A Thursday: Elementary School

07/02/2008

Thursdays are a special day for me, which combine the best and worst of the week into a pill that is hard to swallow but usually ends up tasting good going down. This is a Thursday from the second half of my year, since my schedule changed significantly after the beginning of the new school year in April. My role at Kamioka Elementary school has changed dramatically with the beginning of the new school year as well.

In the previous school year I was responsible for planning all English lessons for the entire school, as well as creating the materials, but this year the home room teachers are preparing their own lessons, sort of. Basically that means that so far we are teaching identical lessons to all grades from 1st through 6th, and the students have so far only studied vegetables and fruits.

These things happen.

8:15 - Arrive at school

The school day begins at 8:15, or at least it begins at 8:15 for the noble Assistant Language Teacher. I arrive at the elementary school, switch to a pair of indoor shoes, and walk up to the second floor where the staff room is located. I go inside, share a merry "Ohayou Gozaimasu" with the teachers in the room, and look at the whiteboard searching for the magical segment that shows where I'll actually be teaching for that day.

Which is to say, that, no I don't know where I'll be teaching until I walk into school that day. I used to be more proactive about tracking down and extracting these secretive details from staff and teachers, but--coinciding with my new reduced role for the planning side--I haven't felt like bringing my interrogation toolkit with me to school recently.

8:25 - First period begins

The class period begins with sitting in the staff room and waiting for children to come and ask for you to come to class. This isn't because its hard to remember where the classrooms are--it isn't--but because thats how it is done. Heading to class without waiting for the kids to come get you will fluster some teachers, so it usually ends up being easier to simply wait. Of course, sometimes the kids won't come and get you. At which point you are encouraged to ask someone what is going on, which will usually start a chain of events that will lead to the kids coming to get you, unless they have forgotten that they have English class and already started fingerpainting.

All the lessons follow roughly the same format, you'll be excited to know.

  1. Each lesson begins with a quasi-sensical greeting ritual that goes something like this:

    • Me: Good morning.
    • Students: Good morning... Will... Teacher?
    • Me: How are you?
    • Students: How are yo... confusion I'm fine.
    • Homeroom Teacher: loud whisper And you?
    • Students: ...and you?
    • Me: Fine, thank you.
  2. Then the song and dance portion of the lesson begins. Which, for this entire year, entails singing and dancing Do Rae Mi. Its actually kind of fun, except for one problem: sometimes classes use their own version of the dance, which I inevitably wil not know, but which I will still be expected to lead. Oh well. Be asked to make a fool of oneself is part of the job.

  3. Introduce or review the topical flashcards. Which is to say, the same vegetables or fruits they have been studying for months.

  4. Chant, with a repetitive rhythm tape in the background to serve as a metronome, the flashcards with the students.

    Peach. Peach. Peach. Peach. Apple. Apple. Apple. Apple. Pear. ...

  5. Introduce and explain the main activity of the day. This is usually going to be an interview game, bingo, karuta, or something similar.

  6. Have students share their feelings about the lesson (in Japanese). ("I thought everyone spoke in loud voices, which was good." or "I thought Kato and Ken had big smiles and seemed very happy.")

9:15 - Period one ends, the day continues

After period one ends, there is a five minute break and then another identical lesson is taught. Then there is a twenty five minute break, and another two identical lessons are taught. I haven't had any free periods at the elementary school this school year, so its always a full morning.

12:00 - Lunch

I eat lunch in the teacher's room as well, with the teachers who are not assigned to a home room. Its the same delicious1 school lunch I eat every day of the week, and the conversation is usually fairly lively at the lunch table.

12:30 - Go home, for a bit

Around 12:30, I go back to my apartment, which is between the elementary and middle schools, to actually enjoy my hypothetical hour break in the school day where I (less hypothetically) don't get paid for being there.

1:45 - Arrive at middle school

Then I return to the middle school. They don't do school cleaning on Thursdays, so I am able to have a slightly longer break than would otherwise me possible.

1:55 - Period five at middle school

During this period I assist teaching one of the first year classes with two other English teachers. A bit of a crowded classroom, but okay kids.

2:55 - Period six at middle school

Typically I don't have a class scheduled during this period, although the schedule changes pretty much every single week.

4:15 - Go home.

I head home around 4:15. I usually eat a quick snack, work on some projects, and then put together dinner. This is what we typically call freetime.

7:30 - Play basketball

I play basketball pretty much every week with a group of local Japanese guys. The average age might be around twenty seven, but its definitely the most fun human interaction I get some weeks. They're just real people playing basketball for a couple of hours once a week.

Since its gotten hotter the numbers of players has fallen a bit, but during the winter there were usually ten or twelve players. These days its usually closer to seven or eight. Ah well. Its the best two hundred yen I spend each week.

9:30 - Go home, shower, go to bed.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but at this point I go home, take a quick shower, eat something light, and go to bed. Well, I go to futon if you want to be technical about it, but I think its fairly comfortable.

And so ends my typical Thursday.


  1. Really, its kind of good. I mean, sometimes its very dull and unenjoyable, but its usually decent, and rarely quite good. You'd probably be an unhappy camper if you were a picky eater though, since vegetarians are quite rare here (which means they but scraps of meat into everything, but rarely a substantial quantity), and some of the food is a bit weird (fermented soybeans, etc).

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