ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LIFE
Dozens of young and very genki (outgoing) Japanese children are running toward you. They scream “Hello!” and ask you questions in Japanese so fast that the speed can compete with the shinkansen. When they realize you might not understand, they grab on to your arms and jump up and down until…
Welcome to elementary school!
If you are a junior high school ALT, you will most likely be teaching at a base junior high school and several elementary schools. The amount of time you spend at elementary school depends on your Board of Education, and your schedule could change mid-year. The Japanese government is putting extra emphasis on teaching English at elementary school, so it is becoming more imperative that schools have an ALT to help facilitate lessons.
Elementary school can be fun because more likely than not, the students are very eager to learn English. But it is also extremely demanding work. Be prepared to use all of your stored energy to play games, jump up and down like a crab (yep, had to do that) and sing the “Hello Song” hundreds of times.
The schedule at your school(s) will depend on many things, such as teachers, school size etc. All classes are about 50 minutes long, but when there is a special event or teachers’ meeting, they might be shortened. The school year starts in April and ends in March with a summer break starting at the end of July and running through to the end of August. Below is a typical schedule for a medium sized school:
8:15 Students come to school and do 15 minutes of compulsory exercises outside on the playing field or in the gym. Most teachers supervise or participate. This is not compulsory for you although your kids would probably enjoy it if you joined in.
8:30 Teachers’ Meeting. This takes place in the staff room. If you have anything that you need to say you need to raise your hand and wait to be called on. Only do this if all teachers need to hear it.
8:45 Class one (ichi jikan me) – Teachers do a role call and go over the schedule for the day. There may be problems if you are meant to teach first period, as your class will almost certainly begin late, but if you talk to your liaison at the school you can usually find a way to sort it out.
9:30 – 9:35 Break
9:35 – 10:20 Class two (ni jikan me)
10:20 – 10:40 Mid morning break. This can be a good opportunity to join in any sports that are taking place in the gym, or to do prep.
11:25 – 11:30 Break
12:15 – 12:30 Lunch prep – selected students prepare the lunchroom.
12:30 – 1:00 Lunch time (finishing words are “Gochisou sama deshita”).
1:00 – 1:30 Play time (again a good chance to either do prep or to play/chat with the students).
1:30 – 1:45 School cleaning time – all students are given an area of the school to clean. This changes monthly. This is a good time to do prep. Note: You’re free to grab a broom and help out, but this is NOT a time for you to go out and chat with the students. Cleaning time is required and treated like class. It is NOT recess for students.
1:45 – 1:50 Break
1:50 – 2:35 Class five (go jikan me)
2:35 – 2:40 Break
2:40 – 3:25 Class six (roku jikan me) – The last class of the day.
3:25 – 3:30 End of day check out with homeroom teachers
3:45 – 4:15 Clubs on club days. Elementary schools usually hold clubs just one day a week. It is not compulsory for you to join in, but it is a lot of fun and will be most appreciated if you do. Otherwise this time can be used as prep time, or you can go home (depending on the school).
– Years 1 and 2 finish early, either before or after class 5.
– If you find yourself teaching six classes a day every time you go, you can speak up and get this changed. No teacher teaches 6 classes a day. If the school is really big (700+) they may know how hard this is for you but really appreciate that you do. But if it is a problem speak up or get your JTE to talk to them.
– If you teach at Kindergarten then be aware that this is a separate entity from elementary schools and thus has a different budget and schedule (school ends immediately after lunch).
– When teaching fifth and sixth graders, you will be following the textbook “Hi, Friends.” It features the same content as the previous textbook issued by MEXT but with updated and altered images and activities. It’s not the most exciting and can be a bit random, but flip through the pages to get acquainted with it.
– If the regular teacher is skipping off to do other work during your lessons and you need them for translations or just general class control, then demand that they are present. This is not a break for them and they know it, although some do need to be told. Keep in mind that if an accident or emergency occurs in class, you have not been trained on how to handle the situation according to the school’s set standard procedure. This means that a proper Japanese teacher should/must be present in the case that such an event occurs requiring immediate attention.
– You will often be a Japanese student’s first introduction to English, so always keep this in the back of your mind and strive to leave a good impression so the student continues his/her interest in English.
- Find out who your elementary school liaison (tantousha) is. They are responsible for seeing that your instructions for the rest of the teachers are passed on and any supplies you need are ready. If things aren’t ready then be sure to talk to them about it.
- If you teach at multiple elementary schools (most ALTs do), you will be doing your jiko shokai (self-introduction) several, several times. Always be prepared with pictures from your hometown, a map of your country and other visuals.
- Gesture is your best friend. A lot of elementary students don’t have English on a regular basis (though this is slowly changing), so remember to use gestures as much as possible when explaining ANYTHING.
- Keep games simple. If you are lucky and can create your own lesson plans, remember to keep games as simple as possible.
- If none of the teachers speak passable English, check to see if the school computer has a translation program, make sure you take a translation dictionary and ask your JTE to translate any written requests.
- Check out the page about the Staff Room Board in this book, as this also applies to you.
- Ask the liaison and /or your JTE for a schedule of the classes you are going to teach for the semester. This is decided ahead of time and so should not be a problem.
- If the regular teacher is skipping off to do other work during your lessons and you need them for translations or just general class control, then demand that they are present. This is not a break for them and they know it, although some do need to be told.
- If you have any special needs students in your classes then they will usually have an aide that will accompany them to class. Occasionally you can enlist this teacher to help in class too, but their primary attention will be on their student.
- In addition to this section, please read the Junior and Senior High School pages in this book, because some of the information will apply to you.
- Be prepared to have fun and take bundles of energy with you. And definitely check out the Genki English Website (www.genkienglish.com), which is packed with ideas and shared experiences. The AJET publication Planet Eigo is also useful as it includes elementary school lesson plans in both English and Japanese.