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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

October 31, 2011

Workshy, layabout teachers should pay back salaries

The first part of this entry's title is, I admit, my own paraphrase. But the second part comes straight from the horse's mouth, in this case, this recent (Oct. 21st) article in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Since I know that some readers are unlikely to click the link and read the original from start to finish, let me summarize it. The article talks about how spot checks on 855 teachers at 191 public schools in four prefectures were found to have 'misused' a total of 4575 working hours over "recent years". These ne'er-do-wells will be asked to pay back the amount of salary they absconded with in terms of absenteeism.

30 seconds per day

First, let's do some math. 4575 misused working hours divided by 855 teachers is just over 5 hours per teacher. Let's choose two years as the base timeline-- that's about 580 working days. So, a whole 5 hours per teacher on average were found to have been wasted over two years. This amounts to about thirty entire seconds per day not spent on activities related to their work. As a taxpayer, I am appalled that thirty seconds which could, indeed should, have been spent putting a happy face sticker on one more student's report on "Prefab Huts- Our Underappreciated Friends", has been spent doing something as unproductive and self-indulgent as, oh, getting some exercise.

According to the article, "The Board of Audit [aka 'Hall Monitors'] intends to ask in its audit report that the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry [now, apparently, the Justice and Labour ministries as well] order such teachers to return part of their salaries to the state". No doubt the money will be put to public service of great utility, such as providing one extra twenty-page 'shiryo' for the sub-section chief's assistant secretary who missed the meeting on, "Confirming the previous sub-committee's decision to acknowledge Septic Tank Appreciation Week in specially-designated parts of Gunma Prefecture."

It's payback time...To me!

Here's a novel idea. If teachers who misused working hours should have to pay back that proportion of their salaries how about paying extra for all the work that teachers did outside their prescribed working hours!? You know, all those extracurricular activities, PTA doodads, extra help for either gifted or troubled students, not to mention test-making or marking at home and other above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty sacrifices that most teachers make. I mean, if you want to get all anal about working hours, well, that sword cuts both ways.

These shiftless, parasitical teachers' apparent misdemeanours included, "engaging in activities unrelated to their jobs." OK, some were found to be involved in union activities and related work during their working time. That is indeed in violation of public workers' protocol. And yes, teachers who simply disappear for a day or don't even bother dropping by on work days should be reprimanded, especially when their absence forces somebody else to carry the load. But those rare frequent-absentee types are hardly the kind of teachers this wrist-slapping seems to be targeting.

'Holidays' and 'vacations' as working time

How so? Well, another claim made in the article was that at 82 schools in Hokkaido, just over 2000 hours was lost because some teachers did not work "during working hours even though they were required to be at schools during long-term holiday periods such as summer vacation".

Now, did anyone else catch the oxymoronic (or just moronic) conflation of "working hours" with "holiday periods" and "summer vacation" above? Again, over a one-month summer holiday plus period, about 24 hours per school was lost- or one hour per day among the entire staff! And, yes, we are talking about the season when students do not come to school yet teachers are still required to be at their prescribed working stations from at least 8:30 to 17:15. Why? Is school supposed to be like a bank or something with set public opening and closing hours?

Criminal evidence exhibits

How did the audit board discover this scandalous deception? One way was by noting that, "... in some cases teachers turned off the security systems after working hours started or turned them on before working hours ended".

Yeah, they left work and correctly activated the security system. Does not being in their seats mean they weren't working? Conversely, does being in the school mean they were being useful or productive?

More evidence of criminal behaviour: "In one case, the reported training venue was a library, but the facility was closed on that day". This happened one whole time! It seems that this scofflaw behaviour has reached epidemic proportions.

Charged with attempting to better yourself

More skullduggery is exposed: "At 19 schools in Okinawa Prefecture, teachers took extended breaks in working hours during schools' summer vacations, or attended meetings of educational research organizations not related to their work without using their paid holidays for the purpose. There were 208 teachers involved in these cases, who misused 1,183 hours".

