School · school events · Teaching

Life Of An ALT: Open School/Parents Day in Japan

Who am I to judge? For I am neither Jesus nor Judy.

Miss Rory.

Ahh “Open School.”
Two words that send shivers down the spines of Japanese teachers and ALTs alike.

Open School is the one magical day per term where the parents can come and observe classes. Vom.

At my Junior High School I am T2 in most of my classes, so I’m just there to look pretty and beam my big gaijin smile at the mums and dads.

But I lead all classes at my Elementary School – so hello, pressure?
I was somewhat overwhelmed that I was going to be observed all day, however parents were only to come in for one class – the last period at the end of the day.

Thankfully, my open school class was scheduled with my tantou (as explained in my daily routine post, “tantou” = the teacher who is responsible for me at school), who suggested we rehearse beforehand.
She’s one of my favourite people in Japan, and I was eager for us both to do well so I took some time out of my schedule to meet with her, get comfortable with the digital materials and rehearse our banter. We were like a multinational Mel and Sue.

While all our classes are especially fun (I have no idea where she gets her energy from, she’s the type of person who runs at eleven every single day) we decided to make a special effort to make things as interactive as possible – using a mix of the digital materials, and our own stuff.

By the time Open School rolled around for us – we were on We Can 1 Unit 8: “What do you like?” using food as a grammar point.

Food is the great connector (Japanese people in my experience are especially big foodies) so I was glad it was a topic that could especially pique the students’ interests. (The previous unit was directions, and frankly I was knackered after that.)

To get them prepared for the vocabulary, I gave my tantou my stash of food flashcards which she went over a few times with her homeroom prior to our lesson.
Her students are especially eager and genki, so they picked it up fairly quickly.

Our Open School lesson ran a bit like this:

✍ Greeting
I greet all my classes the same way every time: I pretend to be a sergeant major and shout “OK EVERYONE STAAAAAAND…UP!”
(The boys especially love trying to beat their pals on who can stand up first.)

I then flex my muscles and shout “Oooh, I have the power!” Gets a laugh every time.
(My physics teacher Mr Obee* used to do this and it’s always stuck with me.)

ME: Let’s begin, so good morning/afternoon everyone!
STUDENTS: Good morning/good afternoon Miss Carla and Miss _________.
ME: How are you?
STUDENTS: I’m ___________________.
ME: Oh good, how are you Miss _____________?
TANTOU: Oh I’m great, thank you. How are you?
ME: I’m fine, thank you very much! *sergeant major voice* Ok everyone, you can siiiiiiiiit…DOWN!

Small talk.
I’d prepared a short presentation about my favourite foods from the UK. A lot of them tend to recognise fish and chips** but I also included sausage and mash. For desserts, I showed sticky toffee pudding and a jam roly poly.
I also featured some of my favourite Japanese foods (takoyaki, ramen, gyoza and matcha ice cream) and had a little vote on the best. It worked pretty well and got them hyped up.

Japanese desserts are great but MAN what I would give for a bowl of jam roly poly with custard…
Picture credit.

✍ Vocabulary
Although they were pretty familiar with the vocab by this point, we drilled it again a few times – especially to get their pronunciation down. Plus it helped to show the parents what they’d been learning.

✍ Keyword Game.
Man, the Keyword Game is the world’s easiest game to prepare and for some reason my kids LOVE it. Basically, we put all the flashcards on the blackboard (Japanese blackboards are magnetic, so I attach magnets to all my flashcards so they can be visable at all times), choose one of them as a keyword.
The students make pairs and put one eraser between them on the desk. They put their hands on their heads and when they hear the keyword, the first one to grab the eraser wins a point.
I always demonstrate the first round, then ask someone to come to the front. (I always camp this up, calling the student Mr/Miss _______ and making sure everyone listens to their new teacher.)
Eager to impress mum and dad, we had a bunch of volunteers so had about five rounds – keep it an odd number so there’s always a winner.

✍ Listening activity.
We used MEXT’s digital materials from We Can 1 to demostrate to the parents how we use these, and how the students complete their workbooks.

✍ MRI Quiz.
As a fun cool-down, I presented a shorterned version of this MRI quiz from ALTopedia. It’s actually an activity I’d used for my third graders, and it had KILLED. But thought it was a fun, easy activity – and would get any bairns who were starting to lose interest back in focus.

