Build trust with primary school children under new teaching system

Teaching in elementary schools, where almost all subjects are currently handled by homeroom teachers, is about to change. Highly specialized teachers and homeroom teachers should work together to provide effective instruction.

The “subject teacher system,” in which specialized teachers will teach certain subjects to fifth- and sixth-grade students at elementary schools, will begin in earnest this spring. The system will reportedly be introduced mainly for the four subjects of English, science, arithmetic and physical education.

It is envisioned that teachers will serve as homeroom teachers while instructing other classes in subjects they specialize in, and that English teachers dispatched from neighboring junior high schools will teach elementary school classes.

The purpose of introducing this system is to improve the quality of instruction and reduce the burden on teachers.

Since the Meiji era (1868-1912), the “homeroom teacher system,” in which the homeroom teacher handles all subjects has been the basic system at elementary schools. In recent years, however, subjects have become more specialized, such as English and computer programming.

A number of elementary school teachers feel insufficiently skilled at science and mathematics. If a teacher with expertise teaches a subject, the interesting aspects of that subject can be conveyed to students and it will likely be easier for students to understand the content of the lessons.

The subject teacher system is used at junior high schools. Introduction of the new system at elementary schools will help smooth the transition for students after they graduate from elementary school.

It is also expected to help reform the work style of teachers, who work long hours.

With the introduction of the subject teacher system, homeroom teachers will be able to delegate some subjects to other instructors and use their spare time to prepare for classes and grade tests. This would help to alleviate teachers’ sense of being harried.

However, the positive aspects of the homeroom teacher system must not be forgotten. In elementary schools, homeroom teachers and students spend a lot of time together, which builds a relationship of trust. This makes it easier to grasp the level of children’s learning and to detect small changes in the relationships in class.

After the introduction of the subject teacher system, not only the homeroom teacher but also several other instructors will be involved with the children. It is essential for teachers to exchange detailed information with each other about the children’s situations. Teachers must share the awareness that the entire school is responsible for the growth of the children.

Many local governments have already introduced the system in elementary schools ahead of schedule. Half of public elementary schools have already introduced the system for science and music.

It is important for the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to share successful cases and problems with the new system widely with local governments across the country.

In small schools in mountainous areas and elsewhere, it will be difficult to implement the subject teacher system only with the teachers at the school. Boards of education must arrange for teacher placements that suit local circumstances. It is also important to consider how to reduce the burden on teachers by utilizing external resources such as retired teachers.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 30, 2022.