Three weeks into the job, I`m beginning to settle into a bit of a daily routine. I usually get up around 6:30 to 7, and am out the door by 7:45. On a good day, it takes me 8 minutes to bike to school from when i first hop on my bike to when I lock it up.
After all the morning “Ohayo Gozaimasu!!” to the students and to the staff, I will sit around until first period begins if I have a class. If I don`t have a class, or whenever I have a free period, I will usually spend it either studying Japanese, researching lesson game ideas, writing these blogs, making videos, or looking up random stuff on wikipedia. If I get restless enough due to not having any classes the ENTIRE day (which happened several times last week), I get up and just wander the school, popping in and out of random classes.
At the end of the day, everyone cleans the school together, and since my designated area is the teacher`s lounge, I walk around with a rolled up newspaper and point out pieces of dirt that the students who are vacuuming have missed. If they miss more than several obvious ones, they get a playful little bop with the newspaper from me.
Cleanup time usually ends at about 4 pm. At this point, I usually either meet with my students doing the speech competition or wander around the school, going to the different clubs. Technically, I`m off the clock at 4:15, but I almost never go home at that time.
I love meeting with my speech competition kids. They are really great. Some of them are incredibly shy, and some are outgoing and expressive, but all of them try REALLY hard and it warms my heart. I really enjoy helping them with their pronunciation, intonation and gesturing, and it is probably one of the most fulfilling parts of my job.
After helping out with the speech competition, It is usually around 4:45. At that point, I either go to the piano room to relax and practice piano for about half an hour, or I go check out the various clubs. I enjoy training with the Judo club, watching the Kendo club practice, drawing with the art club, and jamming with the music club.
Actually, several days ago, I was wandering the halls, and I popped into the band club. I picked up one of the guitars and took it outside into the hall to jam by myself for a bit, when all of a sudden I heard a stampede closing in. I turned my head to see about 2 dozen girls running from multiple adjacent hallways, and in about 30 seconds, I suddenly found myself surrounded by eager smiling faces. I played a few songs, and my status as the school heartthrob was further cemented. In Japan, there is a term known as “Charisma-man”, which denotes a regular guy who comes to Japan and suddenly becomes an instant-celebrity and incredibly cool dude, just because they are a foreigner in Japan. I am the definition of a Charisma-man here.
So overall, the first few weeks of working at my school have been fantastic. Interestingly, according to some of the ALTs in my area who have worked here before, my school has had a bit of a reputation in the past as being a bit of a troublemaker school. To be honest, my experiences here have not reflected that. For the most part, the kids have tons of personality and boundless energy. Well, at least in the halls and during afterschool clubs. Time for another really long tangent!
Teaching in a Japanese classroom can be a bewildering experience for someone who has no idea what they are getting into. First time teachers are often caught off guard by an almost complete lack of classroom participation, avoided glances, blank stares, and super quiet tiny voices. This is a really interesting phenomenon and totally at odds with what you might see in a classroom back in Canada or the states.
In Japan – the ideal of what constitutes a good student is almost diametrically opposed to our idea of a good student in the west.
In the west, a good student is one who is outspoken, unafraid to speak their mind, confident, and expressive. These traits are leading indicators of leadership, extraversion, and individuality, which are highly valued in both corporate culture and western society at large.
By contrast, in Japan, a good student is one who is quiet, doesn`t stand out much, does their work, and does well on tests.
There is a very popular saying in Japan that goes, ” The nail that sticks out will be hammered down. ” The concept is so ingrained in Japanese culture and so central to the Japanese way of life that it is apparent at all levels of social interaction. This is because In Japan, social and group harmony is extremely important, and it is almost considered rude of a person to stand out and express themselves freely. Thus, people develop extreme aversions to being singled out.
Which brings me back to my point – It`s often quite difficult in some classes to get the kids to participate and answer questions in class unless there is already an existing culture of outspokenness within the classroom. They just don’t want to stand out, or be judged by their peers if they make a mistake.
To encourage my students to participate in class more, I`m starting a pilot project with some of the first year classes. I`m having them making little `passport` booklets, and if they participate in class or answer a question, I`ll stamp their passport. At the end of the semester, I`ll hold an auction and everyone can use their stamps to bid on prizes.
Hopefully this will solve two problems – 1. students not participating and 2. me giving away all of my prizes early. I brought tons of prizes with me from Canada, but when I started giving one or two away during classes, I quickly realized they would be all gone within a month or two. With the passport-stamp system, rather than giving the prizes away for free, I create a free market and let market forces decide the price of the goods. I didn`t go to business school and graduate with a degree in economics for nothing!
However, outside the class room It`s a completely different story. As I walk down the halls, ALL the kids want to talk to me. Usually they just say hi, or the one phrase they have memorized and then run away ( usually either a)What cup do you like?? b)I like TSUNADE! c)I do/don`t like Kakashi! or d) she likes you!! [gesturing at her friend] ). It`s funny – for the first time in my life, I`m the most popular person at school.
Sometimes, I will engage a student (or a group of them..they tend to cluster together) in a short conversation, and if I`m lucky, I may get some replies, amidst the giggles. If their english level is really low, it becomes more a challenge of overcoming the communication barrier. It gets better day by day though, as my Japanese improves, I become more proficient with using the English-Japanese dictionary on my Iphone, and I think up more topics of conversation and things to do or show the students.
Finally, after what feels like a really long but fulfilling day, I hop back on my bike at anywhere between 5:45 and 6:30 and head home. I usually stop by the supermarket across the street to pick up dinner for the night, and then I go home, make dinner and usually just relax in front of my computer for the rest of the night. Most of the time I`m blogging, or chatting with friends back home, or hanging out with one of the other ALTs in my building. I usually call it a night around 12:30, even though I always tell myself I`ll go to sleep at 10:30.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is a typical day in the life of a JET. Overall, It`s a pretty good life and I`ve got no complaints so far!