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How Discipline Affects Motivation In and Out of Japanese Classrooms

How Discipline Affects Motivation In and Out of Japanese Classrooms | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I work in two schools. I am an assistant language teacher at one commercial (low-level English) high school, and an integrated (high-level English) academic junior high and high school. I have had experiences with different kinds of students, Japanese-English teachers, and classroom atmospheres. In Japan, students take an entrance exam to get into high school. If they scored low on the entrance exam, then they are placed in the lowest ranking class. Each school has a certain number of classrooms for each grade. Both of my high schools have six classes total for each grade. There are usually around forty to forty-two students in each class as well. Teaching forty plus students in a crowded classroom is difficult. And unlike many stereotypes of Japanese students, not all of them are polite, eager to learn, and respectful. This is how I discovered discipline affects motivation in Japanese classrooms.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Elvia V. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Differences in Japanese and American Approaches

I do not have the authority to discipline. I also did not have respect in some classrooms. Keywords: did not. I work with many different teachers, all with different teaching strategies. Some teachers are not respected in the classroom and are often talked over, mistreated, or ignored by students during the lecture. In these cases, I get involved. I have had students flat out insult me in front of everyone in the class and because this was Japan and not America, I couldn’t kick them out of class and tell them to go to the principal’s office. So instead, I brought their homeroom teacher to the class.

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Homeroom Teachers

In Japan, homeroom teachers are more involved with their students than any other teachers. Students tend to listen to them more because they usually stay with them until they graduate. However, as a foreigner, I did not know that and asked the homeroom teacher for help. They apologized to me as we walked into the classroom together. I stopped having issues with that class after that and was later told by the homeroom teacher that that class respected me. They thought I was “cool” for taking charge. And as silly as this may seem, it makes sense that these students suddenly became more motivated to learn after they saw how motivated I was to teach.

High School Education

In Japanese high schools, participation and homework are not important. Attendance and test scores are. Memorization is everything here. I learned that if I assign homework, some students don't turn it in, and if they do they usually don’t turn it in when it is due. I’ve graded essays turned in two weeks late. This was a cultural shock for me, as I grew up in America, where if you turned in an assignment late you’d be lucky to even get a grade for it. So I never try to assign homework because I know it is not a top priority here. Because of this, I use it to my advantage. If I have a student(s) causing issues in class, I tell the entire class that I was going to give them a study guide for the oral exam, which we have throughout every semester, but decided not too since they seem ready for the exam. I've only had to say this once; never had to do it again. My students know I am here to help them. I tell them constantly that I want to help, but if they don't want it then that is okay.

Also Read: Multiple Intelligences: How is This Theory Important in Education?


Homework here isn't really “home” work. It is usually meant to do in the classroom and reviewed again next class. When I assign it, it is always a study guide they can look back on for future quizzes and tests their teachers assign. However, sometimes students do have to hand them in. I correct their work and they use it later as a study guide. I do notice which students hand assignments in on time and the majority of them are either considered highly academic students or athletes. Of course, the quality of their work is different, but the quantity is the same. It isn’t because of something I said or did. It was because of their coaches.

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My best advice for anyone teaching abroad: make friends with the coaches. Any student causing issues in class is usually involved in a sports club activity. Giving students no points for assignments won't help you in Japan, but letting their coaches know about their behavior in class will. Coaches will not allow those students to play in games or even participate in practice. This motivates better behavior in class and sometimes test scores.

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