It’s that time of year again: time to say Goodbye.
Every year in Japanese public elementary and middle schools, teachers change. 転勤。 Job Reassignment. Some move close; others far away. And it’s not usually in their complete control. Nor it is necessarily performance-related.
Around the last 3rd of the school year—November-ish—the teachers have private meetings with the principal to talk about their performance and to put in requests of where they would like to be placed come spring. Teachers are often encouraged to stay, especially in schools with high turnover rates, and sometimes they’re forced to. On the other hand, teachers who just got their teaching license are supposed to stay at their first school for 3 years (no more, no less) and nobody is allowed to stay for more than 10 years. 講師 (lecturers, as opposed to 教諭 (licensed teachers)) are usually only allowed to stay at a school for 1-2 years before being transferred.
One benefit of this is that no school can keep a monopoly on good teachers. And, one screw-up at one school will be completely forgotten about once you start fresh at the next school. The downside is that you could be transferred hours away from your family, and with the long hours many teachers work, that means only seeing your family on the weekends, if that. Given that middle school club activities run on weekends too, the weekend time might be limited too. Never mind that it might also mean extra money renting an apartment closer to your workplace.
You see, teachers are technically employed by the prefecture, and while they have their preferences about where they want to teach, they don’t get the final word. I suppose if they quit, that’s be a “final word” of sorts, but given that most people in Japan choose a single career, it would probably mean finding a new profession. Or, at the very least, giving up the lifetime employment opportunity that being a public school teacher entails.
It’s not limited to teachers, of course. The people at the town hall change too. In fact, the practice is also common throughout Japan’s big companies like Toyota too, where people who work in one department are moved to another after a few years. The idea is that with lifetime employment, a worker will be able to experience every part of a company to know first-hand how it functions. It’s a neat idea, and probably good to train future CEOs, but for those who are expert engineers, being forced into accounting for 2-3 years can’t be fun. This situation happened to my friend at the board of education, except that he was moved from accounting (which he liked) to event planning (which he hates).
The personal side of this whole process is that the end of March is typically a sad time. Yeah, you might luck out and lose only bad coworkers while gaining only good coworkers. But it’s often a bit of losing both good and bad people. And it sucks to see the good ones go. The ones who you talked to daily and helped you out in hard times.
Come April! Let’s drown the sadness of lost friends with the happiness of new ones!