“41 Hours in the Life…” of a senior high school ALT is what I would like to write about today – 41 hours being the average amount of time I spend at school in a week. My situation, like all other ALT’s, is unique in terms of schedule, schools, responsibilities at school, and so on. But, hopefully this will give you a general overview and insight as to what life could be like living in Japan on the JET Programme, and working as a senior high school ALT. Don’t forget that on the programme you are hired either as an elementary/junior high school teacher, or a senior high school teacher. Check out this post I did recently for clarification.
Alright, moving on and first up is the ringing of my alarm clock:
My day starts…
When the mail-man drives up in his scooter at around 4:30am to deliver post (-_-)… he really needs to fix his brakes. Ah, but seriously, normally I can sleep through that and wake up when my alarm goes off between 5:45am and 6:30am. It all depends on what day it is and which route I have to take to get to school. My two island schools require me to leave early, catching the 7:00am bus from my apartment in order to get down to the main bus terminal in time to catch either another bus, or a boat, to get to the islands. Though for my base school I only need to leave my place at 7:30am. 🙂
I teach at three senior high schools (grades 10, 11 and 12). I spend three days a week at my base school, and then one day at island school #1 and another day at island school #2.
On average I teach 15 classes a week, though sometimes a bit more depending on whether teachers want me to join other classes. This was especially true when I first arrived last year and was asked to do my self-introduction to classes that I wouldn’t normally teach.
At my base school I teach the second years; and at the island schools I teach the first years. Though since the beginning of this month (April being the start of the new school year) I have been asked to also team-teach with a small 3rd year class at island school #2.
JTE’s (Japanese teachers of English):
With the new school year comes teacher transfers. This is where the prefectural BOE (board of education, who is responsible for all senior high schools in the prefecture) decides if a teacher will be staying at a particular school for the next year, or be transferred to another. So I was a bit worried as to what would happen to all the JTE’s I work with.
This year, my supervisor retired (and subsequently became a part-time JTE… but isn’t my supervisor anymore), and the two JTE’s I worked with at island school #1 were transferred. That was the extent of the damage, which isn’t bad at all.
So in total I now have 12 JTE’s that I work with, and of those 5 are new transfers. So far my classes have been going very well with the new teachers, which is a good start to the year. Well, it’s either that, or the students are still too well-behaved (being first years and all) and have yet to get comfortable and make my life more, how should I say… entertaining? 😉
Classes are planned…
Mainly by myself at the base school, and jointly with the JTE’s at the islands schools. I seem to have quite a bit of freedom when it comes to planning lessons, making worksheets, etc., as long as I stick to the topic (which I discuss with the JTE’s beforehand). This was quite a daunting position for me when I first arrived here, especially as I have no formal teaching background. Thankfully, I did have almost the entire month of August to prepare for classes – which only began in September – and I had plenty of online teaching resources and old lesson plans from previous ALT’s that I could refer to and adapt.
Each school follows a slightly different plan when it comes to lesson topics, so each week I am normally teaching three different lessons in those 15 or so classes.
I teach about 3 classes per day. It is only on one day where I have 5 classes in a row (thankfully there is lunch halfway through). Fortunately one does get a break from classes every few months due to exams and for about a week I have a whole lot of free time to catch up on making lesson plans. Though in most cases I just pretend to look busy while I’m actually surfing the web, sleeping with my eyes open, writing emails, you know, the usual. 😉
Additional work activities for me includes:
Occasionally marking essays, grading students on speeches and interview tests, putting together ‘listening test’ cassette tapes with a JTE for exam purposes (yes, you read right – cassette tapes…) and taking part in the English Club.
I attend two English clubs, one at my base school for an hour after school on a Tuesday, and the other at island school #2 during the lunch break.
I don’t really plan anything for the ‘lunch break’ English club as the students are too busy eating. We normally just chat about random things, plans for the weekend/holiday, etc. Sometimes I bring my laptop and show them pictures of things from either my own holiday or something from home.
The base school English club is more serious in terms of doing something for the whole hour. We seem to have a lot of parties – I think the girls enjoy my baking. I honestly did not know what to do with the club when I first arrived, and have been trying to think of interesting things for the girls to do – though most times we end up chatting about anything and everything. This year we have new members, so I plan to be more proactive and come up with solid activities for us to do… that is, after our ‘welcome new members’ party next week. 😉
Are mostly mine to do whatever I please. I think in the past (almost) 9 months I have been here I have been required to go to school on a Saturday or Sunday about 6 or 7 times. The reasons have mainly been for open day, sports day, cultural festival, and graduation. And if you have to be at school on a weekend then you are given a day off the following week.
There are other optional (but highly recommended) events that won’t get you a day off, like staff welcome/farewell parties, and end-of-the-year staff parties. These are held usually on a Friday or Saturday night and are so much fun!
Last Friday I attended a welcome/farewell party for new and old staff and apart from the delicious all-you-can-eat food and drinks, I was thoroughly entertained by fellow colleagues who had clearly been helping themselves to the drinks table and were determined to speak to me in English – even if they did only repeat the same sentence over and over again. However in the end, I think we were doing more laughing and drinking than actual talking.
My day ends…
When I pass out from climbing up seven flights of stairs to get to my apartment door… even harder when carrying groceries. Some days I will get back to my place as early as 5:15pm, though on days when I need to do grocery shopping or on island school days, I usually get in around 6:30pm.
But there you go, a little bit of insight into a senior high school ALT’s life. I must say that I cannot complain about my weekly schedule at all as I think it is quite well-balanced in terms of classes and having time to prepare for future lessons. It did take me at least a month to get into the swing of things, and I did find myself dead tired at the end of each day, but now I believe I am settled enough to feel capable of handling the workload and still have time to enjoy my free time exploring Japan.
**The first animé I ever started watching 9 years ago, ‘Gintama’, started its long-awaited 3rd season last week. I’m so happy!