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So, what exactly is my day at a Japanese elementary school like?

June 16, 2012

My life has quieted down recently (well, aside from the typhoon that’s blowing outside my apartment), so I thought I would run you through what a typical school day for me is like. It crossed my mind that some of you might be interested in what my days consist of!

The day begins when my second alarm goes off at 5:30. My first alarm is at 5:00, but that’s more of a “Hey, you should maybe start thinking about getting up” type of alarm. 5:30 is “Hey, you’d better get up now!” I learned that if I don’t have that first alarm, it’s much harder for me to wake up and get out of bed in the mornings. Once I’ve finally dragged myself out of my nice comfortable bed I shower, get dressed, check my e-mail to see what’s happened in America while I was sleeping in Japan, make my lunch (which either contains leftovers from the previous night’s dinner or I take the super lazy route and make a sandwich), and make sure that I have everything I need for the day.

At 7:15 I’m out the door and in my car to get to work. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I actually walk to school since they’re within reasonable walking distance and I want to save on gas. It takes 15 minutes to get to WES (Wednesday Elementary School) on foot and 25 minutes to get to TES (Tuesday Elementary School). All of my other schools are a 15-20 minute drive away, sometimes even longer depending on the morning rush traffic. I usually arrive anywhere between 7:30 and 7:45, which surprised my schools my first couple of weeks because they didn’t expect me to come early. To tell you the truth, I think that coming at the time specified on my SLP (Scheduled Lesson Plan), which is 8:30, is too late because you never know if the classes on your SLP that you’re scheduled to teach will change on you at the last minute. It’s happened before and I’m glad that I get to school early because then I have time to prepare!

Now, each school is different depending on the number of classes I teach and when I teach them. I usually teach twenty-three classes per week: four classes a day at MES and TES, and five classes at all other schools. At MES, TES, and WES I am given the first period (8:45 – 9:30) as preparation time while I teach during that time at THES and FES1. I usually teach the second, third, and fourth periods at all of my schools from 9:35 – 12:20. There’s a twenty minute break between second and third periods for recess. I usually use that time to go back to the 職員室 (shokuinshitsu), the teacher’s room, and drop off any things I won’t need for future classes. For example, I may need my computer to teach my fifth graders at THES first and second periods, but I won’t need it when I teach my sixth graders for third through fifth periods.

Between fourth and fifth period is a large chunk of time set aside for lunch, recess, and cleaning. Here in Japan, rather than employ a janitor is is the students who clean the school. The schools do employ someone to work on the school grounds and on things the students shouldn’t be getting their hands in, though. I’ve already written a post about lunchtime, but I’ll just briefly recap here: After fourth period I go back to the teacher’s room and wait for students to come and retrieve me so I can eat lunch with their class. Usually I use that time so we all can get to know each other a little better. After lunch I go back to the teacher’s room and start in on my studying.

I should explain, when I have periods where I’m not teaching and I have no preparation that needs to get done, I’m most often using that time to study Japanese. There are a couple of ways that I do that. The first is right out of my An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese textbook, which is the one I used when I was at Carleton. We never got through the full textbook, so there are a few chapters that I’m able to work on on my own. I also have a 漫画 (manga) I’m working on reading through called 「日本人の知らない日本語」or, loosely translated,  “Japanese That The Japanese Don’t Know.” It’s written by a woman who teaches Japanese to foreigners and is about the questions they ask her, and the essays she writes are hilarious. It’s really fun to read, and I’m learning a lot about the language and Japanese culture. I’m having so much fun reading it that I think I’ve gotten some of my teachers interested in purchasing copies for themselves! So far there are three volumes out, and I’m currently working through the second one.

After cleaning time is fifth period, which is from 1:50 – 2:35, and depending on whether or not I taught first period I will also sometimes teach sixth period from 2:40 to 3:25. Whenever I finish, I go back to the teacher’s room and study my Japanese until I am supposed to leave, which is 4:15. My time after school is spent running any errands that need getting done, like groceries or the bank, checking my e-mail to see if my SLP for the next day is in my inbox, making and eating dinner (though sometimes I meet Jess for dinner at a restaurant nearby), and planning my lessons for the next day. If I’m lucky, my schools will be at the same part of the lesson but sometimes it just doesn’t happen! For example, at THES I teach two fifth grade classes, but one is half a lesson ahead of the other. This is because my first day teaching the fifth graders (about my second week in), one of my classes got cut short because the students had to get their teeth checked! So, I only taught them for about ten minutes on my first day. They’ve been half a lesson behind ever since. This sort of thing happens in my schools every so often. Sometimes it’s good because it evens out how far ahead some schools are of others!

If I don’t have any lesson planning, I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet before crawling in bed with some reading material. I try to read in bed anywhere between half an hour and forty-five minutes. I decide to turn the lights off and go to sleep between 9:30 and 10:00, depending on how sleepy I get! When you run around and teach elementary school all day, there are evenings where you just can’t keep your eyes open any longer.

And there you have it: a day in my life as an English teacher at six Japanese elementary schools. It doesn’t sound extremely interesting, but that’s because I didn’t write about any of the stories I’ve collected from my individual schools. That’s for a future post, though. Now it’s time to crawl into bed with my book. Good night!

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