Thursday, July 9, 2015

What am I supposed to be doing? (ALT series - Part 1)

So, this is part one of that three part series I told you all I was going to do. Surprise, surprise! It’s taken me a while. Just a heads up, it will be out of order and Part three might trail considerably behind the other two as I’m still trying to collect information.

That said, if you or anyone you know is a Japanese teacher of English within Japan, please fill out/have them fill out my survey (found at the link below!) and send it back to me!

Please click here to access the survey!

This part of the series is from my point of view. This is not canon, nor information from your Board of Education. Though some of it may or may not overlap with the things you are told at orientation.

Your first days

So you’ve arrived, for better or worse in Japan. You’ve undergone, or are about to, Tokyo orientation followed by your prefectural orientation. This are very much hand held and scheduled. You’re told what to do, where to go and how to dress. My advice, listen to the dress code. If they tell you to where your business suit jacket (even though it’s 5 billion degrees), do it. Many people ignored the business formal dress code and all of us were treated to a lecture during our first days of orientation. Don’t make our mistakes.

After arriving at your board of education and, presumably, filling out those fabled contracts you’ve been wondering about, you’ll be taken to a welcome ceremony where each shiny new ALT will give a very brief self-introduction in Japanese. Want to practice before your bus, train or flight to your BOE? Here you go. Practice to your hearts content. Just remember. The “u” on the desu is silent generally.
こんにちは。(Konnichiwa.)                                                       - Hello.
私の名前は_です。(Watashi no namae wa __ desu.)              - My name is ______.
__から来ました。(___ kara kimashita.)                                - I’m from ______.
よろしくお願いします。(Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.)           - It’s nice to meet you./Please be kind to me.
(Country Cheats – America = America    England = Igirisu     Australia = Osutoraria)

During said ceremony your designated JTE (as you probably have more than one!) will stand up or wave or somehow let you know which one they are. At least that’s how it worked in Shizuoka. I was so nervous blundering through my “イローラと申します” (ß More polite way of saying my name is…) that I didn’t spot my JTE. Also nearly fell over my chair standing up. >.> Either way, at the end of the ceremony you’ll be whisked away by your JTE to you new home. If you’re close enough, like I was, they might take you straight to your school to meet your vice principal. So, word to the wise, keep your omiyage on hand and not buried in the bottom of a suitcase. Just in case.

Oh. The best part? As soon as you get home, this is where they inform you that they’ll see you bright and early the next morning for work. In my case and the case of a few others I know, we thought we’d be given at least a couple days to settle in, but nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. 8 am the next morning I was ready to start work.

The first weeks at work

Unless you’re really lucky, your first day of work will go something like this. You’ll arrive in your best work clothes (Even though it will be “Cool Biz” season, better safe than sorry! You can always dress down later!) and somebody will show you to your seat. At which point, the one, perhaps two familiar faces will probably disappear off into an unknown land never to be seen again so they can take care of their things. Which leaves you sitting. At a desk. In a completely bizarre room wondering to yourself, “what did I get into???” while the staff room, or preparation room depending on your school, remains largely empty.

Why? Oh. Right. Summer vacation.

Many teachers, including those fabled JTEs you’ve heard about, will be on vacation. Mine were all gone for the better part of August and only returned just prior to classes beginning.
Which leaves you with a whole lot of nothing to do. Now, in my case, if you’re a frequent reader you might recall, I sat and did absolutely nothing. Waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone to tell me what to do. And of course, no one ever did. I spent the better part of two days sitting at my desk at attention, waiting for direction that would never come. So. Don’t be me. Hop right to it. Here’s my list of things to do, in no particular order, during your first few days.

  •  Organize your desk – You have NO IDEA what’s in it or where anything is. Poke through it. They’re your things. Find out. Organize it. Don’t be afraid to throw things away. 
  •  Find your predecessor (and your predecessor’s predecessor's predecessor’s and so on’s) files. Now, if your predecessor was a god, these lessons might also come with lesson plans. If you’re my successor a few years down the road (sorry in advance!) You’ll find yourself with a pile of papers or a USB drive full of old lessons and maybe, maybe a calendar outlining what order and when they were used.
  • Get to know your Language Lab (LL Room) if you have one that will be used. Re-organize it and make it your own! I use mine religiously because I tend to run my classes in a very “western style” according to my JTEs. This can get noisy at times. I also feel that using the LL Room breaks the students off from their normal day and into an “English Environment.” As such, my LL Room is always seasonally decorated with English phrases, posters and other useful or fun things posted around the room. That’s the one advantage that those of us who have a dedicated Language Lab have is that we can use posters and be more fun and creative and decorate things that people who use regular classrooms don’t really get.

