My ALT School Life with JET

Hello!! It’s been a while since I’ve posted – whoops! Big life changes have been happening (post coming up on that soon) and my once-a-month blog post goal kind of flew out the window… BUT! I am back on track for the rest of the year. :)

Now then! Even though pretty all of my family and friends know, I haven’t talked about teaching English in Mie Prefecture on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program for a looooong time (if ever??).

I also realized that I haven’t talked much about my feelings about being in Japan since I arrived in Tokyo, reflected a bit, and journeyed for the first time from Tokyo to Mie.  Hopefully, there will be more posts like this coming your way, since once I head back to the US this life will feel so far away.

Anyway, for now I’d like to take a moment to talk a bit about my JET experience! As anybody familiar with the JET Program knows, “Every situation is different.” What I write below is from my own personal experience, and doesn’t represent my schools, prefecture, or program in any way, shape, or form.

My General ALT Duties

So to start off, until this April, I taught English classes Monday though Friday at two very different high schools. Starting this April, I began teaching at only one school, which I have cycled through lots of feelings about, but will have to quarantine to another post, should I decide to write one. :'( At some point I reached a point of acceptance… I think haha.

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Anyway, I spent three days a week at one school, and two days at the other.  My duties included lesson planning, teaching classes, working with an English club, and sometimes helping students prepare for exams or university applications, among other things.

When school was in session, I had about 16 classes a week.  The day at both schools was split into 6 periods of 50 minutes each.  On my busiest day, I taught 5 out of the 6 periods, and on my lightest day, I taught 1.  Sometimes (although quite rarely), I only taught for a portion of the period.  When it came to lesson planning, in most classes, I planned the entire lesson, but in some I was shown the lesson plans in advance and asked to play a certain role in the lesson.

High school in Japan is only three years, and starts in April, ending in March.  The high schools I taught in are organized into trimesters: April to July, September to December, and January to March.

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I work on this kind of a schedule, and am expected to be in the office during the breaks between these semesters, unless it is a holiday and the school is closed (which happens for a few days around the New Year, and on national holidays).  Unlike American schools, which close in the summer for the most part, Japanese schools stay open all year long, and many club activities continue through the between-semester breaks.

Lastly, anytime I am in a classroom, I teach with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE).  Some JTEs stand along side me, or take more control of the classroom, while others sit down in the back of the classroom and offer explanations from time to time.  There are also teachers who do a mix somewhere between these two.

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My Main School

One of the high schools I teach at is a small school just under 500 students, where most of the students go straight into the workforce.

This school has really surprised me in many, many different ways.  It completely overhauled my expectations of Japanese students and school life.

In my family, the stereotype of the Japanese student reads thus: studious, obedient, polite, and shy.  Anything that diverged from that was only stuff I had seen in anime, and I had better sense than to believe that reflected reality very closely. My family was so excited and relieved that of all places, I was going to Japan, where students would listen to my every word!  What a wonderful job!  Right?!

PSYCH!  Japanese students, like any other students in the world, come from families that are well-off, from unconventional families, they have things they are interested in, things they don’t see themselves ever using in their lives (*cough* English *cough*), and so on.  During my time at my main school, I have seen happy-go-lucky wedgie fights, emotionally charged door slams, students sobbing in the teacher’s office, naked butts of boys running around, passionate secret kisses, and more.

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Because of this, some classes are a struggle to keep the students awake, others have students eager to raise their hands, try using English, and engage with the lesson, while still others have me calling out at the top of my lungs and scrambling to break up loud, energetic Japanese conversations in an effort to get the students to write their names on the tops of their papers.   It’s really like trying to wrestle with a ball of chaotic energy that is constantly changing, sometimes dormant, sometimes swirling in ways I don’t know how to redirect.  Depending on my mood and energy levels, as well as the Japanese teacher I am co-teaching with, this can either be exhilarating, or a recipe for a headache. :P

The last thing I will say about this school is that I frequently see students unafraid to speak up in class and respond to teachers, whether it is a making a joke, saying they don’t understand, or expressing their discontent.  Some students do this respectfully, others do this rudely – it depends on the student and their mood.  A lot of what is happening unfortunately flies over my head because I don’t have a strong enough grasp of Japanese. :(

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Me teaching a lesson on pen pals. :)  PS: The octopus and happy pop tart are there to keep student’s faces off my blog. :P

My (Ex-)Visiting School

The second school I used to teach at is much more in line with the stereotypes that were floating around my family.  It has about 1000 students, and it seems a slight majority of the students go to college after graduating.

The students at this school tend to be a bit quieter, and while they are also expressive, they are less likely to express strong or negative emotions.  The English level of these students is also higher overall, and the interest in English is high enough for them to have an English club, which I was SO lucky to have worked with! <3

Strangely enough, while I teach all first years at my main school (10 first year classes and 2 upper class classes), I only taught select, high-level classes at my visiting school (4 classes).

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The English club at my visiting school. :) <3

So that’s that! :P I thought I would keep this pretty simple, to serve as a quick little overview of my work life here, lest I forget! There are lots of things about Japanese schools that are super interesting to me (i.e. totally different from my own schooling experience back home) – so I might make a separate post about those things one day. We’ll see!

Agata

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