Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday Five: Things That Surprised Me About Japanese Schools.

Alright everyone! I mentioned doing these "Friday Five" blogs a while ago, but needless to say I haven't quite kept on schedule. Not for lack of inspiration - there's loads of stuff about Japan, teaching, being an expat, and more that I want to share, so I'm doing my best to get back on track. Today's topic is things that surprised me about Japanese schools!

Obviously, I've had some experience with schools. So far I've curbed the urge to shake my fist at my students and say "I was at high school once too, you know!" but it's true. As well as being a student, I've also had experience working in primary schools in New Zealand, and spent a lot of time in the schools my mother has taught in. I was very accustomed to New Zealand schools, and I didn't really consider how Japanese schools might differ. Some of these are little differences, some are big ones, but they were all a surprise to me!

5. Fridge Supplies.

This is perhaps the most insignificant thing on this list, which is why it's at number five. However, after nearly two years here, it still causes a deep and unwavering sadness in my heart. I'm talking about a lack of milk in the staff fridge. In New Zealand, you can rely on the staff room to have a small kitchenette, well-stocked with milk (various types, too!), tea bags, coffee, milo (cocoa powder), and oftentimes a bowl of fruit and/or biscuits. I never really thought about it until I got here, but it's a pretty great deal. I seem to be about the only person on staff who requires approximately 6 cups of tea with milk per day to function, so it makes sense that they don't supply any of it. However, they seem to be intentionally depriving themselves of the amazing benefits of milk, such as terrifying height, life-endangering beauty, and the ability to punch a lion right where it hurts:



4. Kyuushoku/School Lunch.

On the complete flipside, primary schools (and most junior high schools) in Japan serve lunch to all students and staff every day. As I don't work in a primary school, I don't know a lot about kyuushoku/school lunch, however I have eaten it a few times on special school visits with foreign exchange students. Each time I've had it, the school lunch has been really nice; the menu has been something like curry, stew, or vegetables with rice or bread, a small carton of milk (maybe they get the high school's share!), and something sweet like fruit or jelly.

A typical school lunch. Looks good!
The lunch is cooked on-site at the school by professional chefs in industrial kitchens, and each classroom receives a share which is served out by students who are lunch monitors that day. The entire class waits for everybody to be served before they start eating, and while they wait, there is usually an announcement about what today's food is, the ingredients, maybe some details about where the ingredients are from, and so on. Students then clean up the trays and dishes, and brush their teeth together.

Kyuushoku is honestly one of the best things Japan does, in my opinion. Coming from New Zealand, where one in four children live in poverty, and an alarming number of children come to school without lunch, providing plentiful, healthy food like this is amazing. Of course, it's not totally free - but parents pay a relatively low price for the lunch (I've heard about ¥300 per meal), and assistance is available for those who cannot afford the cost.

3. Cold Water.

None of the bathrooms in my school have hot water running in them, which seems to be on par with other schools I've visited (and the one half of my apartment which is bizarrely not connected to hot water, come to think of it). If you've ever gone out into a freezing hallway, into a freezing bathroom, then washed your hands with freezing water, you'll feel my pain.

2. Homerooms.

I know now that different countries do this various ways, but here's how it works in Japan: students stay in their homeroom class, and teachers come to them to teach different subjects. In comparison, New Zealand schools generally have the teacher staying in one room, and the students coming to them for their class. I will say the Japanese way makes for a bit less of a ruckus in between lessons, not having the students mucking about in the halls on their way to the next class, but on the other hand, I do feel disappointed that I can't make a class "my own". I can't create the English-focused environment I had been thinking about before I came to Japan.

This is exactly what the homeroom looks like, and this is exactly something I've said.
Did I mention these homerooms all still use blackboards and chalk, too? It's like being in a real life #throwbackthursday every day of the week!

1. Staff Room.

So if teachers can't have a desk in a classroom, where do they do their work? That's where the most surprising difference of all comes in - the Japanese school staff room. The staff room's I'd been in previously usually had lots of chairs and tables scattered around, in big and small groups, so it's easy to sit down and eat lunch with everyone, or have a meeting. But when I walked into the Japanese staff room, I saw this:

So chaotic!
Everybody gets their own desk to do their lesson planning, marking, and various other things at. The desks are arranged by subject - so English teachers sit next to other English teachers, Science teachers with Science teachers, etc. Teachers spend most of their time here when they don't have a class. My school has another small room which people use as a lunch room, but since it can seat a maximum of about four people, most people just eat at their desk. Because I don't have a lot of classes to teach, I spend a lot of time at my desk, and I can't really say I enjoy being there. I did try to make it a wee bit my own, though!

My own desk. I may or may not be researching Justin Bieber lyrics for a class activity.
Were you surprised to hear any of these things, or are some similar to schools in your own country? Let me know in the comments below!

Additionally, if you happened to check out the links I included about child poverty in New Zealand and want to do something to help, please consider donating to KidsCan. KidsCan is a charitable trust which donates food, shoes, rainwear, and more to students in need. Anything you can give can help improve a child's life. I have seen myself the good that KidsCan does in needy schools, and I completely support the amazing work they do.

- 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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