Wednesday, October 1, 2014

JET: A Day in My Life.

Hello friends!

I've been thinking of making a post like this for a long time. Lately I've noticed my similar post from 3 months in, JET: The Job has been getting a fair few pageviews. Looking back on that post now, almost one year later, is interesting to me. There are many things I still agree with about that post, but these days, I have a pretty different view. I've got a much more relaxed attitude when it comes to my job and my classes, and I tend to just go with whatever comes my way now. I believe I've made a much better impression on my students this year, and I've developed strategies that align with their learning styles, and don't make them too uncomfortable. I still have a lot of questions about the systems of teacher support, collaboration, professional development, curriculum planning and so on, but I think I've finally realised, and accepted, my own ignorance when it comes to what's going on around me in school. Teachers have all kinds of meetings I'm not invited to, and without much Japanese, I still only have a very basic understanding of the Japanese education system. I do think a lot of the judgements I made were naive, but of course I'm still a dreamer, and there are still things I'd love to see change, but...ちょっと、ね?

With all of that said, I'd like to welcome you to a day in my life as an ALT in an internationally-focused, single-ALT-hiring, prefectural, semi-urban high school.


6:30: My alarm goes off for the first time. I ignore it.

7:00: On a good day, I drag myself out of bed around this time. I do all the normal morning things - get dressed, eat breakfast, tame my Hermione Granger level 'fro, pack my lunch, and so on.

7:55: Leave home on my rusty steed, a ママチャリ (mamachari, or "mum bike") I inherited from my predecessor. Love that thing!

8:10: Arrive at school. I can arrive in one of two states, sweaty or frozen, depending on the season. There's about two months of the year when I can arrive looking like a regular human being.

A view of my school from the outside, last winter.
8:15 - 8:25: Morning meeting.

I don't know of any school in Japan that doesn't do this. All the teachers sit at their desks in the staff room. The school Principal sits at the front of the room along with the vice principal(s). At my school, the principal greets everyone, and we all respond in a chorus ("おはようございます!"). Then, one of my schools two vice principals will stand up, and read any important information about the day ahead from a blackboard on the other side of the room. Sometimes, other teachers will stand up at their desk to give more information about the notices. This all goes on in Japanese, so I don't understand too much of it, but also a lot of it doesn't really have anything to do with me, so it's not so bad. During this time, I usually check my diary and calendars for any notes I've made myself about the day (swapped classes, upcoming tests etc). If it seems like something important, or English-related happened in the morning meeting, I ask one of the teachers who sit beside me about it afterwards. Usually there's nothing I need to catch up on, though.

My desk last year (almost nothing has changed).
8:30 - 8:40: Short Home Room.

Homeroom teachers go to their classes, and share the notices with the students, and do any other admin type tasks that need to be done in homeroom time. I don't have any homeroom, so I stay in the staff room and work.

8:35: Morning Speech (Wednesdays)

I actually only do this on (most) Wednesdays, but I thought I'd inlclude it since it's something you may be asked to do. A few days earlier, I write a short (2-3 minute) speech about anything I like. I usually try to talk about something topical, like the school festival, the Olympics, a new movie, an upcoming holiday, or a news event, but sometimes I just talk about something that's been interesting me lately. I also write four multi-choice questions, add some cute pictures/borders and what have you, print it out, and pass it to my supervisor. She proof reads it, then a copy is printed off for every student in the school. On a Wednesday morning, I make the speech live over the PA system to all 1,000 students, who (hopefully) listen and circle the answer they think is right. The correct answers are then given by the homeroom teacher. The morning speech is a lot of fun, and I like using it to share interesting facts, and talk to my students about other countries and cultures. I've also had a lot of fun inviting "guests" into the morning speech. When this happens, I interview an exchange student (or a group of them) a few days before the speech, type up our interview, then we perform it live for the students. I've had Danish, French, and American guests so far, and I'm looking forward to having more! Next month, an Italian, Brazillian, and two more American students will come to our school for a week, and they're already scheduled to appear on the show.

8:45 - 12:45: Morning Classes

Morning classes start for me at 8:45. My school has 4 morning periods before lunch. There's a ten minute break in between each class, during which (unlike high schools in NZ, where the students walk to their next class) the students stay in their home room and eat/chat/sleep/study, and the teachers go back to the staff room, get their supplies, and move on to their next class. Classes typically run for 50 minutes, although they are often shortened to 45 minutes, and occasionally even 40 minutes, and on such days, lunch and hometime are earlier. Sometimes I am told ahead of time that the lessons will be shortened, other times I get told on the day.

The inner court of my school during winter.
Home room classes are on the left (first grade level one, second grade level two, etc).
Special classes (science labs, a computer room, cooking room etc) are on the right.


