teachers work long shifts and often quail at their inability to deal with every issue under their responsibility. Teachers arrive between 7 and 8, are responsible for 3-6 classes a day, often homeroom periods and lunch periods, after school activities, cleaning (no janitors here), event planning, and a myriad other activities that usually see them home after 7 or so. They too, do their best and rely on the emotional and physical support of the Parents.
Working together, parents and teachers in Japan attempt to balance they load, or at least act as pressure valves. If things seem to be getting too much, there’s usually a PTA event right around the corner. These may require more work for everyone involved, but they often let people blow off steam, interact in less formal ways, and facilitate communication and community. Since teachers are so responsible for students here, the PTA also acts as a check on them. If teachers don’t act according to acceptable practice, the PTA has the clout to change things.