In Japanese schools, from elementary schools to universities, teachers direct what students should do or how they should be. Students follow the school rules and the directions of teachers. In American schools, on the other hand, students have to be more independent than Japanese students in many ways. Because of differences between Japanese and American schools, Japanese students who begin to study in an American school are shocked, and they take a pretty long time to adjust themselves to the way of American schools. Differences between schools in the two countries are seen in classrooms and during classes: the style of lectures, the relationship between student and teachers, and the style of examinations.
First, many Japanese students are surprised by American schools because American students pay much attention to teachers, and also they interrupt teachers to ask questions or to express their opinions. The style of teaching in the U.S. is completely different from Japan, especially in two points. One difference is that teachers in Japan expect students to be quiet in classes. In general, teachers explain the content of textbooks, hand-outs, and other materials. But in American schools, teachers think class participation is very important, and they require students to give their opinions or ask questions in classes.
Another difference is that teachers in Japan write down important things on a blackboard, but teachers in the U.S. seldom write everything; they just explain orally. Japanese students are very quiet during classes, and all they do is listen to teachers and copy what teachers write on blackboards. They seldom ask questions during classes but ask friends or teachers after class. For example, in my high school, we had a geology teacher who wrote down everything we had to memorize on the blackboard all the time. We kept writing for one hour almost without asking any questions.
Although classes are quiet, it does not mean that all students are concentrating on the lectures. Because classes are so quiet and boring, some students are doing or thinking of something else, or taking a nap. When I was a high school student, I often fell asleep, especially on warm spring days. The teacher's powerless lecture became my lullaby, and I fell asleep easily as if I had been hypnotized.
On the contrary, students in the U.S. have to listen to teachers very carefully because teachers tend to ask questions during classes, and students must answer these questions. This way of teaching is quite unfamiliar to Japanese students, and lots of them have trouble in the classroom. For example, for the first few months I studied in an American school, I was tense because my teachers asked me questions very often. I used to turn my eyes away from teachers' eyes immediately after they asked something of students. Furthermore, students have to take notes by themselves because teachers seldom write on the blackboard. Japanese students in an American school learn that they have to study or read the textbooks well to take notes and to answer questions given by teachers.
Second, Japanese students are shocked by the different relationship between teachers and students in American schools. The relationship between teachers and students in the U.S. is closer than in Japan. Though teachers call students by their family names in Japan, in the U.S., they call students by their first names. American students often call teachers by their first names too. In Japan, students also have to be respectful to teachers. They must talk to teachers very politely, but American students can talk to teachers in a more friendly way than Japanese students.
In the U.S., students' and teachers' manners in the classrooms are also a culture shock for Japanese students. In the U.S., both teachers and students are very informal in the classrooms. In Japan, however, students have to be polite during classes, or whenever or wherever they talk to teachers. Most Japanese teachers are very particular about manners. One of the biggest culture shocks I remember was when I saw a student drinking Coke in a classroom for the first time. At that time, I glanced at the teacher because I thought he might be angry with the student. However, he did not seem to care. Furthermore, not only students but also teachers bring something to drink to classrooms such as Coke, orange juice, or coffee. They also sit on the desks, and that is a scene which we cannot see in the classrooms in Japan.
Finally, when Japanese students in American schools take their first examination, most of them are shocked and disappointed with their grades because they cannot get better grades. They know that they cannot be successful on examinations in American schools if they study the same way as they used to in Japanese schools. The style of examinations and the grading system in the U.S. are very different. In Japan, students have two things to do to get a better grade on an examination.
First, they take notes exactly as the teachers write on the blackboard. When they read textbooks or hand-outs, they check facts, such as dates and names of events and people in the case of history. Then they memorize everything. Even if they do not understand the classes, such as history and literature, they can answer questions on an examination.
Second, they need to be nice and polite to teachers to get a better grade for a class. Students who cannot get better grades on examinations and small quizzes have to be more quiet in the class and polite to the teacher to get a better grade for the class. In Japan, many teachers tend to give better grades to students whom they like. In my case, it sometimes worked, and I could get better grades in some classes because my teachers believed that I had been a "good" student for them.
On the other hand, American students must understand every class and all material very well and have to have their opinion in the case of some classes, such as history, literature, and sociology, because teachers require them to show their understanding and opinions on an examination. For instance, I was so shocked when I got a "C" on my examination in American Studies at an American university. I studied a lot, but I could not answer questions because most of them were short essay questions, and I had to write not only facts, events, or dates but also reasons and opinions beyond the facts. In the U.S., students do not need to be nice to teachers especially to get better grades in classes. However, students cannot miss classes easily because teachers do care about attendance very much. Additionally, teachers think that class participation is important, and they consider this point when they grade students. Although Japanese teachers think the students who are quiet during classes are good students, American teachers think they cannot understand classes.
School systems, including grading systems and examination styles, in Japan and the U.S. are quite different. Also, the relationship between students and teachers is completely different. Most Japanese students who transfer from Japanese schools to American schools, or who go to an American school after they graduate from a Japanese school, may be shocked by the new and different systems and the relationship to their teachers. For Japanese students, the way of American schools seems very difficult--to attend classes, to study, and to understand the system itself--but they also notice that they can study and live to the fullest as a student, as they talk or argue for or against other students or teachers in the classes. Also, they can get satisfaction from learning and understanding every class through the relationship between teachers and other students.
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