Teaching English as a second language/ Assistant Language Teacher ALT in Japan (part 3)

Sitting on the desk and yawning

Another issue that brings up to the end of her contract is concerned with manners. Japan is a very traditional society whose people place a high importance on manners.

Let me ask you some questions and you will get it.

Have you ever seen any Japanese wearing thongs walking in the street? Have you met any Japanese who obviously has done something wrong to you / others yet didn’t or refuse to apologize?

Sitting on the desk and yawning in front of students does not mean much in other cultures, yet it means the world to Japanese people. Students will be surprised if you drink (anything) in front of them while the lesson is going. They will be shocked if you sit on the desk and yawn in front of them while you are talking to them. The whole thing goes terrible (and irreversible) if you wave your hand in front of your face as you are yawning. The HRT in the same class co-teaching with you will be dumbfounded and get very upset because he / she thinks you are very unprofessional. The image of a teacher being a role model they have been trying to build is destroyed bys You!

I am lucky enough to have got both eastern and western culture in myself. But , to be completely honest with you, with my eastern culture and having lived in Asian countries for many years, there are still so many things happened on me I can’t get it while I am in Japan. Japan has got a unique system in many aspects.

Unsaid rules

Except for not sitting on the desk and yawning in front of students, not drinking during the lesson, there are millions of other unsaid rules in Japan and Japanese classroom.
For instance:
1) You cannot sit on someone else’s chair because it is not yours

2) Though it may say you are an orderly and neat person in your culture, you cannot stack up your dishes after finishing your meal

3) When something shows up on TV at lunch time, you will have to turn to face the TV, even if it means that you will have to stop eating because you are not sitting facing the screen

4) When a given time is intended for a certain activity, you can only be engaged in that activity. You cannot do any other things. For example, during cleaning time after lunch, you must do cleaning only. You aren’t allowed to take pictures with students, even though you may have already finished your work early. You will have to wait until the cleaning time is up! Computer in school is for teaching material preparation only! Checking email, general browsing activities are all prohibited. Your browsing history will be tracked. Sites which are not related to work purposes are mostly blocked. Printers are also only for printing work related materials.

5) To show you are part of the group, you should eat the lunch provided by the school and finish everything without any leftover, no matter how disgusting it may taste to you and how fed up you are with the same kind of food every day. Don’t even think about eating self-prepared lunch while everyone else is eating the school lunch with you in the same classroom. You will be busted!!! [I still remember the teacher raised her eyebrow above her head when I raised this idea : ]

6) You are not allowed to drink (or eat) [even water!] in/ on many places and occasions, such as classroom while lesson is going, bookstore, library, clothing store, etc. Cinema is an exception, though you will only be allowed to eat and drink those you can purchase there.

7) Japanese people are generally very frugal. They are very thrifty with resources. They usually unplug an electrical good after using it so as to save energy. In the school, photocopying can only be done on strictly necessary situations. While you use the photocopy machine, the maximum limit is 20 pages only. You are required to book it when you do it for over 20 so students will pay at the end of the month. In the pantry, you will find coffee, tea and drinks. If you use any of these, you will have to pay ‘tea money’. Also, the lunch you eat with students daily in the classroom will cost you about 280yen and you will have to pay too.

These are just tip of the iceberg. There are millions of others out there I have not bumped into or been told. The golden rule is: always watch the students and do exactly what they do and it won’t go too far.

Teacher, role model, salutation

In contrast to the west, teachers in Japan generally enjoy a higher status. How can we tell? Well, it’s in the Japanese language and the ways you are treated as a teacher. As compared with the west where doctors (Dr.) and professors (Prof.) generally are more respected, enjoy a higher social status and bear a special title whereas teachers are simply greeted with ‘Mr/ Miss’, which is used with anyone, teachers in Japan are greeted with the same title as doctors and professors, which is ‘sen-sei 先生’. The society, in general, gives a high regard on, and expectations from, teachers. Teachers are expected to display a very high degree of self-discipline. That explains why sitting on the desk and yawning while the lesson is going is against the rules, is unacceptable in the Japanese society.

Teachers take the role of passing knowledge on to students whereas in Japan, teachers also have the responsibility of being a role model for students.


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