Being a JET is a unique job sort of job experience. In a typical 35 hour work week, a JET may only spend a maximum of 20 or so hours actually teaching in the classroom. I seem to spend an average of 16-18 hours a week actually teaching. This means that close to half my time spent at work, I am mostly left to my own devices.
Occasionally, one of my JTEs may ask me to help them mark some assignments. Some days I may help plan lessons. Depending on the occasion, I might be helping with speech contests. But for the most part, I am left with a great deal of time upon which I must exercise my discretion as to how to utilize it most effectively.
I don`t want to say that this is what every JET`s experience is like. As per the infamous JET mantra; ESID (every situation is different), and I personally know some JETs are who basically bona-fide teachers within their schools; responsible for creating lessons plans, teaching entire lessons by themselves and marking assignments. However, from my anecdotal observations, I have begun to suspect that my situation is fairly typical.
Thus, at least in my situation, it seems the onus is largely on me to make myself an asset within the school community. There are several ways I have been trying to utilize
my time effectively.
1. Studying Nihongo.
2. Probing lesson plan books and creating lesson plans.
4. Wandering around the school and poking into classrooms.
5. Asking kindly if I can help with marking.
6. Conversing with my co-workers in English.
Incidentally, there are still times when I will have literally nothing to do and have burnt myself out from studying Japanese all day. However, Japanese culture is really big on appearances. Even when I have nothing to do, I find it prudent to uphold the illusion that I`m doing SOMETHING so that I don`t look like a lazy waste of tax-payer resources. Two months into the job, I have become quite proficient at making myself look like I`m hard at work or really busy.
To that end, I shall share with you the following techniques, but you must remember to utilize them at your own risk. When carrying out such maneuvers I suggest taking in to account the level of English of your superiors, and the amount of work your co-workers may have. So without further ado…
1. The alt+tab quick switch
One of the first skills the novice must develop is that of the alt+tab quick switch. This refers to the act of quickly holding down alt, followed by hitting the tab on the keyboard to rapidly switch between windows within Windows or Mac OS. It is much faster and accurate than moving your hand to the mouse, dragging it to the taskbar and choosing a different window or program to open.
One of the common mistakes the novice pretend worker makes is to not have any other windows open at the same time. In effect, this renders the alt+tab technique useless because nothing actually happens when you hit alt+tab. Many amateurs have been exposed this way when in a panic over being discovered, they attempt to alt+tab to another window even though they have nothing else open. This is often followed by a sad attempt to drag the mouse to the minimize button in order to hide the window. Such a transparent act incriminates them even further as then they are left staring at a blank screen with no plausible alibi.
My advice for the novice who unexpectedly finds them self in this situation is to carry on as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with surfing ‘perez-hilton.com’ at your desk. Pass it off as ‘cultural research’, of sorts. An advanced pretender will even save pictures to their desktop to make it appear as though they have been visiting non-work-related websites for purely work-related reasons. Be cautioned that this is an advanced technique, and not recommended for noobies at the risk of looking totally fake if not done with 100% confidence.
Another similar common mistake is to have a bunch of work-inappropriate windows open with nothing seemingly work related to switch too. This is why I always recommend having a spreadsheet file open as well which can be quickly accessed by hitting alt+tab. This leads us to technique #2
2. The Fake Important Looking Spreadsheet
What`s the most boring thing you can do on a computer? If you guessed “work on a spreadsheet”, then you are correct. This is because spreadsheets were designed primarily to take the fun out of using a computer so that they could be used for actual work(true story). Studies have shown that creating spread sheets is also particularly useful for inducing sleep.
You can utilize this phenomenon to your advantage by practicing alt+tabbing to a worksheet filled with random numbers. Simply input some random English words and numbers into a spreadsheet and keep it open on your desktop. This is because from a passing glance, a spreadsheet filled with numbers, however arbitrary, appears to be a genuinely important work-related document. Thus, if one of your co-workers looks over at your screen, they will ascertain that you are hard at work on something important, but will be unlikely to stare at it for too long, due to the fear of falling asleep on the spot.
3. Utilize the body language of a hard worker
The two aforementioned techniques work great alone or together, however to take it to the next level, one must pay close attention to their body language to subcommunicate the illusion of being hard at work. One of the most effective ways to do this is to furrow your brow and stroke your chin while staring at your monitor. These are known as the Brow-Furrow and Chin-Stroke maneuvers. This stellar combo gives the illusion that you are concentrating on the subject at hand and should not be bothered.
It also helps to sigh frequently, as if you are frustrated by whatever it is you are “working on”. This is because people who are working hard are invariably under stress.
