School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: Daily Routine in Japan

“And the strangest things seem suddenly routine.”

– Hedwig, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

One thing I found really interesting before I arrived – and something that wasn’t really covered in training – was the average daily routine of an ALT.

Being in Japan is of course wonderful and at first everything is exciting and new – but not everyday involves eating at crazy cafes, visiting shrines and shopping for otaku goods.
What about the actual day-to-day life of living and working here?

Of course this varies for everyone.
One of my fellow ALTs has at least five classes every day, sometimes six. Another has one day every week where she has no classes at all.

But for me personally: I always have four classes a day at my elementary school, and around 3-4 at my junior high school.

Some key phrases:

ALT Assistant Language Teacher. My role in the school as a native English speaker to assist with and teach English lessons.

JTEJapanese teachers of English. English teachers at junior high/high schools with a high level of English, who also teach classes when I’m not there. They mostly focus on grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing when teaching by themselves, and speaking and listening activities with the ALT. For liability reasons, a JTE must stay in the class with the ALT at all times.

Homeroom teacher – A Japanese teacher in elementary school who is responsible for one class and teaches every subject. (Similar to primary school teachers in the UK). They tend to have a low level of English and expect me to lead the class and prepare all activities. They tend to not have English classes until I’m available, however this is changing with new government guidelines. For liability reasons, a homeroom teacher must stay in the class with the ALT at all times.

T1 – The teacher who leads the class.

T2 – The teacher who assists the class. Changes in government guidelines mean this should always be the ALT’s role, however this tends not to be the case.

Tantou – A Japanese teacher who is responsible for me at the school. They have a high level of English and so they prepare my schedule and lessons and work closely with my company. They tend to prefer leading the class.
(I have a Tantou at my elementary school and another at my junior high school. They are both very sweet and approachable. If I have any ideas for activities outside the classroom, they are my first point of contact and usually very enthusiastic.)

So again, this is just an example:

✩ Elementary School: ✩

♥ 06:00 Wake up. (I’m terrible and skip breakfast in lieu of an extra half an hour in bed), drink a cup of tea, get ready. (Bag is packed from the night before)
♥ 06:55 Stop at konbini for coffee, walk to the bus stop and catch the bus to school.

♥ 07:45 Arrive at school, go to my desk in the teacher’s lounge, chat to my Tantou if she’s around, unpack my bag, plug in my laptop, drink my coffee.
♥ 08:10 Shift begins. Go over my lesson plans and materials. I teach the entire grade over one day, so technically I only have to plan one class then repeat it three times!
♥ 08:25-09:10 First period. I tend to have this free so just continue reviewing the upcoming lessons for the day.
♥ 09:20-10:0 Second period – teaching time.
♥ 10:25-11:10 Third period – teaching time.
♥ 11:20-12:05 Fourth period – teaching time.
♥ 12:10-12:45 Lunchtime. Collect my lunch from the teacher’s lounge and take it to a classroom to eat with the students and homeroom teacher.
♥ 12:50-13:40 Recess.
♥ 13:40-14:25 Fifth period – teaching time.
♥ 14:35-15:10 Sixth period. 99% of the time I have this free. I tend to use this time making materials and lesson plans for my junior high school.
♥ 15:10-15:50 Students leave for the day or have after-school club. The staffroom atmosphere gets more relaxed.
♥ 15:50-16:10 Tantou comes to chat. She’s young and really friendly (we frequently hang out outside work now!) so we break open some snacks and plan the next day’s lessons. She checks I have all the materials, adjust the lessons if needed and I go over what I’d like the homeroom teachers to contribute.
(NOTE: She’ll then go over this with them at a staff meeting after I go home. When all is done, she’ll send the lesson plans to my company to approve and translate, who will then forward it back to me.)
♥ 16:10 End of shift. I say お先に 失礼します (“Excuse me for leaving before you”) to the teachers, bow at the door and leave.
♥ 16:20 Catch the bus home.

♥ 16:45 Stop at grocery store, drugstore, Daiso etc. if necessary.
♥ 17:30 Home and relax for the evening.
♥ 22:30 Bedtime.

✩ Junior High School: ✩

My routine begins and ends the same as my elementary school.