✍ Chant
We ended with a chant/song that came with the MEXT digital materials. Some of the songs can be a little strange, but the one in this unit isn’t too bad. They were quite familiar with it, so I played it twice at normal speed, then got them all to stand up and sing it faster. We emphasised to use nice big voices, gestures and big smiles.

Wrap up
I wrap up the class the same every lesson – I get the kids to stand up (sergeant major act again – “STAAAAAND….UP!”), and I compliment them with what they have specifically done well in the class. So I told them their pronunciation was good, and thanked them for volunteering with activities.
ME: That’s all for today, so for now I’ll say *dramatic pause* GOODBYE EVERYONEEEEE!
THEM: Goodbye Miss Carla, and Miss Haruna!
ME: See youuuuuuuu! *Big wave*
THEM: See youuuuuuuu!! *Big wave back*

And that’s it. I then left while my teacher had a thirty minute meeting with the parents to discuss the students and they gave feedback on the lesson.

Usually in my classes, I’ll try and make sure there’s a free discussion section with plenty of time for the students to practice amongst themselves, with me and the homeroom teacher observing and helping. This is usually in the form of an interview or survey game.

However we’d discussed how this would be logistically difficult with parents taking up space in an already crowded classroom, plus they tend to take around 15-20 minutes out of a 50 minute lesson by the time we have demonstrated the target language and how to complete the worksheets.
So on this occasion we decided to omit this and focus on quick, dynamic activities.

In short although I wasn’t there for the discussion with my tantou, it seemed to go down well with the students – they all wrote me thank you letters at the end of term, and a lot of them referenced the games and activities we specifically did in Open School.

It was definitely a stressful planning period and day – but still, ever a new learning experience!

~ Carla

*Mr Obee now has a Science Youtube channel and it’s the most wholesome content on the internet. There was even a merch drop.

**I’m actually not a huuuuge fan of fish and chips – it’s a little too heavy for me and I’m more of a chips and scraps kinda girl. But it’s an easily recognisable British food to many Japanese people. Plus I always make the connection explaining the batter is crispy and similar to tempura which they all know – comparing your life to theirs always keeps them interested.

School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: Your First Days

Since it’s the end of term and the next influx of ALTs will be landing this week, I thought it was a good time to post about my first few days of teaching in my Japanese schools.

So you’ve had four or five days of training, been bombarded with information, lesson plans, activities, schedules and more. You’re jet lagged, running on coffee and conbini food and most likely living out of a hotel room.

But all of a sudden you find yourself in a suit, and reality sets in that it’s time for you to impart your gaijin wisdom and knowledge. Heck.

I can honestly say that the most nerve-wracking time you will have during the whole moving to Japan process is visiting your schools for the first time, and the days and weeks that follow.

All situations are different – some people visit their schools a week or so before classes begin, some due to teaching schedules are thrown into the fray mere hours before their first class is due to begin.
It’s just luck of the draw. So all I can base this on are my personal experiences.

The one thing I would say before I start is although it is ridiculously anxiety-inducing – remember that everyone at the school is expecting you, looking forward to meeting you, and are happy that you’re there.

You won’t be the first ALT they’ve met and you certainly won’t be the last.

The Initial Visit.

The Friday before term I was taken to my two schools for a visit before all the students were there accompanied by a representative from my company’s office.
(FUN FACT: I was actually my representative’s first day on the job and she admitted she was a little nervous too, which helped!)

“Pretty darn good!”
(I could legit quote this film from start to finish)

First thing’s first – dress up!

Before arriving you’ll be told to bring at least one nice black suit, preferably a second in another colour – wear the black one when you visit your schools and at the opening ceremony.

I wore: my black suit, white shirt and black brogues but I carried my pink Kate Spade handbag to give me a pop of colour to match my personality.

(At many schools the dress code is fairly relaxed – especially in elementary schools. Officially you’ll be told to wear a suit all the time, but the reality is this is usually not the case. Your teachers will give you advice, and the old saying goes – when in Rome, do as the Romans do.)