12:35 - 1:15: Lunch

I usually bring my own lunch. It's possible to order a bento (many teachers do) but I never have, due to some dietary restrictions. A bakery and yakisoba shop sometimes come to school to sell food, and sometimes I buy from them. If I forgot my lunch/got up too late, I can bike to a conbini two minutes away to buy lunch, although I always let my supervisor know first. On days when there are no classes (such as summer vacation), I can go out for the whole lunch time and meet friends or whatever, again, as long as I let my supervisor know.

1:20 - 1:35: Cleaning Time

Students spend 15 minutes cleaning the school every day. Each student is part of a group with an assigned area to clean, and within that group, they usually have their own job. The jobs can range from dusting a ledge, to vacuuming the staff room, to cleaning the toilets (not kidding!). Most teachers have a group to supervise, and although I offered, I was never assigned one. I usually stay at my desk and make conversation with the students who clean the staff room. I used to feel really guilty as a kid (and rightly so, sorry mum) when my mum would clean around me while I was watching T.V or whatever - I pretty much have the same feeling during cleaning time. It's a little awkward, but whatever.

It's cleaning time, not "tidying-up-time" unfortunately. This is our chaotic staff room!
1:40 - 4:30 Afternoon Classes

There are 3 afternoon periods, making for a total of 7 periods in each day. The afternoon classes run just like the morning classes.

4:45 - 6:30 International Exchange Club (Tuesdays and Thursdays)

After school, most students attend a club for a few hours. There are loads of different types of clubs, including academic (maths), cultural (tea ceremony, calligraphy), sports (baseball, track and field, kyudo, kendo), and others (karuta, drama, manga, movie). I was asked by my school to run an International Exchange Club (I.E.C) after school two times a week. This year, the club has about 25 regular members. I plan fun and educational activities for them including things like themed parties (Halloween, Christmas etc), quiz games, cooking lessons, song and dance lessons, and we do loads of different activities to improve their skills in teambuilding, communication, research, cultural understanding and so on. It's a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, especially when I get to see the kids in the club grow from shy first graders into confident young adults. Their interest in the world outside of Japan is really encouraging, and the club also offers a chance for me to build stronger connections with these students (which is hard to do in my regular classes, as I teach upwards of 400 students per week).

I.E.C had a farewell party recently for some third grade members.
4:45 / 6:30: Home time

On non-club days, I can leave school at 4:45. This is later than most of my friends, and actually extends beyond my JET programme contract. However, it's what my school requested of me, and I don't mind at all.

On club days, I'm usually at school until around 6:30 doing club activities. If we're doing something intensive like cooking or having a party, I can be at school until as late as 8:00, but that's very rare.

Evening: After school, I usually just chill out at home, meet friends for dinner or drinks, or go shopping. Apart from the club, I don't have any regular after school appointments, but many other JETs join local sports clubs or gyms, learn instruments, or attend Japanese classes regularly after school. It's really up to you!

That's the end of my day, but I'm sure some of you are still wondering - so how many classes do you actually teach? I know I glossed over the lesson part of the day a bit, and that's the main part! So for your consideration, I present my delightfully colour-coded class timetable:

The days (Mon - Fri) are across the top, and the class period (1 - 7) is down the left.
The teachers of classes 1-4 and 1-8 asked me to reschedule them, so I teach them on Fridays, now.
My school has eight homeroom classes for each grade, and there are three grades. I teach every first grade class once a week. I also teach two of the third grade classes twice a week. That makes for a total of twelve classes per week, however, I actually only teach three different lesson plans, as I'm repeating the same lesson, just to different classes.

I don't actually teach any second grade classes, despite what my timetable says. Once in a blue moon I've been asked to come to one to read something, correct some writing, or generally encourage them a little bit, but it happens so rarely it's not worth really counting them as part of my timetable.

Having such a light schedule means I have a lot of downtime in the staff room between classes, which is probably the biggest downside to my job. Since I only have to plan three lessons per week, lesson planning and marking doesn't really take up all the extra time I have. I know it might seem like a strange thing to complain about, but I'm the kind of person who likes to be busy at work - and I don't enjoy, or really have the motivation for, desk work. I'm a little wary of getting used to such a light schedule - whenever I do go back to work in NZ, there's no way I'm going to have so much free time at my job. I don't want it to be a huge shock to the system! Most high school ALTs I know have busier schedules than me, especially those who have visit schools. However, I do know of some people with schedules that are even less busy. On the other hand, most primary and junior high ALTs I know have much busier schedules. It's something you can't really plan for, so if you're thinking of applying, it helps if you can adapt to either situation, and consider how you will manage if you end up at either extreme. These days, I fill a lot of my spare time writing posts for this blog, and taking an online TEFL course.

That's a day in my life as a JET! Was it what you expected? Tell me what you think about it, or tell me about your own schedule in the comments below!

- Annabelle


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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:


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