♥ 06:00 Wake up. (Again, I’m terrible and skip breakfast in lieu of an extra half an hour in bed), drink tea, get ready. (Bag is packed from the night before)
♥ 06:55 Stop at konbini for coffee, walk to the bus stop and catch the bus to school.
♥ 07:45 Arrive at school, go to my desk in the teacher’s lounge, briefly chat to my JTE deskmate, unpack my bag, turn on my school laptop, drink my coffee.
♥ 08:10 Shift begins. The students go to their homerooms where they listen to any announcements, changes to their schedules etc. I go over my lesson plans and materials. I have a class straight away, and it’s second grade where my JTE likes me to lead so I must be prepared.
♥ 08:35-09:25 First period teaching second grade.
♥ 09:35-10:25 Second period with the second graders, teaching the same lesson as at first period.
♥ 10:35-11:25 Free period.
♥ 11:35-12:25 Fourth period with third graders. This JTE also likes me to lead, so must be prepared and organised.
♥ 12:25-13:15 Lunchtime. I eat in the teachers’ lounge.
♥ 13:20-14:10 Fifth period with first graders and my Tanto JTE who likes to lead the class. However usually I will have helped create warmers, activities and/or worksheets, so I make sure these are ready. Otherwise, I make sure I’m present in the lesson and assisting when asked.
♥ 14:20-15:10 Sixth period, 99% of the time I have this free. I tend to plan materials and lessons for my elementary school during this time.
♥ 15:10-16:10 Students leave for the day or have after-school club. I use this time to visit the school clubs, work on materials or my English board. I try to catch my JTEs to go over lessons, but usually they are very busy and it’s difficult to make time but we try our best. Again, the teacher’s lounge is a lot more relaxed – the vice-principal and head teacher at this school are particularly funny and nice, and have everyone laughing.
♥16:10 End of shift. Say お先に 失礼します (“Excuse me for leaving before you”) to the teachers, bow at the door and leave.
♥ 16:20 Catch the bus home.
♥ 16:45 Stop at grocery store, drugstore, Daiso etc. if necessary.

♥ 17:30 Home and relax for the evening.
♥ 22:30 Bedtime.

And that’s pretty much it for a weekday.
Sometimes I’ll meet a friend after work but we do tend to get together at weekends.

You’ll also notice I don’t really plan any lessons or materials at home.

Down time at home relaxing is especially important to me with a chronic illness, so I make sure to use my free time at the schools wisely.
Of course this won’t always be possible, but it’s something I really do recommend whenever you can.

Personally, I’m a lot more tired after a day at my elementary school as I have more classes (which I always lead) plus your energy has to be up to eleven every single class to keep the kids engaged.

At my junior high school I have more chance of free periods, and although you are of course still expected to be a nice genki gaijin, you don’t need to bounce off the walls quite so much.

If you are an aspiring ALT and have any more questions, please just leave them below!

– Carla

School · Seasonal · Teaching

Life of an ALT: Harry Potter and the Bribery at Halloween

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’d set up a post box next to my English board with some stationary and despite plugging it hard in my classes by the end of week two I hadn’t received a single letter.

I was a bit downhearted as I was so hyped about the idea and had enjoyed parading it around the teachers’ lounge.

However after a short trip to Daiso, the next day I stood by the post box at lunch and held aloft a sample Halloween goodie bag which was up for grabs.

Funny how there was immediately sudden interest and there was soon a small crowd around my English board.
It turns out bribing works…who knew!

I explained if they wrote a letter to me in English, and left their name and homeroom number – they would be in with a chance to win one of ten Halloween goodie bags.

Letters mailed to the post box would be pulled at random, although any letter with no English would be disqualified.

I paid about Y1000 for the lot, but I wanted to make an effort for my first contest – and of course get them excited about the post box, trying to drum up some regulars.

Inside the goodie bag was a pen, cute post-its, Halloween confetti and…every ALT’s fave – stickers. And of course a reply letter from myself.

I made sure to promise that every entry would still receive a reply and a sticker for participation.

An added perk I wasn’t expecting was upon seeing all the kawaii Halloween stuff on my desk, some teachers who still hadn’t spoken to me yet came over to see what was going on.

The joke was sort-of on me though, as by the time Friday afternoon rolled around and it was time to choose some winners, I’d had over 45 submissions.
They certainly kept me busy over my free periods.

Still I’m so pleased it was a success, and I can’t wait to set up Christmas mail in December.
I need to get the elves working on my replies already, though.

Spurred on by the success (and my love of all things Halloween), with the approval of my tanto and the vice principal – on Halloween itself Hermione Grainger transferred from Hogwarts to my junior high school and taught a fun Halloween-themed lesson.

(I was originally going to be Harry Potter until it was pointed out to me that I have the bossy temperament and frizzy hair to make a better Hermione.)

