I'm astonished to find that since the start of the first term in April, I have yet to have a week of regular teaching. By that I mean I haven't taught all fourteen of the classes I'm scheduled for in a single week. There have been countless causes for this - student meetings, health checks, exam preparation, exams, shortened school days to allow sports clubs to practice early etc.
I'm sure in the past I've done full weeks of teaching, but I haven't done it for a long time. Aside from just me ending up with less work to do, I think it highlights one of the key differences between high school here and back home. We rarely had a disrupted schedule when I was at school. On the rare occasion that we were missing classes because we were being taught about careers or condoms or whatever, it was like Christmas come early (or late, for that matter). The school couldn't just move your classes about, so that your third and fifth periods were swapped around, or moved to another day. It just wasn't done. I'm not sure what it says about the Japanese people as a whole, but I think it's down to a kind of unity of the staff and school that occurs in schools here.
Since teachers in Japan don't have their own classroom, everyone lives out of the staff room. Every morning there's a meeting with announcements about what's going on, and when classes start, teachers leave the room and head off to the various classrooms. Back home, teachers live out of a particular classroom, and if their classes were moved around they would probably take offence. I remember one maths teacher who used to get indignant about students who missed half a class because they had a music lesson. In the same way, with all the pressures of not falling behind the national curriculum, it would be hard to have events that disrupt an entire school day as often as they do in Japan. Since high schools in Japan set their own curriculum, maybe they have more freedom. But I maintain there was a feeling of every-department-for-itself at my high school that doesn't exist here. While it sounds nice, I'm not sure I agree with it. Probably because it engenders an attitude that classes aren't all that important, since they can be missed whenever it's convenient for the school.
There is another reason for all the schedule changes, which is another thing I think is wrong with the system here. Teachers aren't just teachers. Most of the teachers have countless other duties within the school, whether it be coaching sports teams, looking after cultural clubs, arranging school trips, giving careers guidance, appealing to employers and universities on behalf of the school or organising staff parties. The schedule is often changed because particular teachers will be out of school for part of the day on business trips. Teachers are chosen for positions in the school hierarchy at the start of the school year, and their duties in these positions often outweigh their teaching work. I wonder how many were aware of this when they chose their path after leaving school. I imagine if it was my dream to teach young people in a very optimistic "Oh captain, my captain!" kind of way I would be dragged down by the tedium of all the clerical work these people have to deal with. Worse than this, perhaps, is that you are not technically employed as a teacher, but as an employee of the board of education. This means that one year you may be transferred to a non-teaching job at the board of education, where you might as well have trained as a secretary. (Incidentally, the board of education is also where they send teachers who have misbehaved with students, as a way of covering things up.)
It kind of depresses me when I see the best, most enthusiastic teachers here given fewer classes than others because they have too much work to do organising school events. It's great to be an ALT here - we get off easy - but if I had to work as a regular teacher I'd probably kill myself.