At least one day per week will begin with a Staff Meeting. This is the time when teachers make announcements to each other. After school begins, there will be about 5 or 10 minutes before your first class. In some schools this time is designated as homeroom or ST (Short Time) when the homeroom teachers make announcements to the students. There are usually four 50-minute classes in the morning with 10-minute breaks between, then lunch, and then two more classes in the afternoon. Here is an example of a school timetable; yours will probably be similar.
|11:55-12:45||4th Period (Break is longer for snack time)|
NOTE: Some schools in the prefecture have switched to a 7-period day on some days or every day. Each class is 45 minutes long, so timings are a little different.
The school year begins in April with lots of ceremonies to welcome new students and teachers. The first term runs from early April through June, with tests in late June or early July. After tests there are supplementary classes. The summer break is from mid-July to the end of August. Your school may or may not have “Study Days” on Saturdays throughout each term. Don’t worry; you shouldn’t have to attend these.
The second term is from September to November. Testing takes place at the beginning of December. The winter break is the last week or so of December to the first week of January.
The third term is quite short, from mid-January through February, with tests in the first week of March. After this there is Graduation. Also, at the end of this term, teachers get transferred from school to school.
Again, some schools have changed to a new system. The holidays are essentially the same, but they have switched to a longer 2 term system. This may affect the times when you are free during the summer and spring breaks.
Additionally, some schools will have extra classes after testing has finished. You may or may not be required to teach during this time.
STAFF ROOM SURVIVAL
Here are a few tips to help you reduce the stress of your first month or so of school. These tips will also help you to get to know the teachers at your school (both JTEs and others):
Never assume that your classes will be at the scheduled time – they are often moved for one reason or another. Never assume that you will have the full 50 minutes to teach. Shortened classes are common and many JTEs are slow to get moving when the bell rings. Finally and most importantly, you must never assume that someone will tell you what is going on. You are most likely told in the morning meeting (in Japanese) and it is your responsibility to ask someone if there is anything you need to know. We suggest that you become friends with someone in your office. The office lady is one of the best people to know as she knows about all meetings and events. However, one of your English teachers will do.
Talk to all the teachers who want to talk to you, even if you only know a few words of Japanese, and their English doesn’t seem to be any better. Often they will know more English than they will let on, so it doesn’t hurt to push them a little to see how good their English is. Also, using all the Japanese that you know – no matter how limited – shows them that you are trying to be friendly. The more comfortable your teachers are talking to you (in either language) the more likely they are to tell you about events before they happen.
Ask one of your JTEs to give you a copy of the yearly schedule, the staff room seating plan, and your weekly teaching schedule. Have them translate any important events on the calendar; noting things like test days, sports days, and days you will not be teaching. Also have them translate the names on the seating plan or better yet do it yourself by asking each teacher. This is a good chance to meet everyone and note who teaches which subject. Your class schedule will tell you when and where your classes are and who you will be teaching with. Keep all these things on your desk. Your desk will also tend to pile up with paper with complicated kanji on them. These usually inform you about sports day schedules, enkais, and other important events. Go through it occasionally with a JTE to sort out what applies to you.
Get into the habit of checking the whiteboard every morning. There is a chart that shows you which classes have been moved that day. If you see your name (usually in katakana) on it you have classes that have been moved. If you have trouble reading the board, ask a JTE to help you. The whiteboard will also tell you about time changes (shortened classes), special ceremonies taking place, and which teachers are on leave.
Ask questions. If you do not ask questions they will assume that you understand. Asking questions, no matter how difficult it is to get a straight answer, will save you from embarrassing situations and plenty of frustration. Also try to attend some of the enkais. Enkais are one of the few times that you will get to see your teachers in a social setting. This is where you can begin to get to know some of the teachers that you don’t talk to on a daily basis.
Once you get to know your way around the office you will find working at a high school is quite enjoyable. Also, remember that not every school runs the same way. All of the above advice is based upon our experiences and is a general description of a high school. The best advice we can give that will apply to everyone is to relax and keep your sense of humour.