Some of you may already know about education in Japan, while others could be like me, kind of clueless. I arrived with a hazy understanding of high school in Japan.
In Japan, students are highly tracked and high schools are specialized (vocational, arts, academic, agricultural, etc.). For entrance into public middle and high schools, students need to take an entrance examination. High school is not compulsory, but about 94% of students attend high school. Since schools are specialized and testing is required to attend, my students come from all over the prefecture. We are a highly academic high school, many of my students are trying to get in the top universities in Japan. Therefore, it can be intense.
The teachers in Japan also take on much more roles and responsibilities than in America. The Homeroom teachers often act in a parental role. The teachers all oversee club and cleaning activities. At my school, I think most of them work almost every single day day of the week with normal working hours from about 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
High school is three years, year-round, six days a week, and broken up into three terms. (I usually do not have to work on Saturdays even though there is school, unless I have third-year essays to grade or there is a debate/speech competition or practice.) There are many public holidays in Japan, but very few actual school breaks.
First term: April – July
Second term: August – December
Third Term: January – March
For the few weeks in between terms, my students have a special session, which essentially means that they still come to school everyday in their uniform and have club activities. All of the students belong to 1-2 clubs at school. We have everything from Kendo, Kyudo, Judo, Brass Band, Broadcasting Club, English Club, Soccer, Basketball, Baseball, Table Tennis, Badminton, Dance, etc.
Our school schedule looks like this:
8:25 a.m. – Homeroom
8:40 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – 1st period
9:40 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. – 2nd period
10:40 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – 3rd period
11:45 a.m. – 12:35 p.m. – 4th period
12:35 p.m. – 1:10 p.m. – Lunch
1:10 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. – 5th period
2:10 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. – 6th period
3:10 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – 7th period
4:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. – Cleaning time
4:15 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Homeroom
4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. – Club activities
The students stay in their Homeroom classroom, while the teachers rotate. We all have our desks in one large teachers’ room.
Although I have ten Japanese Teachers of English (JTE’s) and I am considered the Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), I mainly lead teach my classes. I have seventeen 50-minute classes each week: an Oral Communicates class for all of the first-years (ichinensei) and a Reading/Writing class for the second-years (ninensei).
It breaks down to seven first-year classes and seven second-year classes, each with 40 students. I also teach a special Humanities class, and two research classes with two second-year literature track classes, meaning I see 600 students each week.
Once a month, I grade 280 third-year (sannensei) essays to prepare them for their university entrance exams.
I assist with the English Speaking Society (English Club) once a week. In the Fall, I also coached recitation and worked on a debate committee.
It was very overwhelming for me in the beginning (and still is a lot of days). Do I know their names? NO. In addition to the sheer number of students, I also do all of the first-year lesson planning. If you are a teacher, you KNOW how long it can take to plan a good lesson. Thus, I’ve had some bad days.
The JET Programme’s favorite phrase is EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT. In my prefecture, most ALTs have a lighter load. However, some do more than me.
The highlight for me is my English Club students. I really love my tiny English Club. We are going to karaoke this afternoon. Whoa, fun!
END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR///
We just finished up the end of the school-year in Japan. It is bonkers in March!
March 4 was graduation. There was a big party at night for all of the teachers. SUSHI.
Graduation was followed by a special school session though, and club activities were still going strong, so nothing really changed for first and second years. And I was grading new exams.
March 12 and 13 was the high school entrance exam test. This was when junior high students came to our school for two days of intensive testing. One teacher told me that this will be the most important test of their lives because they can only take one exam at one school. If they do not get in, they have no high school to attend, unless they go to a private high school which is very expensive. WHUT.
March 18 the results of the exam were posted outside the school, precisely at 12:35 p.m.
March 22 was Closing Ceremony. The teachers also found out if they had to move to a new school. In Japan, teachers work for the prefecture and are moved around every 1-10 years. All of the teachers whom I was very close to were transferred. I cried at school. I cried on my bike ride home. I cried on the train to yoga. I didn’t realize what an emotional afternoon it would be!
The teachers tell me that April is INSANE. The teachers who are leaving have one-week to wrap up and move to a new school and start teaching. While I will be on…..
Next week is a one-week “break” where the students do not have classes, but they still have club activities. Teachers are also still working. ALT’s (JET Programme Assistant Language Teachers) usually use nenkyu (vacation time) to travel since we are not teaching and this is a rare opportunity to take a break from school before April-madness begins.
Tomorrow I will leave for some Japan traveling: Osaka-Nara-Kyoto in a week! Be back with vacation photos.