Another day another post. I`m still backed up quite a bit, but I think progress is being made, and since my week is starting to settle into a routine, I can skip more days.
My first *real* day at work was actually on August 30th, but for the most part the days have been pretty similar. There is an endless number of things to write about though, since my school is basically a manga that is dying to write itself. Anyways…
*BRING BRING BRING* My alarm clock went off again for the 3rd time. I`m an avid enthusiast of the snooze button, but somehow, each time I press it, the interval between the next alarm becomes shorter and shorter. When the alarm went off for the 3rd time, I told myself that I could lie in bed as long as it was still on. So as it continued to blare obnoxiously, I ignored it up until the marginal point where my desire to turn it off exceeded my desire to stay in bed.
Eventually I got up and had my cold shower (at this point I hadn`t yet figured out how to turn on the water heater), cracked open some eggs for breakfast, crammed my stuff into my bag and began the 7 minute bike ride to school. Fortunately, the weather this morning was slightly more forgiving than usual and I arrived at the school without being completely drenched head to toe in my own sweat. It was kinda nice.
Technically this wasn`t my FIRST day at work; it was really my second. I had come in the previous monday to meet some of the teachers and walk around the school but I had only been there for a few hours. This would be my first real day at work. When I got to school, I walked into the newly renovated teacher`s office and met some of the other teachers I hand`t met before. Japanese names are very different from western ones so I still struggle a lot with remembering them.
As it was my first day, I was to give a speech to the entire school and staff on the stage of the school gymnasium. I decided to give it entirely in Japanese and had spent the past week writing it out and practicing it. Thus my whole morning was spent hunched over my desk in the teachers office, reading my speech out loud softly to myself and practicing my intonation. After a few dozen run-throughs, I was ready. With steely determination, I looked up and – confusedly looked around and – realized there was nobody in the office!! I was really confused at first until it slowly dawned on me – this was the ninja-teacher phenomenon. Japan ofcourse being the land where ninjas originated, it is quite common for JETs to suddenly find themselves in an empty teachers office with no idea where everyone went. Seriously, it was like they just vanished. And it`s not like there is any announcement that everyone is supposed to head off or anything. People just slowly leave one or two at a time until there are only a couple left, then poof! They too are gone.
Undeterred, I got up and walked out onto the hallway where I heard voices coming from around the corner, and outside in the gymnasium. It turned out that the assembly had already started, and Kocho-sensei and Kyoto-sensei (principal and vice-principal) were taking turns giving opening ceremony speeches. Suddenly I heard the words “atarashii” and “ALT”; atarashii meaning new, and I clued in that it was time for me to go onto the stage. I gave my camera to one of the fellow teachers and hopped up onto the stage to give my speech. I talked about myself, Canada, my hobbies, likes and dislikes, and my family. I also interjected something about how I really like the manga (japanese comic) Naruto, and I want to be a good teacher like Kakashi; one of the characters in the manga. After spending all week working on my speech, I thought it was quite good with some jokes and that bit about the manga, which I was sure would be a crowd pleaser.
Sadly, it was not met with any type of response at all. The students just sat there and stared at me, unless I caught a student in the eye and they would blush and turn away, giggling excitedly. After my speech, the ceremony dragged on for a little bit while we all simmered in the shirt drenchingly humid gymnasium. When it finally ended, it was back to the teachers lounge where I sat around and began to prepare my self-introduction class. The self introduction classes would prove to be really interesting, but I will talk about them on the next post.
After the school day ended, I was left to my own devices and free to wander around. I decided to take the time to walk around the school where I discovered something that still blows my mind. When school ends for the day, everyone, from ichi-nensei to san-nensei (1st to 3rd years), as well as the teachers, band together and clean up the entire school! They run around with towels and brooms, putting things away and shuffling desks and chairs back into their proper places. Amazingly, no one complains about this unpaid labour. Everyone goes about it cheerfully, making jokes and having fun while cleaning together. It`s a big part of Japanese culture to band together to get things done as a community. This is something I really admire about Japan.
After everyone finished cleaning up at 4pm, all the students split up to go to their respective clubs. Thats right, they STILL don`t go home. In Japan, virtually all the kids are a part of an afterschool club. Some of the various clubs are basketball, volleyball, kendo, judo, ping pong, brass band, home-making, shop, and art. They meet EVERY SINGLE DAY for 1-3 hours. Often they will meet on Saturdays as well.
Is this blowing your mind yet? As someone who comes from the American and Canadian education systems and cultures, my first response was ” Oh my god, those poor kids! They never get a break, they`re always studying and even after school, they have to stick around for the rest of the afternoon! They never get any time to themselves to hang out and be kids! ” However after thinking about it a little bit, it made a bit more sense. You just have to view it from a Japanese perspective.
In Japan, from the moment you’re old enough, you’re always part of a well defined peer group that takes up the majority of your day. In elementary school its your homeroom class and in Jr. High and Highschool, its your afterschool clubs. These clubs are mandatory; every student is required to be in a club. So you might think, oh that kind of sucks, Japanese people must have no time to make friends. Before I explain it, most people tend to think like that. However consider this, if everyone is in a club anyway, who would you hang out with if you’re not IN a club? That`s right, you would be all by yourself! This means that students become really good friends with their club mates and and do most of their socializing with each other, and during club time. Then they go home around dinner, do homework and go to sleep. It`s a perfectly self-contained bubble of social interaction.
This type of cycle continues on into the workforce (but not the university years..I’m not quite sure about how the dynamic works there yet, but it seems its a lot more like open and free). As salarymen and office ladys, people are encouraged to stay overtime until the boss leaves, and to socialize with each other over drinks after work. Thus, almost all social interaction for a large proportion of Japanese society takes place within well defined peer groups with clear boundaries and rules of etiquette. Personally I don`t think I could live my life this way, but it`s the Japanese way, and over here it works, because each level of social interaction is based on the same group-oriented principle.
While I was walking around the school wracking my brain trying to understand the social dynamics at play, I eventually found myself at the school gym where various sports clubs were taking place.
” KAKASHI – SENSEI! LOOK! LOOK! ” Yelled out a student as she took aim at a basket.
Look, It`s Kakashi-sensei! ”
” Kakashi-sensei, let`s play! ”
To my great surprise, I had become affectionately nicknamed Kakashi-sensei by my students after not even one day. This was also one of my first experiences with the true celebrity status being an ALT in Japan commands. I`m not even joking, at my school, I`m more popular than Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, and both the dudes from Twilight combined. As I walk around, I project a field of Absolute Coolness, 360 degrees in every direction. I will walk around the school and students in my immediate vicinity (especially the girl) completely lose their minds. If I so much at glance at a group of them and make eye contact, it`s an instant KO. It`s as if I was Cyclops from X-Men and I wasn`t wearing my visor – beams of pure awesomeness at 100% intensity projecting everywhere I look.
Anyways, in addition to basking in my new found fame, I discovered hanging out with the basketball, volleyball, judo and kendo clubs was a lot of fun. I really enjoy visiting all of the clubs, watching and participating a little bit.
Before I knew it, It was already almost 6 and time to wrap up. I packed up my stuff, said goodnight to all the teachers, and made my way to the supermarket to pick up dinner.
So yeah, that was pretty much the end of my first real day at work. It was a great first day and I think that it was a pretty good indicator of what I could expect working at this school.