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

There are loads of self-help books out there on the market telling you how to teach, but they will not teach you what to do under a given situation in the classroom (because there are just too many possibilities), how to survive as a teacher in a completely different cultural environment.

What you see is NOT what you get WYSIWYG

Does this mean that there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself if you are new to the profession? Some people choose to take courses. Yes, taking courses may help but it is not a panacea. Many people perceive that having studied a culture for many years by taking courses, reading piles of books, etc will prepare them completely for the cultural challenges and everything will go fine, including the female teacher in our case. I still remember how much she bragged about her understanding in Japanese culture when I first met her. The thing is that books and courses often contain ideological theories more than practical work. They tend to provide you generalized, superficial information, hardly touching on actual classroom teaching in a Japanese classroom.

Having lived in countries of different cultures, I can say that you will not truly understand a culture until you have lived in a country and engaged in some activities for a year or so, such as non-voluntary type full time work. A student who pays tuition fees (or they be paid by government) will be under the protection of the school. A tourist holding cash in his hands is always greeted with overwhelming smiles and hospitality. That explains why sbeing a student or a tourist will only tell you one side of the story, denying your chances to truly experience a culture, which has got the bright and dark sides.

Worse still, there is this problem with most of the books (and sometimes courses as well) on the market: they only deliver positive messages and skip the negative things you have to be cautious of. It does not take a genius to figure out the possible reason: people are prone to accept (and purchase) something that cheers them up or get them excited. As a commercial body, sales figures always stay on top of a publisher’s agenda.

A while ago, someone from the US/ UK sent me an email, saying how much she loves Japan, its culture and people. Her major at university was Japanese and she told me she went to Kyoto (京都) and stay there for a few months a couple of years back as an exchange student. Based on the couple of months experience living in Japan as a student in hall, she said that I was mistaken about Japanese culture in some way.

All I wanna say is: living in a country for work and for study are totally two different things. We have heard millions of foreign workers in Japan complained about the terrible treatments they get, ranging from pay being docked to being laid off without any reason.
Yet, how often do you hear complaints from foreign students living or having lived overseas about the treatments they receive in the school, particularly the foreign students in Japan? As an exchange student, they are just like a customer walking into a restaurant. You pay the tuition and you become their guest. When a guest gets bad treatments, they will go and it’s the seller who suffers in the end.

Having said so much about classroom situation and things you will have to be careful about, it is time to have a walkthrough on a typical schedule as a teacher of second language in Japan:

1. Arrive at school 5- 10 minutes early
2. You will usually not be given any lesson for the first period. Take the time to prepare for the first lesson on 2nd period
3. 2nd or 3rd period:

You walk into the classroom and the にっちょくさん(The student on duty that day) in the class will announce something like this ‘二校時の英語の勉強を始めます。れい!’. Students and you will have to bow to each other. Then, the lesson starts. If it is the first lesson, you will have to introduce yourself. You can talk about your country regarding the food, drinks, sports, life style, anything you like so as to let you know more about each other. Since I have lived in different countries, I usually tell them what I have experienced in these countries one by one and it takes loads of time!

4. Having done a few lessons you’re getting a bit tired so it’s time for lunch. Probably you have heard numerous foreign teachers in Japan saying the lunch time with students is the most stupid moment they have ever had in their life. I agree in part  During lunch time, you will be arranged to go into one of the classrooms you teach during that day to eat with students. A team of students responsible will prepare the food for everyone. At this time, you will have nothing to do. You can watch how they prepare the food. You can chat with the other students. You can volunteer to help out. Entirely up to you.
5. When everyone has been given their lunch, it’s time to eat. A student will come to the front and announce that it’s time to eat by saying ‘いただきます’. Everyone will put their hands together like what Buddhists do so while they say it. You just do the same. After that, you can start eating.
6. When it’s time to finish the meal, a student will announce ‘ごちそうさまでした’. Everyone puts their hands together again as before and lunch time is finished. Students will start putting their plates and utensils back to the tray. You just do the same.
7. After that, it’s time to brush teeth. Everyone, including the HRT, will take out their toothbrush and a cup and they will start brushing their teeth in front of everyone in the class though it sounds a bit weird (and disgusting I reckon). At the same time, they will put on a teeth brushing song. When the song is done, it means the time is up and they will go to the sink outside the classrooms to gargle. You can skip brushing and gargling if you don’t want to do so. They totally understand there may not be such a habit for people in other countries so they will not expect you to do that.

8. After brushing teeth, it is either rest time or cleaning time. The sequence of depends on the school. When it comes to rest time, the time is yours. But, schools willbe happy to see their foreign teachers play with their students. For cleaning time, students will clean the whole school according to tasks assigned on that day. School won’t tell you to clean with students but they will appreciate it if you do so, or pretend to do so!
9. There is about 5mins before the 5th period starts, usually speaking, after the cleaning time. If you do not have a class, you will be sitting in the staff room and doing your things. But, it doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want including reading your favourite novel or checking your email. It’s your working hour so you are prohibited from doing anything which is not or may not be absolutely related to your work.
10. Time flies and it’s the time you finish work today. You will need to ask 教頭先生‘Kyouto sensei’ [head teacher] to stamp on your roaster sheet to prove that you work on that day. Who is the head teacher? It is the one sitting in the middle amongst the three on a long desk in the staff room! You can just tell he is the biggest as he can oversee everyone and every corner in the room from where he sits.

Typically, you will be given a maximum of 4 lessons a day. Sometimes less than that because of school activities or 2 lessons being combined into 1. I have been given 2 lessons in a day for a few times : )
I hope this Teaching English as a second language series will help anyone who is new to the profession. Lastly, if you find the information useful, please pass it on to anyone you might know.
Enjoy your teaching in Japan!

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