This infographic was made by Lesley and Genevieve, ALTs in Kagoshima
This infographic was made by Lesley and Genevieve, ALTs in Kagoshima
With the influx of new JETs arriving, I thought it prudent to write my own “A Day in the Life” blog.
As a prefectural ALT, I was assigned to a senior high school a few weeks before I arrived. At first I was nervous. As a fresh college grad, the idea of teaching and working with a group of students so close to my own age was extremely daunting. But as anything in life goes, you have to grab the bull by the horns and just go.
After almost a year working here, I`ve grown to love not only the job but the staff and students as well. I`ve also developed a routine that may vary a bit depending on my class load, but only slightly. I chose a Wednesday to write about because that is usually the most eventful day.
8:30 – Morning Assembly
This happens every week. I get to school, drop my things off on my desk, and hustle down the hall to either the gym or the Kendo hall, where the entire school or separate grades meet respectively. They`ll talk about events, sports, awards, expectations, and do uniform checks. I observe quietly and bow when necessary, which is very often.
8:45- Homeroom, Prep Time
Everyone returns to their desks in the staff room, and the homeroom teachers go to their classes for a short meeting. If I don`t have a class first or second period, I will enjoy a cup of coffee and maybe an okashi that a teacher has brought back from a trip. When I finish, I will have a myriad of things to do. Usually this includes correcting papers for the JTEs, answering their questions, thinking extremely deeply about colloquial English as a result, and planning lessons. Depending on my schedule, I may have a lot of activities to plan.
10:55 Class Time
Usually I have 3rd period classes for some reason. Lately, I`m allowed to teach on my own for anywhere from 20 minutes to the full class period. It all depends on the JTE, the lesson, and even the time of the year. When I first started, I had 1-2 classes per week. Now I have upwards of 10-15.
Class ends and I return to the staff room. Again, depending on if I have class or not, I will read or study Japanese. Sometimes I will have 10 minutes to get to my next class. It truly does depend. To note further, if it is exam time during that week, I will have the entire day free. I bring books and study materials. They`re essential, and you might as well spend your time productively.
12:45 Lunch. Omiyage Distribution.
Self explanatory. I eat. We all eat, assuming we have time. I have seen teachers go until after 4:30 before they can touch their lunch, though. This is also a popular time for teachers to give omiyage if they are providing for the whole staff. Those are my favorite days. This is also time that the travel agencies bring their pamphlets and business cards around, and when the Nissay lady comes by with snacks and advertisements. Furthermore, there is a little old woman that sells individual yogurts to our staff room.
1:30 Class Time, Probably
Self explanatory. If this is free time, sometimes I will ask a JTE if it is alright if I run to the bank or the post office.
2:20 Cleaning Time
Students and teachers will clean the school for 20 minutes. I am in charge of sweeping the English department and the Math department. 5 other students help me sweep, clear garbage, and clean the sinks. This is supposed to teach everyone discipline and cooperation and the value of caring for your surroundings. During special long cleaning time, students and teachers even change into their athletic clothes to do this (read: WINDBREAKERS and of course I own one). After this, I continue prep or go to class.
4:15 Leaving Time
I never leave at 4:15. Never. On the rare day that I absolutely MUST leave at my scheduled time in order to pick up something or travel, I feel guilty. The Japanese are known for their hard work, and that doesn’t end in the classroom. Teachers get out at 4:50 but many will stay well past 6 or 7. If I have English Club (Tuesday), I will end up leaving at 6:15. However, I usually end the day at 4:30 or 4:40. This week I had a lot of prep to do so I ended up staying till 5:15 for a few days.
Keep in mind that this is not required. There is an understanding that you`re a foreign member of the staff and you are absolutely not required to work overtime, especially since you are not paid for it. If you want to arrive at 8:30 exactly and leave at 4:15 every day, go for it. Just do not be late and do not leave early unless you get explicit permission or want to take nenkyu, or paid leave.
Every situation is different. This will not be your day to a T, as it is uniquely mine. However, I hope this gives you a rough idea of what to expect as a teacher at the senior high school. Good luck!
Christine Zawlocki is a 2nd year ALT in Kanoya, Kagoshima
So, it’s getting to the end of the school year and I don’t know about you but this always throws me off mentally. Having been born in Canada, I’m used to the school year starting in September and so I’ve always had my mental ‘year’ start in September. “I did that last year.” (read: before September)
Japan, on the other hand, considers April a time of new beginnings. It’s when every company has its change-over of staff and when the fiscal year begins.
As the school year starts, the new ALTs will get to look forward to Soubetsukai Farewell Parties and Kangeikai Welcome Parties as teachers are shuffled between schools. I remember tearing up as my favourite teacher left, but I was most nervous about my first day of school after the new teachers arrived. I’m not a high school JET so I’m not stationed at the schools. As such, I arrive after all the formal introductions – full of ‘yoroshiku’s and bowing – have occurred. I wanted to make a good first impression on the new teachers. So, ….naturally, at my first school I completely forgot all about it and didn’t realize until I was leaving for the day.
*Looks at the Kyoto-sensei*
“Oh! That’s right! It’s my first time this school year!”
*Turn to the rest of the teachers, smile all embarrassed and bow* “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone.”
*Smile as everyone repeats it back, smiling kindly, then leave and close the door.*
*Facepalm* That could’ve gone better.
So, don’t be me. Remember to do your introductions when you first walk in to the staff room. A little ‘Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu’ goes a long way.
Another thing to look forward to is the switching of classes. For those who haven’t been in a teaching/classroom environment before, you’ll have to bear with some of the classes as the students and teachers get used to each other. Some of my better behaved classes were super boisterous at the start of the year. A perk of the job, however, is that you have likely taught these students in the previous grade so, for the first little while, you will know them better than their teachers. My teachers appreciate me giving them heads up about certain students, and it’s fun sharing inside jokes from last year.
For those teaching at elementary schools, you may encounter teachers who are teaching English – specifically Hi Friends! – for the first time. Be patient with them as they will likely be nervous and be leaning on you for guidance in how to teach the textbook. This is a great time to gently give them advice and tips based on what you’ve learned. For example, many teachers don’t realize all the features that are hidden in the digital Hi Friends textbook, or aren’t sure how to best teach the listening sections that throw new vocabulary at the students. A guiding hand can make all the difference for the impact of lessons when you’re not there.
Finally, junior high schools are getting new textbooks! The government has promised more internationalization and a focus on speaking. I got a glimpse of the New Horizon and I like it a lot more than the current edition of Sunshine that I’m using, but I’ll let you make your own judgments on whether it’s better or not. I’m personally looking forward to seeing if it has a positive impact on my students’ learning and figuring out how best to teach the material along with my JTE – who is also using it for the first time. It might be super fun!! … or we might go down in flames like the Lindenberg…Wish me luck!
Here’s hoping you have a great start to your new year!
Melissa Masson is an ALT in Izumi, Kagoshima.