At my junior high school, I was taken to the principal’s office. In training, we learned how to do jikoshoukai (“self introduction”) with simple Japanese and it pretty much went as follows:

はじめまして。Hajimemashite. = Nice to meet you.
わたしのなまえは カーラです Watashi-no namae-wa Carla (SURNAME) desu = My name is Carla (SURNAME)
= I am from England
よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = Pleased to meet you (but literally translates as “Please take care of me.”)
PRINCIPAL: よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = Pleased to meet you/likewise!

If you know, you know.

Then there’s the exchanging of business cards which is an art in itself, especially if you’re clumsy as fuck like me.

Business cards are treated as an extension of the person, and must be treated with the same respect you would give them. My company were kind enough to provide nice quality business cards and a rose gold case at orientation.

In my experience, you don’t especially need these when meeting your fellow teachers, but they’re important to have when meeting the principal and vice-principal.

More information on business card etiquette can be found here – however again, we did go over this also in initial training.

It was at this point the principal asked me to take a seat and someone came in with green tea for us.
I placed his business card on the table in front of us, facing myself and sat down.
You’re also not supposed to take a drink until the principal has taken his first sip. We then had a fairly casual but polite chat with my representative translating.

I was introduced to my three JTEs I would be teaching with in each grade. They told me on my first day it was just the opening ceremony with no classes, and if I could prepare a short speech to introduce myself to the school. Eek.

We then went to my elementary school where we met the vice principal, who is incredibly chatty and funny. (The principal was unavailable and I wouldn’t meet him until my first day of teaching.)
I would miss the opening ceremony due to being at my junior high school so I didn’t need to give any speeches there.

After we were finished I got to go home for the rest of the day.
Try to relax over the weekend, and get plenty of rest because the next week is going to be pretty full-on.

Your First Day / Opening Ceremony

As I mentioned, all I had to do on my first day was attend the opening ceremony and give a short speech.

These school ceremonies tend to be a little dry and super formal, but I was too busy feeling nervous about three hundred little faces staring up at me to pay much attention to what was going on.

When it was my turn, I walked up onto the stage – my legs feeling like jelly – and just said a few words about how their predecessor told me how much she loved he school, and how I was looking forward to teaching them all. Very simple stuff, though I practically ran back down the stairs when I was done.

Other than that, I was showed my desk in the teacher’s lounge, where the supplies are etc. I started in August, and the teachers told me I don’t have to wear my suit and can dress down a little – especially it being in the middle of the sweltering Japanese summer.

We also had a tsunami drill, but it was a long day with nothing really to do!

Self Introduction Lessons

This is the big one. Your first lesson.

Most likely your first few lessons are going to be your self-introduction. I’ve since done this so many times I could recite it in my sleep. Though my first time, I was incredibly nervous and nearly went to pieces.

Keep it fairly simple: Your name, where you’re from, lots of photos of your family and hometown, your hobbies and favourite food will suffice. It’s up to you how much personal information you’d like to give – it’s likely the kids will ask you your age and if you have a partner or spouse, but anything you’re not comfortable answering, just camp it up with “Shhhhh! It’s a secret!”
Afterwards if time allowed we did a Q&A.

I’m eventually going to do a post on my self introduction as it went through some major changes throughout doing it a total of THIRTY times over the following weeks as I met all my classes in both schools.

But quick tip: make it interactive – we ended up turning mine into a quiz that the kids really got into.


Your First Lessons

Talk about throwing me in at the deep end!
At the junior high school it wasn’t too bad because I just assist in those classes most of the time. I got to know my three JTEs, working out our rhythms and pacing.

But I’m not going to lie – I really struggled during my first few weeks at elementary school.

I lead all of my elementary school classes – however I thought during my first few weeks I’d be able to take a slight back seat while I found my feet. Well, I was wrong.

I was sent a lesson plan a few weeks before, but hadn’t actually received my textbooks until the last day of training. And I hadn’t had a chance to look at the digital materials (songs/chants/videos etc.) until I was in front of the kids. Nerve-wracking stuff, and I’ll be completely honestly I spent the first months dreading my elementary classes.

However as time went on, the kids warmed to me and were more eager to participate in lessons (though all ALTs I know have at least one class where it’s like pulling teeth), I got to know the homeroom teachers, I felt more confident making my own activities and games – and before I knew it, I’d found myself also into the swing of things.

Elementary teaching is definitely a steeper learning curve than junior high school in my opinion – but stick with it, you can do it!!

