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Everyone's school or district or office is different so this section will be based entirely upon my own experience and what happened at my own schools. I taught at four junior high schools in a medium-sized city in the Kinki region of Japan.


A Day in the Life of a JET

What time I woke up was entirely dependent on what school I was teaching at that week, but I would usually wake up around 6:45am. . I taught at four junior high schools, each with a certain distance and accessibility. Towa JHS was a short 15 minute bike ride away. Takatsumi JHS was a 5 minute ride to the train station, a 10 minute train ride, and a 10 minute walk after that. Isao JHS was the 5 minute bike, 10 minute train ride, but a 20-25 minute walk up a short mountain. To get to my last school, Seiwa JHS was a 25 minute bike ride. I wasn't allowed to drive a car while in Japan, but I didn't really mind it so much; cycling is very convenient and inexpensive and the trains are very efficient.

When I got to work I would make a beeline for the teachers' room. The teachers' room is a large room that holds all the teachers' desks and materials as well as the vice-pricipal's desk. It was there that the morning meeting was held at 8:30am. Every day before classes start, the principal and vice-principal greet all the teachers give them any annoucements or inform them of any upcoming events. If the meeting is particularly long (i.e. if there are a lot of announcements or if there is a crisis that the teachers need to discuss) the teachers are late for their first class.

After this meeting, the teachers go to their first class and start lessons. The first class starts at about 8:50am. The bell for class is not a "you must be in class at this exact second" type of bell that is common in the West. The teachers are almost always still in the teachers' room drinking tea, talking or some such and then they make their way to the classrooms when the bell sounds. Each class is 45 or 50 minutes long.

When the bell rang for lessons to start I would either follow my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) to the class we would team-teach in, or I would stay in the teachers' room. As long as you stay in the teachers' room and maintain a low profile, the allowance for your activities is pretty liberal. They always love it if you study Japanese, but you could also read a book or a newspaper, use a computer, work on lessons, talk to other teachers, or plan a class with one of your JTEs.

Between each class is a 10 minute break. The teachers always go back to the teachers' room to exchange books and materials and then make their way to the next class. During break times, students would usually come around my desk to chat, ask questions, or just stare at me.

Each teacher teaches about 5 classes a day. As an ALT, I would teach anywhere from one class (a light day) to five classes (a very heavy day) with an average of three classes per day. Most of my classes would involve a particular grammar concept, with a certain amount of time to practice the concept. Sometimes I would talk about a particular holiday or aspect of Western life that is not present in Japan.

There is a 45 minute break for lunch. I would almost always pack a Western-style lunch (sanwich, potato chips, fruit, and maybe a soft drink) despite the school taboos of no potato chips or soft drinks allowed at school (for the students, anyway). The students always loved to come and watch me eat it. Sometimes I let them sample something I had if it was particularly Western or American (like Pop Tarts or Root Beer). The teachers never put up much of a fuss about this because the students almost always hated it when they tried it and it's a neat opportunity to learn what these foods (so hard to find in Japan) actually taste like. Normally, though, I would rush eating my lunch so when the students came around (as they always did) for the last half of the lunch period to talk, I was available.

After lunch there are two more class periods. After that students either go home, go to juku, or stay for club activities. I would usually hang out if any students wanted to chat after school, go home, or stay and hold a meeting of our English Club or Penpal Club. Sometimes I would hang out with one of the sports teams, shoot hoops with the basketball team or practice with the volleyball team or kendo club.

A Day in the Life of a JHS Student

Students usually arrive at school between 7:50am and 8:20am. Students are rarely dropped off at school by a parent, but rather walk or ride bicycles.

A junior high school student's life revolves around his/her classroom. Unlike many schools in the West, students in Japan do not change classrooms; they stay in their assigned classroom and it is the teachers who rotate between those classrooms. During the breaks between class they can wander the hall and visit other classrooms and during lunch they can play outside, but for the most part they are in their classrooms. There are no lockers; all school supplies are kept inside the students' desks.

The students have six lessons a day between 45-50 minutes each. Depending on what year in school the student is, his/her class list could include:

homeroom
physical education
home economics
math
science
English
Japanese
geography
morals
computer science
social studies
art / music

"Bad Boys"Students remain in the classrooms while eating lunch; there is usually no cafeteria in junior high schools. After lunch, students wander around the schools, play a quick sports game outside, visit the teachers eating in the teachers' room, or talk amongst themselves in their classrooms.

After two more classes, the school day ends. Afterschool activities include: judo, kendo, basketball, baseball, track and field, volleball, tennis, softball or culture-oriented clubs like English club.

If a student doesn't have an afterschool sport or club, odds are they will be going to juku. Juku is a cram school where many students go to get supplementary lessons. Many are geared towards helping the students pass the high school or college entrance examinations.

All-in-all, Japanese students who are college-bound are kept very busy. Their schedules don't allow them much down-time. The school year starts in the first week of April and ends mid-March. They get six weeks break for summer, two weeks each for winter and spring break (one break between each quarter).

 

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