I teach at Japanese Middle and Elementary schools as an Assistant language teacher (ALT). I got into this position from the JET Program and now work directly for the schools and the Board of Education here in my country town in the Mie Prefecture of Japan. It’s a great experience and I feel like I have encountered so many different scenarios and things in the year and a half I have been here that many in their life never will. That being said this is work and it’s not all fun and games. Living in Japan is wonderful too, but compared to when I studied abroad here my free time is severely limited. Let me talk about how things work here.
I directly report to the city’s BOE and go there if I need to talk to my boss, which happens pretty much every week. However most days I have no need to visit there so I will go straight to one of the three junior high schools I work at. Since I work at three different schools I will go to one of them for one week and then change the next week. I go on this cycle the whole year long so I actually only go to each school about a third of the year.
Work starts here at 8:30, but I usually arrive around 8:20 since the teachers have a meeting first thing in the morning to discuss the goals and circumstances for the day. If you have anything you need to say or talk about this is where that goes down. Then homeroom is done and we start first period at 9:00. How many classes I have depends on the school and what all is going on that week, but usually it’s around 12 classes a week. I will visit each class level and each class one time each that week. That way I get to see all the students. I do my lesson planning and all that on Monday and will carry out those plans throughout classes that week. I work alongside a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) for each year level. Sometimes that’s great, sometimes it’s a bit annoying. Really depends on who the JTE is.
Students here in Japan also don’t generally change classrooms; usually it is the teacher who changes. I know that is different from what I experienced in America anyway. The style of classroom is also very different. I am used to it now so I don’t notice it anymore, but if you have every watched anime before you probably will notice it as soon as you go to a Japanese school. They have a unique design to them that looks quite different from the west. Semesters are also broken into three segments. The spring segment starts in April and that is considered the first semester. The second starts in September and goes to December. The last semester is January to March. In general I want to say Japanese students are in class a lot more than western students. Where I live, many have classes on one Saturday a month as well. I have to go too…not fun.
Classes are 50 minutes long here and usually we will do lesson focusing on review and building interest in the language. I am not usually the one to teach new grammar; that is mainly the JTE’s job when I am not there. There are 6 periods in a day and sometimes all 6 of them will be full. Other days you might not have a single class. Things change all the time, so you never know what to expect until mainly the week or so before you go to your school. I’m not going to lie. Some days I have no classes at all and it’s a real, real drag. Sometimes there are weeks where I have no actual job to do, yet I still have to be at work for the 7-8 hours a day. That is usually in the summer, but it happens a few times a year. It’s a great experience, this job that is, but it can be real difficult on days like that. That isn’t sarcasm by the way. I just mean sitting at work for a week doing nothing really makes you question your life choices sometimes haha.
After classes has finished the kids usually will clean the school and then go on to do club activities. Clubs are a very big deal here in Japan. Most kids are encouraged to join one, and practice is every single day for an hour or more. Practice is usually on the weekends as well. Students and teachers are very busy here compared to what I am use to in the west. I am an exception so thankfully I do not get wrapped up in the insane working hours like standard teachers, but I do feel bad for many teachers here. They work crazy hours sometimes and I know they must struggle not being able to enjoy any free time of their own. That is actually a nationwide problem here though, not specific to teachers.
There are a lot of small differences as well between Japanese and American schools, but a lot of the things here I have just gotten use too. If someone new to Japan came they would notice a lot more than what I have talked about here. While there are a lot of differences it is just school, so many similarities as well.
The highlight of the job for me, besides getting to go on this new adventure in Japan, is the students you meet. I have met some amazing students in my time here. They have been so amazing to teach and get to know and have really made me feel at home here at times. There are troubled times as well, sometimes being a teacher is really hard and dealing with difficult students can be a real challenge. The ones that show respect and interest though really make you see how amazing this experience can be.
I truly hope I have been able to be a motivational figure to them in some way. I really try to connect with the kids and make my class interesting for them. I really want them to grow and make positive decisions down the road because of my influence on them. I would be so happy to hear that I was able to make a difference in someone’s life.
Just to clarify most of what I am talking about here is for Junior High Schools here. I work at Elementary as well, but not nearly as often so I mainly focused on JHS.
Life in Japan is defiantly different from that in America. It’s amazing getting to see different styles and ways of life. I encourage everyone to get out as much as they can and try these types of things. They lead to adventures you never even imagined in the first place. Thanks for reading, peace.