So I’ll wish you the best of luck if you’re an aspiring ALT, or you’re about to start at your school/s and are feeling nervous. It’s natural – nerves are good and show you care.

However please try not not tie yourself in knots about it like I did, and if you have any questions – please just ask, and I’ll help as best I can!

~ Carla

Food · School · School Lunch

Kyushoku: Japanese School Lunch – Part 2

Since my previous post about kyushoku (Japanese school lunch) is one of the most popular on this blog, I thought I’d make a part two.

It’s the end of term, and as the students no longer have to come to school until the end of Spring Break due to the government trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus – teachers now have to bring our own lunch in every day. (I’m currently working from home.)

So I figured it’s as good a time as any to reflect on some of the lunches I’ve had since my last post.

As before, meals always come with a carb – usually rice, but sometimes noodles or bread. I find it difficult to eat rice every day, so I often forgo this – but you can see it in some of these photos.

Fridays at my school is also bring-your-own-rice day, but I’m lazy and usually forget anyway!

Fish patty, cheese slice, bread bun (kinda like a Fillet O’ Fish), cabbage, pudding, stew.
Chicken and vegetable soup, teriyaki salmon, fried potatoes and an orange.
Vegetable soup, bread slices, fried aubergine and half a banana.
(I always wish they’d give us some butter or spread for the bread!)
Mushroom and tofu soup, beef in black bean sauce, greens and cherry tomatoes.
Egg drop soup, dried fish and noodles.
(Not going to lie – this one was a struggle!)
Noodle soup, chicken tonkatsu, cabbage and grape jelly.
Curry and rice, pickled cucumbers and pudding.
Tofu soup, root vegetables and natto.
(I gifted the natto to my tanto. Bleurgh!)
Tofu scramble, shishamo and cabbage,
Cream of mushroom soup, cabbage and hot dogs, hot dog bun and fruit salad.
Chicken and konnyaku soup, fried teriyaki fish, bean sprouts and pudding. 
Oden, bonito flakes, gohei mochi and bean sprouts.
Gohei Mochi is a traditional rice cake with a sweet miso paste. The reason it’s on a stick is because in the olden days people working in the mountains used to ate them this way! They are also made to thank the gods after harvest in Autumn
It was absolutely DELICIOUS and I remember the students and teachers alike being very hype about this school lunch!
Egg drop soup, sweet and sour chicken and a milk pudding.
Vegetable soup, shishamo, daikon salad and a mikan orange.
Vegetable soup, croquette and cabbage.
Egg drop soup, fried fish, daikon and a mikan orange.
Vegetable soup, tofu with noodles, Japanese sweet potatoes and an orange.
Sweetcorn soup, burger and fries
Will I ever tired of wholesome Japanese soups? Nope!
Curry and rice, sauteed greens and half an orange
Vegetable soup, salad and a tempura prawn.

And as a bonus – the special Japanese New Years themed lunch box we got at the start of the school year. MAN, this was delicious:

Prawn and vegetable tempura.
Teriyaki fish, rolled omelette, fish cake, egg salad, a plum (I think)
White rice.
Tuna sashimi.

Honestly, I’ve had worse bentos in Japanese restaurants back home!

Let me know what you think. I know kyushoku is very different to the school lunches I remember in the UK. How about from your country?

~ Carla

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

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

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

Drinking · Food · School · school events

Surviving My First Enkai

I survived my first enkai!

There are apparently many kinds of Japanese ‘enkai’ – aka: drinking parties.

Japanese teachers work incredibly hard and long hours.
At my school the teachers are there between 7am-7pm.

I’m a lucky, lazy ALT who rocks up at 8am, leaves at 4pm and only teaches for between 3 to 5 hours out of my 8-hour shift.
So naturally there’s many an excuse for a booze-up.

In most schools, there’s an enkai after the Sports Festival – which makes sense seeing how long the teachers’ have planned and rehearsed the event, notably in-between their usual classes, marking papers, planning lessons, running after-school clubs etc.

I was asked within my first hour at my desk if I’d like to attend which put me on the spot a little, but wanting to be a happy, genki gaijin I’d agreed to attend.
However as the enkai rolled nearer and I looked up etiquette on the internet I’d managed to tie myself in knots about it.