Other advanced techniques include ruffling your hair in mock frustration, gritting your teeth, shaking your head, and/or commenting to your co-workers, “What a busy day it is today.” If you can get them to agree with you,that means that they implicitly accept you are busy as well.
This guy is taking it to the NEXT LEVEL.
4. Utilize The Thinker pose
Closely related to the Brow-Furrow and Chin-Stroke maneuvers is the pose known as “The Thinker”. The Thinker is accomplished by crossing your arms and resting your chin against one hand, while furrowing your brow and staring into space. This is an excellent way to daydream about nothing at all because to the casual observer, you appear to be lost in deep thought.
It`s a timeless pose. You can`t go wrong.
Occasionally, you may run into a situation where a boss or co-worker, who trying to call your bluff, or even just out of curiosity, will ask you what you are thinking about. In these circumstances, it is useful to have a pre-memorized line to recite such as ” I am trying to deduce the optimal way to increase productivity within this project (gesture at open excel file) subject to the constraints of these
parameters and within an appropriate margin of error…Figuring out the margin of error is the hardest part. ”
If you happen to be in an office where you are the only native speaker of English, offhandedly gesturing at an open word file with a big block of text in English and saying “English. Many mistakes. Very difficult.” Works just as well.
You`ll know you`re doing it right when your co-workers` eyes glaze over or your boss puffs his chest and exclaims “Glad to see you`re hard at work! Keep doing what you`re doing!”
5. Engage the other person directly
Often times the most effective strategies are the most counter-intuitive. You may think that engaging a co-worker in conversation as they stroll past while you are simultaneously updating your facebook status about the latest hilarious thing your students said, but really have absolutely nothing important to say, would amount to job-suicide, but social dynamics can be a very interesting thing.This works even if you have nothing of actual importance to say.
Think about this scenario from the other person`s point of view; someone who is trying to hide the fact that they are slacking off will likely avoid any eye contact and interaction in the hopes that you do not notice them, while initiating a conversation would indicate quite the opposite.
Flip the script and engage your co-workers with an interesting anecdote, observation or question. You will discover that your inane commentary has the interesting effect of occupying their conscious awareness and leaving them unable to process the possibility that you in fact were not actually doing anything while they were passing by.
This gambit requires a high level of skill to perform effectively, but once mastered, allows you to do things such as engage the other person in a fluff conversation while simultaneously opening up a spreadsheet.
6. Shuffle around your desk
This is a useful and easy technique for making it appear as though you are in the middle of something important. All you have to do is rummage around your desk or work area as if you are searching for something you misplaced. This works very well as a last second gambit when you catch your supervisor coming around the corner and you happen just be sitting around, no spreadsheet files open.
Just don`t do it too much or you give off the impression that you are disorganized. However this can be offset if your work area is well organized and you offhandedly remark something plausible within ear shot such as “Where is that stupid pen cap/eraser/something tiny”.
7. Take a walk
If you really want to take it to the next level and make it look like you`re a real up and coming go-getter, it is advisable to get up from your desk once in awhile and start walking up and down the aisles and halls of your office. You don`t even need to have a particular destination in mind, what is important is that you walk briskly to convey a sense of urgency and purpose. You could be walking to the copier, vending machine or bathroom, but if you do it with a sense of conviction, people you pass get the impression that you are someone who does things of importance (even if the most important decision you made that day was choosing between the purple or orange fanta at the vending machine)
However it is important to recognize the distinction between walking at a brisk pace, jogging around, and taking a leisurely stroll. The latter is probably the worst thing you can do as it makes it appear as though you have nothing to do at all. On the other end of the spectrum, jogging around everywhere just makes it look like you are some coffee getting intern pansy. Like everything in life, it is best to exercise moderation, and walk briskly and confidently.
Don`t be like this chode.
Finally for maximum effect, you could try holding a stack of papers.
Perhaps a stack of spreadsheet printouts would work best.
8. No matter what, always remain calm
The single most important thing to remember is to never look surprised or flustered even if you are caught offguard. Someone who is legitimately hard at work will never act like they got busted even if they happen to be engaged in a non work related activity. If worse comes to worst, you can just say you were taking a 5 minute break.
With dedication and practice, you too can master the art of looking busy while doing nothing at all!
Disclaimer: I don`t think I need to say it, but just in case – please note that this article is a work of satire that was written in jest. I have the utmost respect for the JET Programme and truly believe that its noble aims of grassroots internationalization can only be fulfilled by proactive participants who are intent on living up to the mission.
It is true that due to the nature of our jobs as ALTs in Japan, we can sometimes find ourselves without a clear directive on how to utilize our time outside of class. Regardless, I believe that it is the responsibility of each and every JET to capitalize on this unique opportunity and identify ways to add value to their schools, local communities and to the JET Programme as a whole.