In Japan, teaching is a respected profession, and teachers have traditionally been paid better than other civil servants. Japan’s average teacher salary for a lower secondary school teacher after 15 years of service (the number that the OECD typically uses for international comparison) is $49,408, as compared to the OECD average of $41,701. The teaching profession in Japan is also highly selective, at both the program admission and the hiring phase. About 14% of applicants are admitted into schools of education, and of those who graduate, only 30-40% find work in public schools. Those who do make the cut only do so after a rigorous set of school board exams and evaluations. As a result of this system, 98% of classes at the secondary level are taught by teachers who hold a certificate in the field or subject they teach. Finally, a majority of Japanese teachers remain in the profession until retirement age.
Recruitment and Compensation
An individual can become certified to be a teacher after graduating from one of many teacher education programs in Japan. These programs are based in either junior colleges or universities; a teacher’s level of certification is based on the amount of education an individual receives prior to becoming a teacher. The lowest level of certification is temporary, valid for 15 years, and available to graduates of a junior college teaching program. The highest, or “advanced level,” certification is available to teacher candidates who hold master’s degrees. The vast majority of Japanese teachers hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In addition to the three levels of certification available to teachers, there are three types of certificates available at each level – a general, or non-subject-specific certificate; a subject-specific certificate; and a special subject certificate for non-academic fields such as music or the arts.
Teaching in Japan is considered a middle-class profession, and teachers are paid well. Following WWII, over concerns about teacher shortages, the Prime Minister decreed that teachers would be paid 30% more than other civil servants. Although this gap has decreased over the last 50 years, teachers are still among the highest-paid civil servants, with a beginner teacher paid the same as a new engineer. A junior secondary school teacher with minimum education made a starting salary of $27,996 in 2009. At the top of the scale, in 2009, the same teacher could expect to make $62,442. Teachers’ salaries are lower than the OECD average ($31,687) at the bottom of the scale, and higher at both the mid-point and at the top, where the OECD average is $51,317.
Currently, the school-age population in Japan is much smaller than it has been in the past. Some 60% of teacher education graduates are unable to find jobs in public schools, making the field very competitive. Furthermore, teachers are highly respected in Japan, and joining the profession is seen as a way to increase a family’s social standing. There are currently about seven applicants for each teaching position.
Initial Education and Training
Teachers must hold a degree from an institute of higher education. Any higher education institution, including junior colleges, can provide teacher training as long as their courses satisfy the Ministry of Education’s requirements and the Ministry has approved the syllabus. Prospective teachers must take a National Entrance Examination in order to be considered for admission into an undergraduate teacher education program. This exam assesses candidates in five fields: Japanese language, foreign language, math, science and social studies. National universities also often administer their own examinations alongside the national exam. While in training, prospective teachers must take courses in both subject areas and pedagogy, and are evaluated by an experienced teacher under the supervision of a principal. After graduation from a teacher education program, teachers must undergo a three-week teaching practicum. Primary and lower secondary school teaching candidates must also complete a one-week nursing internship. Prefectural boards of education also typically require a prospective teacher to pass several tests before being hired. These often take the form of proficiency tests, interviews, or essays, and examine a candidate’s pedagogical and subject area knowledge; the interview also usually includes a demonstration lesson.
Once teachers have been hired, they undergo a one-year induction period. During this period, they are supervised by a senior teacher and do not have access to all teacher benefits, including membership in the teachers’ union. Upon successful completion of this first year, they become full teachers.
Japanese teachers are able to move up within schools over the course of their careers, with the most straightforward path being teacher, head teacher and then principal. However, within each of these steps, there are multiple salary grades based on performance and experience. While some teachers may never be promoted to head teacher, they are able to see their salary climb from about $27,000 to nearly $70,000 over a lifetime. This salary increase takes place over 36 steps; there are an additional 20 salary steps within the head teacher position, and 15 within the principal position.
Ratio of Lower Secondary Teachers’ Salary to GDP per Capita (2014)
Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2016 (Teacher Salaries) and OECD (GDP per capita)
Arani, Mohammad, Reza Sarkar, Fukaya Keisuke and James P. Lassegard, “‘Lesson Study’ as Professional Culture in Japanese Schools: An Historical Perspective on Elementary Classroom Practices,” Japan Review 22 (2010). (PDF)
Consortium for Policy Research in Education. (2007). A Comparative Study of Teacher Preparation and Qualifications in Six Nations. – Ingersoll provides an indepth analysis of teacher training and teacher demographics in six Asian economies, including Japan (page 41). (PDF)
Continuing professional development is required in the teaching profession. Professional development programs are available at the national through the school level, and each local board of education determines the minimum hours a teacher must spend on professional development each year.
At the local level, prefectural boards of education plan daily in-service training and also provide specific training programs for teachers five, ten and twenty years into their careers. At the national level, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) holds central workshops for head teachers and administrators. Under a new system implemented by MEXT in 2009, Japanese teachers must prove that they are up-to-date on skills and practices every ten years in order to renew their teaching certificates.
In addition to formal professional development programs, Japanese teachers use “lesson study” to learn from colleagues informally. Principals organize meetings during which teachers with varying levels of experience discuss teaching techniques and formulate sample lesson plans. One teacher then uses this sample plan in the classroom, with the other teachers observing. Following the sample lesson, the group meets again to make adjustments to the lesson plan and to offer constructive criticism to the teacher.