I can tell you why Japanese teachers have 15-20 non-teaching hours per week. So can Susan Sclafani, director of state services for the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington-based nonprofit group that promotes a tighter link between education and workforce development.
Ms. Sclafani ... noted that several of the top-performing countries have stricter front-end selection criteria for teachers, larger class sizes, and longer hours to facilitate on-site professional learning. The United States, in contrast, typically has lax entry standards and smaller classes, and the majority of teachers receive no more than 16 hours of training in their subject per year.
How does Japan stack up? Stricter front-end selection criteria for teachers—check.
Larger class sizes—check. Japanese classes average 45 students.
Longer hours—check. Japan has more calendar days in their academic year, as many as 240 compared to 180 in America.
Japanese teachers enjoy something else American teachers wish they had.
If we want professional teachers, we need to treat them like professionals...The report also found that other countries typically gave teachers more autonomy at their school sites.
America may be afraid to think about overhauling education. It is scary to think about teacher quality.
The United States, in contrast, typically has lax entry standards.
Americans do not believe their teachers deserve professional status. Neither do the employers of teachers. That is why publishers have a ready market for “teacher-proof” curriculum.
“Books Moore” (see comments in Teacher Magazine link) lays it out in a lengthy comment:
Lodging complaints about teacher contact hours during the day is a little like standing in a dilapidated building and complaining that there is a slightly crooked hanging on the wall. The real issues are much more severe, and legions of reforms are needed to change this.
One is...why should the best and brightest among us wish to even bother to become teachers? What do they have to look forward to? Sure, it can be immensely gratifying to teach, but all that goes with it--and what does not go with it--often very much more than offsets that. Entering teaching becomes an irrational decision for many who otherwise would love to enter it.
Two is the byzantine requirements mandated to achieve certification. Does anyone else find it odd that an education major with a 2.5 GPA from Podunk U can be straightway certified, while someone else with a 3.9 from a rigorous program, plus a Masters degree, would first need to do an additional year of mostly irrelevant courses? Added to that is the fact that teacher education programs are typically geared to producing compliant technicians rather than critical scholar-educators.
Third are teacher salaries. A single parent entering teaching would still qualify for a variety of welfare. And the salary of the person who delivers your mail can keep up with the salary of the person who teaches your children. Need I say more?
Fourth is that education has transformed largely into an authoritarian regime. The cost is the freedom required to not only be an outstanding pedagogist but the freedom required for students to become highly engaged literates...
In short, there is a serious lack of relational trust. More and more, relational trust is becoming recognized as the overarching predictor of academic achievement.
So what do Japanese teachers do with their 15-20 non-teaching hours per week? Women work hard, plan lessons, grade papers, collaborate with colleagues, and go home at 5:00 to cook dinner and take care of children. Men can be found in the mens' teachers lounge playing Go and Shogi between classes. They make up for it by staying after school to all hours planning lessons, grading papers, and collaborating with colleagues.
(I would like to correct a misperception in “Melissah's” comment: “In Asian countries--Japan specifically--teachers spend one half of their day in class, teaching students. They spend the other half of their day grading, planning, and collaborating with colleagues. Given half a day to grade would allow me to provide specific, more immediate feedback for students, which would lead to classroom instruction that better matched the needs of the learner. The point of restructuring the teaching day would not be to leave students alone; rather, it would be to stop the "babysitting" that makes up much of our day. “
Japan does not do as much babysitting as we do. The teachers' desks are all located in a large teachers' room. The student's homeroom is really home. They take nearly all their classes in their homeroom. Teachers go back and forth to classes. Consequently, there is no adult supervison among the students during the ten minute break between classes. Furthermore, Japanese do not bring in a substitute teacher unless the absent teacher will be gone at least three days. For every teaching hour of an absent teacher, there is a class of 45 students completely unsupervised. Japan has a severe problem with violent bullies. Most of the the incidents take place during unsupervised time. Maybe Japan could do with a little more babysitting).