'BAD BOY TEACHER' MAKES GOOD
- SCHOOL SHAKEOUT
'BAD BOY TEACHER' MAKES GOOD
Ex-delinquent now education champion
By AKEMI NAKAMURA
As a troubled teen, Hiroyuki Yoshiie got into lots of fights, ran with motorcycle gangs, extorted money from people on the street and even used a lighter to set a teacher's hair on fire, drawing an expulsion from high school.
Hiroyuki Yoshiie of the Yokohama board of education and a member of the government's Education Rebuilding Council is interviewed in his Tokyo office. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO
He went on, however, to become a high school teacher. Now 35, Yoshiie is a charismatic educator widely known as "yanki sensei" (bad boy teacher), a member of the Yokohama board of education and a member of the Education Rebuilding Council, an advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"I've experienced every educational problem in my 35 years," said Yoshiie, who also teaches education as a lecturer at Tohoku Fukushi University in Miyagi Prefecture. "Those experiences have become a big asset for me, although it took me some time to realize this. Now I want to give something back to education."
Yoshiie has had a significant presence in the media since 2003, when he published his first book on his juvenile delinquency and teaching experiences. TV documentaries and dramas were made on his life, and he delivers dozens of lectures a year around the country.
His popularity has risen at a time of increased public concerns over various educational problems, including bullying, truancy, drugs, deteriorating academic achievements and schools not offering the course load required for graduation.
"In the past, juvenile problems were limited to a few students. Now any student can have or be a problem," Yoshiie said. "The conventional way of handling students no longer works. So teachers don't know what to do."
More and more of them are finding it hard to do their jobs. Out of 920,000 public school teachers, the education ministry says that a record 7,017 took temporary leave due to illness in fiscal 2005, including 4,178 who suffered psychological problems.
Yoshiie believes teachers hold the key to improving the education system, because one he encountered when he was in high school rescued him when he had nowhere else to turn.
Yoshiie began misbehaving when he entered junior high, a few years after he learned that his father and mother divorced right after he was born in Nagano Prefecture in 1971 and the woman he thought was his mother was actually his stepmother.
Because of his unruliness, he was bullied and ignored by classmates for nearly two years until he moved on to high school. There, his delinquency worsened. When he was effectively expelled at age 16, Yoshiie's father placed him in a public child consultation center.
He ended up living with foster parents for a year until he entered Hokusei Yoichi High School in Hokkaido, a private school known for accepting dropouts.
An encounter with a female teacher there, Toshiko Adachi, who went all out to help her students, changed his life and eventually made him decide to become a teacher.
After graduating from Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, Yoshiie took a teaching job at a cram school and finally returned to his Hokkaido high school as a teacher at age 28.
There he devoted himself to developing teaching methods and ways to instruct students to help them become decent adults, spending as much time with them as possible. To prevent bullying, he would sit in his classroom during recess to observe students and talk to those who appeared down.
"Bullying takes place when adults aren't watching," said Yoshiie, who left the school in March 2005 to take the Yokohama board of education post. "If teachers are around them, bullying isn't easy to commit."
If he encountered any bullying, the hot-blooded Yoshiie would take strict action in cooperation with other teachers.
They would first single out the culprits and talk to them, impressing on them the harmful consequences of their actions. They would also inform parents of what their kids were doing to others and underscore the school policy.
Yoshiie would make bullies apologize the next day in front of the class and would scold others who failed to take preventive action.
His next step was to meet individually with all of his students over the next few days to talk about bullying and encourage some to become leaders to curb the problem.
"After doing all of this, the class can finally stand at the starting line" to prevent bullying, he said, noting that curbing the problem requires a sincere effort.
When he visits the dozens of elementary, junior high and high schools in Yokohama, Yoshiie urges them to take strict and thorough measures, including suspending troublemakers.
Some experts contend, however, that suspension is irresponsible because it can have a negative impact with no rehabilitative effect. There is also no consensus on what constitutes bullying, because in many cases the harassment is nonviolent, such as ostracizing a classmate or sending hateful e-mail.
Teachers can play an important preventive role by looking for signs of bullying at an early stage. But recent suicides involving kids who had been harassed at school shows not enough effort is being made, according to Yoshiie.
He criticizes teachers who staged rallies against the revision of the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education, saying they should have been with students while bullying became a major social issue.
"For children, bullying is an urgent problem," he said.
The education ministry and the Education Rebuilding Council are discussing ways to improve public education, including introducing a system to periodically have teachers evaluated as part of a license-renewal process.
The way it works now, principals submit reports about inept teachers to boards of education, which decide how to deal with them. Those seeking to remain in the profession have to undergo retraining before they can return to the classroom. Some just quit.
Yoshiie said the system does not work well because it is sometimes difficult for principals to spot poor teachers.
"Principals tend to hesitate when it comes to members of the teachers union because of fallout from other teachers," he said. "Besides, it's also difficult for a principal to carefully observe dozens of teachers at a school."
According to the ministry, boards of education nationwide punished 4,086 teachers in fiscal 2005, including 447 teachers who administered physical punishment on students, 142 who engaged in molestation or other indecent acts, and 67 teachers who refused to sing the national anthem during school ceremonies.
Yoshiie will head the Yokohama board of education's school to train university students and other adults who want to become teachers in the future. The school will open next month with 100 participants.
"It's OK to have various types of teachers because there are various types of students," Yoshiie said. "Teachers have to show students that they will fight together against the problems they face."
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