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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

July 15, 2004

We Should Try Harder for the Children

kids2.jpg How could such a tragedy, the intentional slaying of a classmate, occur at an elementary school in Sasebo, or any place else for that matter? People are discussing possible causes, including lack of parental guidance, the inability of teachers at school to notice problems before they occur, the alleged murderer's fascination with the novel "Battle Royale," and the pitfalls of children chatting on the internet. Only those directly involved have an inkling of where to point a finger. How teachers could have possibly prevented it is a powerful question that all of us should ponder.

We, as teachers should be able to heed signals indicating to us that there are potential problems in our student body.

Yes, we, as teachers (of any subject) should be able to heed signals indicating to us that there are potential problems in our student body. There are many things right with our public school systems, but from my ongoing work in the public and private school sector as a non-Japanese, there are three glaring weaknesses which have drawn my attention and concern.

First is class size. As long as teachers, who are overworked to begin with, have classes consisting of 40-50 students, inappropriate behavior - which is always a signal for help from students - will most likely be missed by the teacher, who is out of necessity trying to administer to the needs of the group; as a result, There is little chance for individual attention and support for children with problems.

Another deficiency as I see it is that there are not enough clear and consistent consequences for unacceptable behavior in schools. I am a strong believer that punishment is not the answer for inappropriate conduct. Instead, students need individual support via consultation or advice from a sympathetic and understanding teacher, adult or administrator when they display inappropriate behavior.

Why are they displaying negative behavior? What is their problem? And what is the root of their problem? How can we help? Children will not let an adult into their psyche to find the answers to these questions unless they trust the person asking.

When some of my students exhibited anti-social behavior in a class at one elementary school I was teaching at, I asked the teachers and principal if we could provide appropriate responses/consequences for unacceptable behavior. No one knew what I was talking about. They thought I was talking about punishments for the offenders. I explained to them I was talking about individual support, from a concerned adult, whether it be a teacher or an administrator. Obviously, because of my lack of Japanese language skills, I was not the person to help the students, so I asked if someone at the school was capable, available and interested in talking to the offenders. I was told they did not have this kind of system and would consider it, but nothing ever happened.

The third weak link, which is connected to the first two, is the absence of guidance counselors in schools in this country. As much as dedicated teachers may care about their students, they do not have the training, education, skills or time to recognize and take care of students with psychological, social or emotional problems. I believe guidance counselors, trust-worthy, non-teaching professionals should be on the premises all the time. They could be good listeners for children with problems, could talk to them about anger management, and could help them see issues from other people's viewpoints. I believe all schools from elementary to high school need guidance counselors on the premises full-time, not once a week, or once a month or two times a year.

The Ministry of Education lags way behind on the education, training and hiring of guidance counselors nationwide; it is an issue that needs to be addressed soon.

I believe if the aforementioned three weak links could be addressed, there would be a greater chance of preventing another tragedy such as the one in Sasebo or the one that recently occurred in Niigata. I personally find it appalling that the school principal in Niigata sent the two elementary school students home from school after the knifing incident. This is a clear example of how elementary schools have not set up any guidelines for consequences concerning inappropriate behavior.

I firmly believe we should all try harder for the children, starting now.

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