  • Ask about the textbooks. Your JTEs might not know what classes you’ll be teaching, “what the schedule is”, etc. just yet. But, you can ask what are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd year textbooks? Make a memo of what they have already studied. Chances are your JTEs haven’t made the lesson plans for the Fall term and have no idea what they will cover yet, but knowing what they have already covered can give you a leg up as well as an idea of your students level.
  • Ask for a school calendar. And ask again, and again and again until it’s finally available. Once you have it you can highlight any days with the kanji “”, or ceremony, in it. These days will be business formal days for the most part, so take note. You can also ask your JTEs to point out days with no classes or known schedule changes so that you can be prepared. (This is especially important for me as my students must always have the EXACT same lessons as there is always a TT materials test.)
  • Ask about your JTEs expectations. I’m strange. I made a survey so that, when they came back and had time, they could get back to me. What classes do they teach? Some will focus on certain grades while others are across the board. What are their expectations for you in class? Who will be the “head” teacher in class? Who will be the support role? Knowing your role early will help you to better prepare for classes.
  • Most importantly, ask who, in general, is in charge of lesson planning. Now, if you have multiple schools or if you will tend to be more of a support teacher in class, you might never have to worry about this. If you have only one school, like me, you might take on more of a leading role in your classrooms and thus wind up being in charge of the team teaching lesson planning. Which has advantages and disadvantages.
  • Prepare an introduction lesson. Your first lesson will more likely than not be a self-introduction lesson. Make a power point. Don’t know how to use power point? Well, you have ample time at the moment. Why not learn a new helpful skill? As you’re coming in mid-year, I don’t recommend getting to know you games at this stage as your students will already know each other fairly well. Depending on your school and JTEs, your introduction might be 15 minutes or it might be a whole 50 minute class period. Check in with your JTEs about this.
  • Decide if you’ll have a hanko system. If yes, how will you keep track of points? (My students have charts on the inside of their name tags.) What will be the prizes? How can students earn them? Etc. I have two systems actually. One is for personal hanko and the other is a “class race”. My school has no rules against it, so for the personal hanko prizes I give out Dum Dums. I go through about 200-400 dum dums per term as I teach 400 students. Bags of these run only about… 2,500 yen for 300 suckers on YoYo Market. For the class races, I try to stick to things that cost less money. Large amounts of hanko points, choosing the “Let’s Watch Lunch” movie, needing to write less words to get a passing grade on their final essay, I join their class for bunkasai and things like that.
  • Make decorations. I know, I know. Waste of time much? But if you have a dedicated room or if you have or are planning to start an English board, getting a jump on the seasonal bits and pieces while you have time will save you stress when you’re grading 400 notebooks and have 5 lessons to plan later on.
  • Probably among the most important, get to know your school! Where are the bathrooms? Where is the cafeteria (where they bread-lady sells delicious lunch time breads… mmm… bread)? Where are the first year classrooms? Where are the womens/mens staff changing rooms? Find that locker, store a spare blazer in there for those emergencies! Getting to know the layout of your school will help you feel more comfortable?
  • Visit the clubs! You’ll probably notice an inordinate number of students running around your school despite the fact that it’s summer vacation. If your JTEs aren’t around and/or you don’t feel confident enough in your Japanese abilities to ask the other teachers about clubs, just wander around. Poke your head in wherever you see students gathering for your clubs. Break the ice and introduce yourself! I find that using Japanese outside the classroom during those first weeks really helps you break the ice and start building a repertoire with the students. So, if you’re ready to try out that Japanese you’ve been studying, go for it! Just, try not to rely on it during class time as it’s frowned upon. (*cough, cough* Looking at you and your bad habits Illaura. >.> *cough, cough*)
  • Study Japanese. Don’t be afraid to break out those text books. Most teachers will think it’s great that you’re studying Japanese.

The real tests

During your first morning meeting where all the teachers will assemble sometime near the end of August, you’ll be expected to give a brief self-introduction. Once again, in Japanese. I was super nervous and ended up spilling out the super basics in the fastest Japanese I’ve ever spoken before sitting down all in a span of less than 30 seconds. Much to the vice-principals surprise. I think they expected something a little bit more. So, take a deep breath and prepare for this as much as possible.

Also, you will probably be expected to give a short self-introduction in front of the entire school. And you thought those college presentations were bad. For this, at least at my school, Japanese or English was okay. I opted for Japanese in an attempt to help the student body feel more at ease with me.  I should note here that Serenity High School is a low-level English school, so getting the students to be willing to open up to me before showering them in English was a high priority.

Around this time, if you’ve been begging your JTE long enough, you’ll have a class schedule and you’ll finally have been given your list of what classes you teach and when. At this point you can calculate how many times the classes will meet during the term (important if you have to give tests!) and you can figure out how many lesson plans you’ll need to come up with during the term.

This is also the time where your JTE will drop the “You need to prepare X number of lessons for next week” bomb. I’m personally not a fan of 自転車商業, or basically constantly working “without ever getting off the bicycle”, so having the calendar in advance allows me to prepare for things in advance and makes that bomb a little less last-minute crazy. That said, stuff happens, always be ready to cancel a class at a whim or to suddenly give the next week’s lesson because of schedule changes. (Always plan a week in advance… always…)

And then, the real, real test. Your first lesson. I can’t stress the nerves. But take a deep breath and remember, high schoolers can smell your fear. 

Just kidding. But, as long as you act like you know what you’re doing, they’ll think you know what you’re doing. Also, acting goofy helps. If your students are cracking a smile or giggling, they’ll probably remember your class better.

Wow, this turned out to be MUCH longer than intended. (Go me!) If you have any questions or anything else you’d like to hear about, please leave a comment! (Not that any of you ever do!! Q.Q ) I hope this was useful and, most importantly, welcome to the JET family.


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