Firstly, the dress code was vague.
“Dress up!” smiled my deskmate JTE but according to Reddit this could mean a full suit, business casual or formalwear.
I couldn’t really get a solid answer out of anyone for specifics so took a punt and chose the outfit I wore to my 30th birthday party. Better to be overdressed than underdressed, right?

The enkai was also ¥5000 (around £50), which sounded steep and took a hefty chunk out of my weekly budget – but when it was explained it’s all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink it’s fairly worth it.

Japanese food is expensive back home.
When me and my best friend Sam get together for sushi (our tradition ever since Sam moved away from the city) for a platter to share, as well as other little plates such as gyoza, edamame and takoyaki, two rounds of beers plus the tip we end up paying around £25-£30 each.
So not too terrible in the grand scheme of things – but I have heard of higher-end enkai racking upwards of ¥10,000 per head.

There was of course the language barrier. My Japanese is practically non-existent, and none of the teachers (allegedly) speak much English. It was set to be a long night.

The internet also advised me that we all had to sit on our knees with our toes curled inwards. I’ve had tendon issues in my left knee ever since I was 15 (I felt off the back of the stage during our school production of Godspell…), so knew that simply wouldn’t be possible and I’d have to sit cross-legged like the blokes.

However it all turned out absolutely fine. I don’t know if it’s my school or just this particular enkai – but it was very relaxed.
The male teachers were in t-shirts and jeans, the female teachers in “jeans and a nice top” as we’d say in the UK! One of the teachers was in a hoodie with trainers.

I’m glad though I’d made an effort and was greeting with cries of “Ahh kawaii!” from teachers who’d never really spoken to me yet.
I did look different than I do everyday at the school, where I wear my hair scraped back from my face, no makeup, and my ill-fitting teacher workwear.

One of my JTEs was going and I was hoping to sit next to her, but when I arrived we were asked to pick a card that allocated you a random seat. I was sat next to two female teachers, one male teacher and the admin girl I hadn’t spoken to before.
When my JTE arrived and saw my table was full she looked apologetic – but this being Japan we would have never asked to switch tables. Rules is rules is rules.

There were a lot of speeches from the chief organisers of the Sports Day, the organiser of the enkai and finally the principal who called “KANPAI!!” and the festivities could begin.

I’d read the most important thing was to fill other attendees’ glasses, but to do it with two hands. I’d been rehearsing with a large Coke Zero bottle all week.

However all the teachers – including the principal – filled glasses one-handed.
When I went around with the jug of beer and poured with two hands, I was greeted with appreciative cries of “Ahh, Japanese-style!”

I’d brushed up on enkai etiquette, but as mentioned before – it was all incredibly casual.
(We were in booths so no kneeling required!)

As the beer and alcohol flowed I was complimented on my chopstick skills (a standard compliment every non-Japanese person receives from natives. One mustn’t let it go to one’s head).
Everyone was amazed that I adore sashimi, and was gawked open-mouthed as I ate my raw amberfish and shouted “OISHIII” enthusiastically.

(I sent a picture to my Uncle who hates all seafood and he commented “Looks like Morrisons’ fish counter.”)

I’d also managed to get myself a little squiffy by this point.
The male teacher called for “beiru!” every time my class was empty. He offered me sake and I politely declined.

(The first and last time I had a night on the sake me and my sister ended up in a karaoke bar in Osaka with a bunch of random Germans singing “Barbie Girl”. We didn’t get out of bed the next day – missing our trip to the Cup Noodle Museum. Devastating.)

My dad’s catchphrase could practically be: “Get your money’s worth, pet!”
I think I made him proud. You can take the girl out of Hebburn.

Wor George would have been especially impressed with the male teacher sitting opposite me though – he got through five beers, two bottles of sakes and two whiskey highballs in two hours and enthusiastically egged us on to order more drinks – he got the other girls on our table on the cocktails.

Teachers who previously garbled they speak no English could suddenly make clear sentences. The male teacher apparently has a penchant for Scottish whiskies and told he he’d like to visit a distillery there one day.

After two hours, time was called, more speeches were made, there was a big clap and the party was over.
A group of male teachers who shyly ignore me usually shouted “KAWAIIII” at my pink Kate Spade bag (my dream bag and an extremely generous 30th birthday present from my sister in May) as I got up to go to the bathroom.
When I left they all bowed low and thanked me profusely for coming.

