16 May 2011

Searching for a Dream: Spotlight on Night School

This is an article I wrote for the Shizuoka Chronicle vol. 24, 2011, published by the Senior High School Division of the Shizuoka Prefectural Board of Education. Editing credit goes to the awesome Chronicle Editorial Committee.

Searching for a Dream: Spotlight on Night School


Fujieda Higashi High School

NOTE: students’ names have been changed for confidentiality.

HITOMI IS 21 years old and works two jobs in addition to attending night school. She sleeps one or two hours a night, and all day on her days off. It’s no wonder she shows up to class exhausted.

In Shizuoka Prefecture, there are 24 teijisei, or part-time schools. Most are regular high schools during the day which also offer classes at night, hence their nickname, “night school” they cater to 3,624 students, and 14 ALTs work at them.

At Fujieda Higashi’s night school, I assist with the fourth-year students’ bi-weekly English drama class. Most of the 16 students in this class work full-time and live at home, handing over a portion of their income to their parents. I interviewed them during rehearsals for “The Wizard of Oz,” which they performed at a cultural festival in Shizuoka City on January 28th.

First off, I asked about their lifestyles. The students have a variety of jobs, from gutting fish in a processing factory to secretarial working an office. On average, they get up at six in the morning, work for eight hours and attend night school from 5:45 to 9:00 p.m. Only one student interviewed attends any of the three club activities available. The most popular extracurricular activities they noted were sleeping and “driving somewhere at night-time.”

Some students started night school directly after junior high school, others came after dropping out of senior high school, and the remainder came after having worked. They came back because they were unsatisfied with their lives and wanted to identify a “future dream.”

Night school provided a flexible alternative to “day school,” or regular high school. Students’ different schedules are accepted without fuss. They are not expected to study for hours every day. My JTE explained that teachers pass everyone whose attendance record is okay.

Of course, night school is not considered a perfect alternative to day school. It is virtually impossible for fourth-year students to hold even the most basic conversation in English. Although they have collectively memorized the “Wizard of Oz” script, they would not understand their lines without the Japanese printed underneath them.

Students say they find English difficult, but are envious of those who can speak it. Masaki, a 19-year old boy who works transporting luggage, explained that while it is easy for me to travel to foreign countries and be understood, he could not do so with his native tongue.

Night school should be commended for giving students a second chance to graduate from high school while working full-time. However, many students seem too burnt out to appreciate it. Hitomi, for instance, arrives worn out each evening and reads from the “Wizard of Oz” script monotonously.

Still, drama appeals to students in a way that typical lecture-style English classes do not. Students here are optimistic that their qualification in graduating will improve their lives. Unlike most of the students I teach, they are slowly searching for, rather than chasing, a dream.

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