When the Ministry of Education said “pass the baton,” some folks threw it in the trash instead.

When it comes to hiring the best person for the job in a capitalistic society, typically the course of action is to provide better wages than competing companies or great benefits as incentives to attract the most talented and driven individuals in the field. However, when it comes to recruiting more teachers for schools, Japan’s Ministry of Education has chosen a different route instead: a social media campaign.

▼ Translation below

“#passthebaton Project, start! We’re beginning this new project calling for all teachers nationwide to post advice and messages to incoming teachers! Through these posts, current teachers can #passthebaton to young individuals aspiring to become teachers. Definitely follow us and check out what teachers have to say!”

Titled as the “#passthebaton Project,” Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT from here on), has jumpstarted a Twitter hashtag campaign to coax more young folks into the teaching profession. The campaign calls for current teachers to tweet about their experiences on with “#passthebaton,” and thus inspire the next generation of educators in Japan.

At first glance, the concept seems like a great opportunity for teachers on duty to relay their stories to incoming educators, except the campaign has backfired spectacularly. While some folks took the chance to offer encouraging words or nuanced thought-pieces, a majority of posters have taken the moment to share their tough experiences on the job as well as understandable grievances against the current education system.

▼ “Instead of making your work conditions better, let’s try to recruit more people through social media!” is the last thing anyone wants to hear.

From feelings of despair to reflecting over work conditions, current as well as past teachers have shared their thoughts through #passthebaton: 

“I really want to support this project, but it’s really hard when I go to work on Saturdays for the mandatory supervision of club activities while local government offices are closed for the day…”

“I just came home from work. I’m on the brink of karoshi. Good night, everyone.” [note: Karoshi is the phenomenon of dying from overwork.]

“I gave birth and took a break during the middle of the academic year. Even though I was so happy, I excessively received calls from my school principal about how I was inconveniencing everyone. They never even congratulated me on my newly born child. To my baby, thank you for being here. Thanks to you mama can rest now.”

“I’ve been a teacher for 38 years. Tomorrow, I’ll be retiring. When I was young, from morning to evening, and even on Saturdays, I worked. I thought my days were fulfilling. But now that I think about it, I feel like I’ve lost too many things in the process.”

Underpaid, under-appreciated, and underserved—educators in Japan juggle a lot between teaching, lesson planning, supervising extracurricular club activities, and at times, ridiculous administrative duties.

In the wake of these messages and inquiries about reform, the #passthebaton Project has posted an official statement in response on Japanese social media website Note. The statement acknowledged several requests teachers made, such as shortening work hours, adjusting wages, as well as increasing the number of faculty and staff in schools, and promised to enact changes to help relieve current teachers of their work-related burdens.

However, since the official statement was published on the Twitter campaign’s Note account, and is not necessarily a formal statement published by MEXT itself, there’s no doubt folks are wondering if any further action will actually occur.

▼ MEXT has decided to phase out the mandatory supervision of club activities, but it supposedly won’t be until 2023 when teachers will see any changes. (Oof!)

At the end of the day, teachers want to support their students, achieve a healthy work-life balance, and be properly compensated for their labor. Identifying what isn’t working in a system is important, and while the path to reform has its challenges, hopefully with many teachers sharing their experiences, more awareness can be built about the current plight of Japan’s educators. Hiring more teachers and staff is crucial, but hopefully MEXT realizes improving work conditions to safeguard the mental health of current teachers is just as important.

Source: Twitter/@teachers_baton via Kinisoku, Note/#passthebaton Project (MEXT)
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3)
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