The general rule of thumb is “what happens at the enkai stays at the enkai” but it was a fairly tame affair with nobody being particularly loud or throwing the principal in the air (I’ve heard this is a thing that happens).

And back at school – the ice has somewhat been broken a little with some teachers who were otherwise are too shy to even acknowledge me in the teachers’ lounge. Others who chatted away to me at the enkai have retreated, but at least the olive branch has been offered.

Although I’ve started getting a hearty “OHAYO GOZAIMASUUU” reply from most teachers in the morning, which is hopeful.

And will I be going to my next one?


– Carla

Food · School · School Lunch

Kyushoku: Japanese School Lunch

I love Japanese food, and am not a particularly fussy eater (quelle surprise!)– but even so I found myself a little apprehensive when I signed up for ‘kyushoku’ – Japanese school lunches.
But so far I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. 

It tends to follow the same formula every day: soup, a carb (usually white rice but sometimes noodles or bread), some vegetables, meat or fish, a dessert and a carton of milk. 

It’s very affordable, especially for an ALT on a budget – it costs me around ¥360 or £3 per day, and it’s MUCH better than a Gregg’s meal deal. (I’m never going to be allowed back into Newcastle now after saying that, whoops).
And I even get a little discount because I don’t have the milk.

What’s really impressive though is that the kids serve the food themselves.

They dress up in little hygiene get-ups and face mask and haul heavy pans and trays from the kitchen to their classroom. (A little girl even did it one-handed yesterday when she stopped to wave at me).
I’d watched videos of the bairns serving kyoshoku before, but honestly seeing it in the flesh for the first time – my mouth was actually hanging open. 

It teaches the kids many things – responsibility, health, nutrition, cleanliness, social skills, teamwork etc. The students also learn where their food comes from.
I didn’t exactly experience such morality lessons during my school lunches in the UK with my cheese sandwich and packet of Skips. 

In my elementary school I have to eat with the kids from the previous class I’ve been teaching, which is fine however when I try to get them to speak, I get stared at like I have three heads.
They particularly enjoy watching me fumble with my chopsticks, especially when it’s something a bit fiddly like picking the bones out of fish – so it can be a bit disconcerting to have 30-plus pairs of eyes on you when you’re trying to eat in peace.

Also in elementary school, nobody is allowed to eat until everyone is seated, ready and there is a deafening cry of “ITADAKIMASUUUU”.
Which is nice, but I’m always served first and by the time the bairns have finished fannying on and everyone has sat down – my food is usually lukewarm at best.

Thankfully at my junior high school, I just eat in the teacher’s lounge sitting beside my favourite JTE. No prying eyes and I can have a blissful hour’s chill. 

So far it’s been a MOSTLY winning streak of food – but saying that I haven’t had to have natto yet.

Which is pretty good going, especially because you are expected to finish every single morsel on your plate.
As for me – there are some days where I simply can’t face white rice again, so I’m allowed to politely decline it on my plate. It’s when the food is served and on your plate you’re expected to eat it.
You’ll see the rice is mostly missing from the photos below, but that’s also because it’s served in a separate container and I simply forget to show it with the other food!
(Which is why some of the meals look a little stingy – it’s my bad!)

(Sorry if TMI but in my fourth week of living in Japan my stomach was so bloated with all the rice, I didn’t have it for a whole week with my kyoshoku.
One of the homeroom teachers noticed and said she was worried that I wasn’t enjoying my school lunches – but I just explained about my poor bowels. The lucky woman.)

However my junior high school is very relaxed, and my JTE told me on my first day that I don’t have to eat it all for whatever reason. I haven’t had to leave anything yet, though!

The following photos are mostly from my junior high school as I’m not allowed to get my phone out in front of the kiddiwinks, obviously. 

And now – for the only lunch I haven’t enjoyed yet:

Also just in case you missed this from my last post, this was the special o-bento lunch we ordered for the Sports Festival.
This was a little more expensive, around ¥850, but it was pretty good!

Before I came to Japan I enjoyed watching this mini feature about the history of kyushoku from NHK, it’s nice and short and I do recommend giving it a watch:

– Carla