The bell chimes at 8:30, signaling the start of the school day. Students begin to line the corridors with brushes and small towels in hand. It’s cleaning time. Before school starts every day, students must first clean the classrooms and corridors by following the instructions that ring over the speakers: get to your positions; close your eyes for meditation; stand to attention; bow; now begin.
Seemingly odd and militaristic at first, you quickly find yourself joining in the routine and picking up a brush yourself. Much about Japanese schooling has this vibe to it. Each class begins and ends in a similar way with the students meditating, standing to attention and then bowing. School assemblies begin and end with the school song and with the students and teachers standing and bowing each time a new speaker comes to the stage. Even the school sports day has an event where the students are assessed on their synchronized marching abilities. But once these formalities no longer surprise you, you will find a school experience not too dissimilar to those of the west.
Arriving just as the cleaning bell chimes, I proceed to put on my indoor shoes and make my way to the staff room. I have my own desk, computer and printer (provided by the Board of Education specifically for my use). My computer is currently the only one in the staff room with internet access, so there are jealous looks aplenty as I check the news whilst drinking my tea.
After the morning clean, there are four fifty-minute lessons before lunch, followed by 2 more afterwards. On an average day, I will teach around 3 lessons. I’ve attached this week’s schedule as an example:
As you can see, three times a week I finish teaching before lunch. My school allows me to leave once my lessons for the day are done, therefore I can get back home before 2pm quite often.
I currently teach 1st year Junior High School students, along with some special needs classes. Each class has students with varying English capabilities, but I tailor all my lessons to those with zero previous knowledge of the topic I will teach. Classes tend to follow the same pattern: warm-up activity or game; introduction of the new grammar point; an opportunity to practice through an activity, game or worksheet; and an evaluation exercise.
When I don’t have lessons to teach then I spend the time planning or creating worksheets and materials. As I predominantly teach just 1st year students, I can use the same materials for every class that week. This presents me with a lot of free time which I spend studying Japanese, talking with the other teachers, or going for a stroll.
I eat the school-provided lunch each day, which typically consists of a bowl of rice, soup, a fish dish, and some salad. It’s rarely delicious, but always filling and nutritious.
Along with the frequent early finishing times, I also never have to work on weekends and there is no expectation to take home any work. Once I leave for the day, that’s it.
A few experiences from working in a Japanese school:
Classes at my school are large, around 40 students usually. The classrooms themselves are extremely dated: students sit at individual wooden desks and take notes from the chalkboard.
Despite the strict dress code for students, teachers tend to embrace a more casual attire- full tracksuits are not an uncommon site in the staff room. During the unbearably hot summer months it is fine for me to wear shorts and a linen-shirt.
Students are not reprimanded for falling asleep during class. My school even has a special room where students can take a short nap if they need to. This sentiment also extends to the staff, with the teachers’ room often filled with the low buzz of snores.
Teaching during the summer months can be almost unbearable at times, as the Board of Education has strict rules for when the air-conditioning is allowed to be turned on (thirty-degrees Celsius). Likewise with the winter months, we're currently experiencing days of around four-degrees Celsius and I can see my breath whilst eating my lunch, yet there is no sign of any heating being turned on...