Now let me get this straight. These teachers are being criticized for attending meetings of educational research organizations (such as, I presume, going to something like an ETJ or JALT conference or workshop) during their summer 'holidays' and should be penalized because they didn't use their official days off to do so?!?! I mean, these teachers are using their work time to better themselves as teachers, to learn more about their craft, and yet they should be regarded as moral lepers? As if they would be achieving much more of value for their profession by sitting at their teacher's room cubicles reading newspapers or trying out 50 different fonts for the new, seasonal PTA o-shirase forms?

Or maybe they took lunch breaks that lasted longer than the standard 45 minutes. Yes, I too confess to occasionally jumping into my Swift and going out for a decent meal when I'm not rushed for lunch. It may last up to a whole (gasp!) hour. But the next day, with classes right before and after lunch, I'm shoveling a 150 yen tuna 'n ham Sando down my throat over 10 minutes while dealing with some bureaucratic twaddle (and there is a staggering amount of this stuff at the national university level) which was emailed this morning with a 1 PM deadline. That's my lunch break.

Teaching is neither retail nor factory work

The audit board (aka "The Man") apparently gained their data by checking entries in the teachers' attendance records and by interviewing teachers. As we all know, asking teachers about the activities of their peers is a sure-fire way to get statistically objective truths. As for 'attendance records' -- I mean, what is this, a Springsteen-esque factory from the 50's? Punch in time- punch out time--- with time cards collected and checked before paypackets are dispensed? Mother, or rather bossypants nanny-types, know best. Sure, I can understand that if you work in retail you can't just walk out of the shop for a stroll while customers may be at the door. And I understand that factory workers can't just shuffle off home at any hour without having to face the music. But teaching is neither retail nor factory work.

I find the whole attitude towards work in this article to be an unwelcome throwback to what should be a bygone era. It reeks of the "real work means sitting at your desk in an office" mentality, which is one of the things I find least endearing about typical Japanese workplace settings (and I'm sure that many Japanese will agree with me on this). Of course, while being observed by big brother at your cubby hole you will do your best to string one hour's worth of work over eight. It's far from being productive (which is what the real criteria of working should be based upon) but, hey, it looks like you're working, so kudos to you.

It also reminds me of the opening scene from The Flintstones. When the quarry end-of-shift alarm rings Fred immediately lets out a joyous whoop and slides off his dinosaur to head home. The alarm sounds so his work day is done. Or it's redolent of some industrial revolution Dickensian sweatshop where well-fed men with whips monitor the workers to make sure that no one is so much as rubbing their eyes while on the bosses' time. Should this be the model applied to the teachers' room?

But I'm also wondering about the psychological and physical costs invoked by having people sitting dutifully at their desks for 10 or so hours-- how much they end up spending on drink or cigarettes to reduce boredom or stress, how much they spend on chiropractic treatment or days taken off because of general poor health. Let's weigh all that against the money 'lost' by the miscreant teachers.

The heights of self-indulgence-- producing from home!

The fact is that most teacher-related work can and does get spread out over and beyond non 9-to-5 times and the fact is that much can be done at home. Again, it's not an office or factory job. For example, since I live near my campus I occasionally drop by my home for a short time during 'working hours' because I can actually concentrate better on things like making teaching materials, grading, writing up research etc. Sometimes I actually-- oh I am a slave to self indulgence-- play a CD to enhance my concentration while I do so. John Taxpayer must surely be bristling. Come and get me Audit Board! You can drop by and check what I'm up to on Saturday or Sunday but-- oh--- I might be busy marking homework or making new materials in this, my-- ahem-- free time.

In fact, this approach to work spawns a whole cottage industry of looking-like-you're working-hard behaviours, such as leaving work and locking your door but keeping your lights on so it looks like you're hard at work. And even if you are in your office, nobody can see that you are actually deeply engaged in a epic bout of World of Warcraft. Everyone thinks you're putting in your 'working hours' and hey, that's what counts.

