As anyone who is looking at this should know by now, I am an English teacher in Japan (aka ALT), and as the day of classes has been cancelled for me, I thought this would be a good time to write a little bit about what happens here at a Japanese public school.
An average day for me consists of getting in to school at 8:00am to get settled in for the daily staff meeting that happens at 8:10am, these can last anywhere from a minute, or until almost interfering with first period, which starts at 8:50am. Why exactly I have to be in attendance for these has remained a mystery, because I do not understand much Japanese, so none of it really makes any sense to me, and even if I ask the English speaking teachers afterwards what was covered, they will not tell me. During these meetings I have learned when to say “good morning” and “thanks” on cue, and when to bow at the right time (yes, we bow every morning), but beyond that, I do not understand a single thing that happens during these events. The most annoying part is that sometimes everyone will cheer and clap, and when I ask “what happened?” I typically just get a wave to be quiet or am told “oh it’s nothing,” it has gotten to the point where I do not even ask anymore, I just continue to check my e-mail, say the words on their cues, and just sort of zone out.
Next up are classes, I teach a conversation class, so instead of focusing on grammar and such, my classes are mostly games, running around, and trying to get the students to practice as much English as possible. I feel lucky in this regard, because most ALTs I have spoken with simply parrot what the Japanese teacher tells them to and the children do not get to have a lot of fun, also, I am the only ALT I know of in the area that has an actual classroom. It’s pretty awesome to have a private room, especially because it allows me to display students work on the walls and make it feel welcoming with different decorations every month. It takes a lot of time and effort to decorate the place, but the students and teachers all seem to love it, it is fairly common for people to just stop in to admire the walls.
Prior to summer vacation, I had 18 classes a week that I made all the lesson plans, materials for and taught them mostly solo, then, without even warning me, the 1st year students stopped getting lessons from me. The teachers have never explained why the classes were suddenly switched to grammar instead of conversation, but now 3 of my classes are parroting and the other 3 the teacher does not even want me there… and with not so much as a word.
The other 12 classes are still completely run by me though, and it can get tough, especially when my JTEs rarely offer me advice on how to tweak lesson plans and, even though I give them plans a week in advance, they often will stop a class to ask questions about what is happening. It is not horrible, but it can get frustrating. The wonderful thing though is that all of these classes have really helped me to get over my fears of speaking in front of groups and I am certainly becoming more confident in my teaching skills as the months progress.
Once a day, typically directly following the last class period, all of the students go to designated areas of the school to clean. You see, in Japan, schools do not have janitors, they have a workforce of students to do the chores, they do everything from sweeping the floors and window washing, to scrubbings toilets and picking up leaves. It is nice because it teaches the children a bit about responsibility, and all of them will know that if the school does not look good, they will only have themselves to blame for it, the only problem is that most students, after years of doing it every day, seem to simply not give a damn anymore. At my school, students barely clean anything, and instead tend to have sword battles with the brooms or try to shove dirty washcloths in each others mouths, the end result is a lot of teachers yelling, and my schools floors being slightly sticky and off color. I have been told by other ALTs that my school sounds much worse than theirs though, so perhaps just my students do not give a damn about how their school looks anymore.
It is not all bad here though, I would say that roughly 99% of the 650 students that attend my Junior High School are wonderful, funny and absolutely adorable. It is rare to go through a single day without being told by a few students that I am “kawaii” (cute) or have a boy awkwardly try to hit on me or stare at my boobs. The majority of the kids love to come up to me outside of class and attempt to hold conversations, most of their questions are usually grammar points they recently learned (i.e. “how many ~ do you have?” or “do you like ~?”), but at least they are trying.
The cutest conversation this week was a 1st year student who, after being pushed forward by his friends, blushed and told me “tea teacher, you are good English teacher and very cute. I love you.” He then promptly ran away.
By the way, the students call me tea teacher, because my last name is Koca, which is pronounced very similarly to “koucha,” or black tea.
Throughout the day, there is a woman that all ALTs call “the tea lady,” because, well, she is in charge of tea and snacks for the staff room, I have heard tales of every tea lady ever being sweet old ladies who just love to talk to you, make wonderful snacks and remember everyone’s favorite drinks….. that is not my lady.
My tea lady tends to spend most of her day zoned out on her keitai (phone), only brings in prepackaged snacks and sucks at making tea. Yes, my tea lady cannot make good tea. Every day I cringe a little bit when she smiles and sets the over steeped green brew in front of me and then later try to sneak into the lounge room without her noticing that most days I simply dump it out.
Well, without going into the politics of how the actual school is run, and what they do ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ here, that is pretty much my average day in a quite large nutshell.