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Behind the Scenes / Non-regular teachers’ zeal goes unrewarded

The Yomiuri Shimbun

This partially modified picture shows a letter of appointment given to a non-regular teacher in Toyama Prefecture. The teacher had not secured employment from April until just before the term of their contract expired on March 28.

By Yuko Ohiro and Sachiko Asakuno / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersAmid the social problem of teachers working long hours, there are now more than 40,000 “temporary teachers” (see below), filling about 7 percent of the total number of teaching slots. Categorized as non-regular workers, temporary teachers can serve as homeroom teachers or school club advisers at public elementary and junior high schools nationwide.

Boards of education throughout the nation are curbing their hiring of regular teachers in preparation for there being fewer children in the future, but the actual working conditions for temporary teachers are not well known.

100 hours of overtime

In late March this year, a man in his late 30s who works as a temporary teacher at an elementary school in Toyama Prefecture received a call from that area’s board of education with a job offer for the next school year.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

He has been transferred from one elementary school to another since he switched to teaching from another industry more than five years ago. His next workplace remains undecided until the end of every school year.

“I’ll be able to continue teaching somewhere from April,” he said, greatly relieved.

As he did in the previous school year, the man has been serving as a homeroom teacher and mentor for young regular teachers from April. He arrives at school shortly after 7 a.m. and gets home around 10 p.m. He worked more than 100 hours of overtime in May. However, his salary is just slightly over 60 percent of the amount a regular teacher receives. There are no prospects for a raise.

In accordance with the law, a regular teacher can receive mentoring from an experienced teacher for their first year, but this does not apply to temporary teachers.

The man seemed determined to learn on his own how to teach, as he thought there would be no excuse for the inconvenience it might cause the children if his class was of low quality because a non-regular teacher was in charge.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh, he’ll just be gone in a year anyway,’” he said. “It’s hard.”

Legal loophole

Regular employment is based, in principle, on the Local Civil Service Law. Temporary teachers are treated as an exception, and their period of employment is limited to a year. However, many boards of education use the tactic of dismissing non-regular teachers temporarily, thereby ensuring the one-year limit is not exceeded, and then hiring them again. This situation can be seen as a loophole in the current law.

As a general rule, the Niigata Prefectural Board of Education dismisses temporary teachers for a month during summer vacation. They are rehired as the second term begins.

“I visit students at their homes and act as an adviser for club activities on a voluntary basis during my lay-off period because I’m a homeroom teacher,” said a woman in her 40s who works as a temporary teacher in Niigata Prefecture. “But I have no income during that time.”

Not many schools explain whether homeroom teachers are non-regular teachers. However, parents who are aware of the situation have mixed feelings about it.

“There are many dedicated temporary teachers, but they’re treated poorly, which makes me think it would be hard for them to stay motivated at work,” said a teacher, 42, in Kanagawa Prefecture, whose own child has a temporary homeroom teacher. “I wonder if they lose their willingness to nurture children over the long term.”

Another parent said: “Our non-regular teacher was a great teacher, and my children loved them. It’s really too bad they had to leave our school after a year.”

Still another parent said, “I’d like for dedicated teachers to become regular teachers.”

Exempt from Labor Contract Law

The Labor Contract Law, which is supposed to safeguard non-regular workers at firms and private schools, is not applicable to local government officials, including temporary teachers at public schools.

Under this law, temporary workers are entitled to become regular ones with no finite period of employment if they continue working over five years total, while renewing their contract.

Temporary teachers and those similarly employed work an average of 5.9 years, according to the first survey, conducted in February, by the Japan Teacher’s Union.

However, the Labor Standards Law applies to temporary teachers except for some conditions. For example, if the number of annual paid holidays for temporary teachers is too few in relation to their work days, that would be deemed questionable under the Labor Standards Law.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry tells local governments not to use contract renewals to make temporary teachers work the same way as regular teachers. The ministry also tells local governments that temporary teachers may be deemed to work continuously despite their short-term lay-off period, and to treat them appropriately.

However, these supervisions are ineffective, as boards of education have no choice but to depend on temporary teachers in preparation for fewer children in the future.

Nihon Fukushi University Prof. Tadashi Yamaguchi, an expert in non-regular employment issues for teachers, said work needs to be done to improve the situation.

“Temporary teachers and others are treated so poorly that we can’t leave the situation as it is,” Yamaguchi said. “Their short-term employment makes it difficult to improve their ability to teach. They also can’t watch over students continuously. This style of employment hinders the path to a stable education for students. I think it’s crucial to build up legislation even for teachers to protect their rights as workers.”

Cutbacks for regular employment

There were 41,030 temporary teachers nationwide in fiscal 2016, excluding substitute teachers hired to replace regular teachers on maternity or childcare leave. This is roughly 1.7 times the number in fiscal 2001.

This stems from the trend of smaller class sizes and “team teaching” with multiple instructors since around 2000, prompting boards of education to hire more teachers for them.

However, the central government provided subsidies for part of teachers’ salaries on a single fiscal-year basis. Therefore, one senior official of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said, “There is a growing number of cases where boards of education avoid hiring regular teachers due to worries about long-term employment and hire temporary teachers with a fixed term.”

Thereafter, the nature of the position of temporary teachers altered in response to the fallen birthrate. A senior official of a board of education said non-regular teachers are used like a “regulating valve” of employment.

The official added: “We can’t dismiss regular teachers even if the number of children declines significantly in the future. This could create an enormous financial burden. Therefore we hired more temporary teachers while limiting the employment of newly graduated regular ones.”

Another senior official of a board confessed: “The age range of teachers would become unbalanced if newly graduated regular teachers were to increase alongside the retirement of teachers hired en masse in the days when there were quite a few more children. We hire temporary teachers as an interim measure to survive the current conditions.”

The education ministry is requesting that boards of education hire regular teachers rather than temporary ones.

“Recently, quite a few boards of education have raised the wages of temporary teachers,” a senior official of the education ministry said.

The number of temporary teachers accounted for more than 10 percent of the quota within the jurisdiction of eight boards, according to a survey on the number of non-regular teachers conducted in fiscal 2016.

■ Temporary teachers

The Local Civil Service Law provides for temporary teachers to be hired only for a year. With a teacher’s licence, they do not need to pass the recruitment exam conducted by boards of education. Many are retired regular teachers or people who could not take the recruitment exam due to the age limit. Some are responsible for mentoring trainee teachers or serve as the head teacher to each class year, depending on the size of the schools.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 4, 2017)

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