An update on teaching in Japan

As I sit at my table in the staff room, with hardly anyone around and with little work to do, I was struck with inspiration to write about what my experience teaching here has been like so far. I know I cannot go into specifics with the school and the staff, but here is what my situation is like overall.

What do I actually do?

Coming from teaching full time – where your duty of care is 8.30 -3.15, where you are actively teaching for most of the day, where you have to plan and prepare for lessons in your own time – teaching here is….different. At least for me – as a non -Japanese teacher. I am not given much responsibility, and my colleagues are surprised when I ask if there is anything more I can do. I do not teach alone – and this I am thankful for as it is a relief to have the security of other teachers in the room, not to mention the fact that these kids would barely see me as an authority figure (rather I think they see me a visitor or a helpful friend)

And this reality should have been more apparent to me as it is in my job title – I am an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) with the emphasis on the assistant. While this is not a complaint, it is just a different situation as to what I have spent the last 7 or so years at home doing. And again, it is something that I have had to wrap my head around and am continuing to get used to.

The unofficial JET mantra (if you will) is ESID (every situation is different). I have friends in other schools who have been thrust into a full time teaching position, when they have never previously taught a day in their life. It really is the luck of the draw. I look around at the Japanese teachers here and the amount of work they have to do seems unreasonable at times. In casual chats with my colleagues I have come to know that they arrive at school more than a couple hours before classes start, are more than often part of an extra curricular club activity which (especially at a school like mine where they specialise in sports) train for hours most days of the week, including the weekend if there are tournaments going on, and stay back after school so they can prep for their classes. The culture of working long hours is inbuilt into society here, so much so that it is the norm to not see the sun through the day (arriving so early and leaving so late in the day)

So what are the students actually like?

In my experience so far, in an average class for 40+ kids, I would say maybe 20% are genuinely motivated to learn English and actively participate. Another 30% will be sleeping, another 30% will be yelling, chatting and goofing off as they see English as a waste of time class and the rest are apathetic, maybe taking some notes only for the fear of failure when it comes to exam time (which is a real thing here).

That being said I love the challenge of having to relate with teenagers – it is so different to what I have done so far in my teaching career and I am enjoying the challenge (though some days it can get to be a bit too much, especially when students – mainly boys – decide to yell obscene English words in class that they have learned from the internet). At the end of the day, kids are kids, and I am coming to love the fact that everyday is unpredictable. Not knowing how the students will react, what kind of day they are having and their level of engagement makes for some very interesting classes!

While I may have little responsibility, what I have really enjoyed is making some real genuine connections with students who are soooo motivated to improve their English skills. I tutor students almost every day after school and I love seeing the look on their faces when they finally make a connection and understand what I have said in English.

Jeepers, this is a long post. And there is so much more to say. I don’t know if this post comes across like I am having a bad time here. That is far from it! I love that I am being forced out of my comfort zone each and everyday in my interactions with my colleagues, communicating in a language that I am still struggling with, but relishing the times when my message is understood and appreciated. I love that I can interact and joke with students on a level that I have never had the chance to do before. I love that I can have a genuine impact on the future career choices of some students. I love exposing the kids here to a new way of thinking. I love seeing the look of shock and surprise when I catch out my students saying something in Japanese that I can understand. Though it has been an adjustment getting used to the system here, I may be loving it so much that I am contemplating staying for another year…..(but that’s for another post!)

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