(Photo taken by my JTE with permission)

We went through Halloween vocabulary and I showed a small presentation about my favourite costumes I’ve worn over the years. We then asked the students to find hidden pictures in a Halloween scene.
Finally we played Halloween Mad Libs and we certainly got some interesting stories from some students.

And to send off the most wonderful time of the year, when the students went home I filled a ‘trick or treat’ bag with mini chocolate bars and handed them around the teachers’ lounge.
Some of them were certainly surprised, perhaps a little confused, but everyone seemed pleased to receive some free chocolate haha!

I really enjoyed my first bash at creating fun, seasonal activities.
Next stop…Christmas!

– Carla

English Board · School · Seasonal

Life of an ALT: English Board (Autumn/Halloween)

Some ALTs are granted a space in the school to make their own, and also to entice the kids into getting hyped for English. (A task and a half sometimes when you’re up against surly teenagers.)

This can sometimes even be an ‘English classroom’ which is specifically reserved for English classes and the ALT can do the entire room up as they wish.

At my junior high school however, I am allocated a small space in the corridor leading towards the gym, on a wall I share with a huge poster warning about perverts on public transport. Nice.

I was told on my first day that the English board needed a makeover, which was pretty obvious. I started in August and the English board was still asking people what their new years’ resolution was.

So after about a month in, I felt confident to start getting involved so I set to work on my free periods.

Since I was still fairly new, I dedicated one side of my board to a self-introduction. Very basic stuff, some photos of my family and my hometown, and a quick rundown of some likes and dislikes.

I also wanted the students to get involved with the space, so I always have a blank sheet of paper they can deface however they wish.

However, it’s also to tempt them to pick up the pens and write me a letter for my post box.

I was going to set to work somehow construcing a post box myself (and dreading the hour’s commute lugging the thing to school) but my deskmate JTE somehow found a pre-made box all ready and waiting.

I kinda wished it was red at first, like most Japanese post boxes, but it turns out that blue post boxes are for express mail so it’s kind of fitting, actually!

I also whipped up some quick stationary on Word, as well as my own stationary for replies – using the beautiful artwork I commissioned from Giulia Pirori.

To say there wasn’t a massive buzz about the post box initially is a bit of an understatement, but it turns out that bribery really works – more in my next post about my big Halloween inititive!

On the other side of the board I’m going to use this space for seasonal information. As it was coming up to Halloween I printed out a bunch of Jack O’ Lanterns and stuck them around the board. An also VERY cheap but effective way to decorate is by covering the boarder in themed washi tape as you know it’s going to peel off easily afterwards.

I bought some Halloween tinsel but couldn’t for the life of me get it to stay up, so I’m going to try that again at Christmas!

Some of my favourite books as a young’un were the Funnybones series, which are kind of Halloween-y.
I don’t think there’s a person around my age in the UK who doesn’t recognise the “In the dark, dark…” rhyme. So I printed out the first few pages and stuck them up.

(SIDE NOTE: My first grade JTE liked it so much she asked if we could use it for a warmer in classes leading up to Halloween, and was even more delighted when I told her there was actually a TV show made.
It was pretty adorable hearing the kids singing along to Griff Rhys Jones.)

So yeah, my little English board certainly isn’t perfect but is canny enough for a first attempt.
I can’t wait to get started on the Christmas board soon!

And don’t be telling me it’s “too early” you bunch of bah humbugs.

– Carla

music · Olympics · Tokyo

Music: Papuriiika

So I’d been hearing a song over and over again since arriving here, and assumed it was the opening to an anime. (Something – for someone living in Japan – I actually know very little about.)
But turns out it’s ‘Paprika,’ the official song of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

It’s being played everywhere – shops, cafes, the train station and it was even blasted over loudspeakers at a food event in the city a few weekends ago.

Here it is:

I mean it’s hardly Absolutely Everybody or Hand In Hand is it?

(FYI: Hand In Hand was even featured in an episode of Pingu.)

But everyone here is super into ‘Paprika’ – you can see it has over 137 million views on Youtube as of this blog post and has been in the charts for an entire year now.

It was performed at the sports festival, talent show and music concerts at my junior high school and I had to endure it TWICE at my elementary school concert.
(They opened AND closed with the song…)

I prefer two of the unofficial anthems to be honest – Nippon Manju by Ladybaby and Tokyo Bon (Makudonarudo) by Namewee.

Meanwhile in Japan…
The chorus: “Please enjoy and taste many Japanese products.” Catchy.

An accurate representation of my life in Japan.

Anyhoo, that’s it for now.

‘Paprika’ aside, I’m looking forward to being in Japan for the Olympics – especially because some of our national holidays are being shuffled around to accommodate the event.’

~ Carla