It’s been around half a year and I still haven’t really talked about my job. I blame being too busy exploring Japan and writing about it. My job is something I see every day and so I’m less inclined to talk about it. Don’t get me wrong, my job is definitely eventful and I always wanted to write about it, so here I am!
So as most of you know, I am an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) from the JET Program. JET hires people from all over the world to teach hundreds of schools in Japan ranging from elementary to high school. While it used to be just high school and middle school, elementary has become more popular due to the fact that learning English is now a requirement for 5th and 6th graders.
This is where I come in. While my “home base” is a middle school, I’m only there one day out of the week because of its tiny size. I mainly teach in elementary schools. Out of our group in Izumi, I teach the most schools: five! That means I’m going to a different school every day. At first it was very exhausting but I’m kind of used to it by now. One thing I do have a major disadvantage compared to my colleagues is my relationships with my students and coworkers. Due to the fact that I see most of them only one day out of the week, it takes forever to form a relationship with them. School staff is probably around 50 or so people. Now multiply that by 5. As you can see, remembering names and personalities is also very hard to do. Students? Don’t get me started: the average amount of classes I teach is 4. Each class usually has around 40 kids. So on average, that’s 800 kids give or take! Needless to say, getting to know everyone on a personal level is impossible. But that’s just the way it is.
I’m in charge of the 5th graders in elementary schools. For the most part, all of my schools follow the unofficial elementary textbook, “Eigo Note” (literally meaning “English Notebook”). The textbook is mediocre at best; it jumps around in how one would usually learn a language but I think what it’s trying to do is just simply introduce it to kids. We go over phrases like “How are you?” to “What’s your favorite sport?”. Activities in this book usually are terrible because the kids simply can’t keep up with the learning curve…you have to approach it much slower than it expects you to.
Overall, 5th graders are probably the last grade of innocence in elementary. They’re young enough to enjoy your presence with open arms and not old enough to be too cool for school. Someone is always happy to see you there and they’re very friendly. Of course, there are the bratty kids but it’s only normal to run into them in a school. When kids head into 6th grade, they’re usually maturing into teenagers and become more self-conscious of what they do. They become quieter and less enthusiastic about English. This slowly continues throughout middle school (more on that in the future!). However, there are still kids out there past 5th grade and even middle school that have fun in class, the chances are just lower to run into one.
Usually, I don’t have to lesson plan much since everyone follows Eigo Note’s curriculum. I usually get in work around 8:15 with a lesson plan on my desk. I then adjust said plan according to my classroom’s skill level. Or sometimes I don’t. Then I divide the activities into blocks of time. In elementary schools, each class is around 45 minutes. I always keep that in mind to see how long I should do certain activities and think of last-minute ideas in case an activity bombs in class or we finish too fast. After I have a general idea how I want to run the class, I usually just write or study until it’s time to start.
My first class almost always starts during the second period. I head into the first class and do my thing. The first class is almost always the most awkward one because you don’t know exactly how the students will react to things. Maybe it will take longer than usual to go through some words, maybe a game you do with them completely fails. It’s essentially a trial run, even though it isn’t. Once your first class is over, you can usually tell what worked and what didn’t and improve from there. I always feel bad for the first class because it almost never runs as smooth as you want it to. By the time you teach your third or fourth class, you have the perfect lesson for the rest of the kids.
After fourth period, we have lunch. What I do for lunch varies on the school I go to. Sometimes I just eat in the office, other times I go eat with my kids, and then sometimes I have to eat with the kids per request of my teachers. After lunch is cleaning time; all the kids and staff clean around the school for 10-15 minutes. Each kid is assigned a certain area of the school. They are very efficient in cleaning. It always amazes me how fast they get everything cleaned up; even with some slackers around, you will see kids busting their balls to make up for them. After that, there is recess and then we go back to classes.
By the time 6th period rolls around, I’m usually done with classes. Once again, it can vary what school I’m in. I can be working all the way until I leave or I can be done after lunch. Either way, I work until 4:15, then I’m out the door!
That’s how a regular school day at an elementary is like. It’s much more exciting than it sounds though. I will talk about each individual school (as well as middle school) soon! The cast of characters are an amusing bunch.