Shuffle Shock


Version 2Shuffle Shock

by Akilah Bel

Akilah is a first year JET from Barbados teaching in Fukuyama. She has previously taught in Japan for 2 years from 2008 to 2010, and has also taught English in France.

Tick tock, tick tock, there’s only one more hour left until the phone calls come in. The atmosphere is tense and teachers glance furtively at the clock. When the final hour of work rolls around the tensions are higher, the tapping of fingers on computers are silenced, the whirring of printers cease and discussions begin as to the likelihood of which teachers from our department will leave.

In what was perhaps one of the most stressful days at work so far since my arrival on JET, the dreaded end of year shuffle was upon us and I have to admit that I am not a fan. From my department, the possibility loomed that five of our teachers would be transferred. Which isn’t the most thrilling thought when you’ve established a good dynamic and rapport with them. It’s kind of unnerving. Having worked in another Japanese business before, I have experienced the transfer of co-workers and the result in the office was an unpleasant one. Granted, it was a smaller office and practically all employees were changed except me, but the dramatic change in atmosphere was disastrous. It is therefore understandable why I was so worried this time around. It’s something that can shake up the entire department, yet it’s unavoidable. So, why does the BoE implement such a change?

Well, this change is not limited to the BoE or the education sector. In fact, throughout Japan, all companies implement the shuffle and transfer system. It’s a way to ensure that ideas and techniques are spread and shared, but more importantly, it’s meant to inspire innovation and growth. A school or business won’t stagnate if fresh ideas and new structures continue to enter the system. Also, for those of us unfortunate to have challenging co-workers, it provides the opportunity to gain a new ally. As a whole and a concept, it’s a good idea. Lastly, it’s a means of rewarding the teachers. For those on the brink of retirement, if possible, they are transferred to less stressful schools. That way they can make the transition from working to retirement more easily. Overall, it seems to make sense.

Yet, regardless of how good the system looks on paper, the whole process seems to me excessively stressful and troubling. The entire office feels the stress and the pressure. Not only does the transfer affect the teacher being moved, but the co-workers as well. For Japanese teachers especially, their work-load can change dramatically depending on who arrives and their level of competency. Secondly, I don’t understand the need for the big dramatisation of the transfers. School ends as a half day on the last day of school, but you have to wait until the final hour of the official work day to share the news? The principal is informed the day before about which teachers will be transferred, but cannot share the news until 4pm – why not? The teachers don’t really seem to get much done in those hours leading up to the big reveal. The song lyrics by Madonna, “time goes by, so slowly” come to mind. So why wait? Well, being the curious Georgina that I am, I asked another teacher.

It turns out that when the teachers are called to the room to meet with the principal, he gives them all of the information about their new schools along with the contact info for their new principal. The teachers then spend the later hours of the day contacting their new principal to find out more about the school and what their post will require. This contact is made outside of regular school hours which technically ends at 4:50pm (although we know all Japanese teachers stay in the office several hours later than that). So there is reason behind the madness, whether I like it or not.

Anyway, when all is said and done, three out of the five from my department were transferred. They all seem excited and happy about the change, so in the end I’m happy for them, even if past experience has made me wary of such changes. Those replacing them will have some big shoes to fill. But, even though I’m not a big fan of the shuffle, I’ll look forward to the opportunity of meeting and working with some fresh faces.



  1. Great article Akila, and a very interesting subject. You mentioned some of the positive reasons why the teachers change so frequently. Most who I have spoken to are far more cynical! There seems to be a widely held belief that the reason teachers are constantly switched is to devolve power from the teachers’ unions and maintain a strong BOE command over each school and its curriculum. Keeping teachers moving stops them settling and developing strong bonds so the BOE can remain the driving force behind decision making. All very stressful indeed!

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