Then there's the morning vs. evening impression-making factor (at my university at least). I have a lot of morning classes so I arrive at or before 8 (and yes, after reading the article I want to be compensated for the work I do between that time and my official work starting time) and no one else is there. I go to my morning classes 8:40-12:00 (lights off in my room-- environment and all) and upon my return to my office, see that others have since arrived, at 10 or 11. These same people stay until 7 or 8 PM, which in Japan is when you get real credit for 'working hard,' while good old Mike is heading off at 5:15 to pick up his daughter from nursery school. The lazy git!

The hockey vs. soccer player working models

Working styles differ too. Myself, I'm the type who works feverishly for spurts of one hour or two. When I concentrate I am, with all due modesty, probably in the very top percentile of human productivity-- but I can't keep this up for eight or more hours. Yet I get everything done-- and then some. So, after an intense spurt of activity I do take some time to watch a Youtube video, check hockey scores, or book a hotel for an upcoming family trip. For these indiscretions I think I owe each taxpayer reading this article approximately 2.6 yen. Hansei shimasu.

The fact is, I work more like a hockey player than a soccer player. The soccer player has to (usually) stay on for the full ninety minutes and thus must pace himself, whereas the hockey player has to go all out for one-minute shifts before heading to the bench for recuperation. Since my productivity is equal to (or even exceeds) most should I be penalized for my working habits? (This is a rhetorical question. Don't say 'yes').

"Moral failings as members of society"

The symphony continues:
"About 9.4 million yen was spent on this misused time in Hokkaido and Okinawa Prefecture".
Ummm ok. And how much did it cost to carry out this audit and produce the report, pray tell?

And then: "Teachers should never be paid when they're not actually working," said constitutional expert Prof. Setsu Kobayashi of Keio University. Let me speculate as to what Professor Kobayashi might want to add to this statement:
"If them coolies ain't actually pickin' cotton or diggin' ditches theys be sluffin' off. Ain't happenin' on my watch!" (Cocks his gun on the plantation wraparound verandah).

In fact, the good Professor also said, "This is not just a problem with them as teachers, but a moral failing [as members of society]." Yeah. And maybe Professor Setsu "Monty Burns" Kobayashi and the Audit Board should update their understanding of what 'teaching' and 'work' mean to,oh, a post World War 2 model.

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Another fine blog entry, Mike. This very same article from the news really stuck in my craw (not the Craw, The CRAW!). You've eloquently put into words exactly what I and, I'm sure, many other readers were thinking.

Nice summary, and thanks for extending it by giving a better picture of the REAL meaning "teachers not at work" attitude. Not all the teachers are working when sitting in the office all day, and not all teachers who are outside of the school are getting ten or their weekly shopping done.
Thanks for the article! Great!!

This is perhaps the BEST article I've ever read! Love it!

This is a great article, Mike. I wonder how many koma per week Kobayashi sensei actually teaches, and whether he considers preparation, conferences and research as superfluous to his classroom time?

Thanks for the comments. To be honest, it is quite easy to write an article that is critical of 'the man', or in this case the Audit Board (sound ominous minor chord) when you know that reading audience will be made up mostly of teachers (I'm assuming that the Audit Board doesn't read The Uni-Files).

More of a challenge is writing something that is critical of popular teacher practices and methods. But wherever the truth needs to be told (sound cheesy, triumphant notes), there you will find the Uni-Files. Roll credits.

How very true.... My mother worked like a slave at home on Sundays in front of her mountain of pupils' compositions but was she paid? Thankfully in France they are more open-minded so she was never asked to return salary for smoking.

As for me, well, I work like a Trojan (teacher) too, and enjoy it. But like you, not ALL the time. I'm lucky in that my employers see the hard work I'm doing and look the other way if they find me in front of a bun or a cup of tea. Hope that ALL teachers will be as lucky as I am, as soon as possible.

Since writing this entry I've been wondering who audits the audit board-- to see what use they're making of their time.

I wonder if any of them smoke-- I imagine some do-- and if we added up all their time spent on smoking breaks, how many yen's worth of their work has been 'wasted' over the year.

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