...of an ALT in Japan.
I honestly cannot recall a time in my life that was routine as it is now. I get up the same time everyday. I get home the same time everyday. Because I go between three different elementary schools, I do get a nice change of scenery each day.
I am just so struck by how normal my life is now. I just graduated from five years of insane schedules. I do miss college. But I have to say; I do not miss the schedule of a music major with three part time jobs. This is the first scheduled breathing time I have had since…a long time. And I am loving it.
I really can’t believe how fortunate Karl and I are to have had this opportunity of moving to Japan to teach English. Our jobs are excellent. Last Autumn was a challenge with my former job. Working from two to ten five days a week (including every Friday and Saturday) with a two to four hour commute was not so great. In fact, it was horrible. Karl and I never had enough time together as we were working opposite shifts plus my working on Saturdays. But those days are past.
Working in Japanese Elementary schools is really an interesting experience. Let me take you through a day.
So we live in 小川町(Ogawa Machi) and I work in 寄居(Yorii). 寄居 is about a fifteen minute train ride away. Not so bad. Because of the train schedule I make it to work very early. Usually twenty to thirty minutes early. I don’t have a choice in this matter as the next train would get me there late. Being late in my world, and in Japan, is unacceptable. I love punctuality, so this works out fine. It also really impresses my Japanese co-workers.
I am typically scheduled to teach three-five classes a day. During the class periods for which I am not scheduled to teach, I usually study Japanese. This also impresses my Japanese co-workers. They understand how difficult their language is for those learning it. They understand because English is just as difficult for them to learn.
My Japanese is not great yet. So my days are chock full of gesturing, bad English and bad Japanese. But we can communicate. And I am learning new Japanese everyday.
I teach first through sixth graders. The tiny first and second graders are so cute. I mean to say it is absurd how cute these kids are. It is all I can do to keep myself from sticking them in my pocket and taking them home.
The older kids are fun too. We have lots of fun in class playing games to learn. The English I am meant to teach is primarily simple question sentences and vocabulary. So I basically just play games with kids during class, depending on the teacher. Some Japanese teachers are very involved and co-teach, and others take me as a break to get other things done. I am cool with either.
Part of the deal as an ALT (assistant language teacher) is that I am required to eat lunch with the students each day. Sometimes the kids are very talkative and we learn from each other while we eat. Others as totally silent. I am the only real-life foreign person some of these kids have ever seen so I guess they have a right to be shy.
Lunch usually consists of a soup of rice or a pack of noodles (ramen or udon), a salad (usually cabbage, cucumber, carrots, and corn), soup (the soup totally varies every day), and some type of protein (fish, eggs, tofu, pork dumplings). Oh, plus a little carton of milk. My stomach and I are getting used to the Japanese portion sizes. And by Japanese portion sizes I mean small. It’s alright for me; my stomach is getting a bit smaller but I am certainly not becoming malnourished. I do feel bad for Karl though. The man is always hungry. I do not exaggerate.
Also, lunch time 給食 (kyushoku), is served in the class room. Japanese schools do not have cafeterias. The students all put on there little safety masks, chef hats and shirts and each one performs their specific duty in setting up for lunch and serving it. The food is delivered to the school each day in containers marked for each class with extremely specific amounts of food. The students push their desk together in groups to create tables. They then pull out their own place mats, chop sticks and cups with toothbrushes. (Dental hygiene is really being encouraged in Japan.)
Before sitting down to eat, one or two students stand at the front of the room and say いっただきます(ittadakimasu), which basically means, “Thank you for the food.” At the end of 給食, the same students conclude lunchtime by saying ごちそさま(gochisosama). Which basically means the same as いっただきます.
After lunch comes cleaning time. The students all have a pre-designated area they are to clean for fifteen or twenty minutes. But it’s not just the students who clean. All of the teachers clean, even the 好著先生(koucho sensei-principal) and 京都先生(kyouto sensei-vice principal) clean. Everything is always group oriented. All the time.
Also, at the beginning and end of each day, the principal, vice-principal, and other teachers meet and send off the students by the gates of the school. The students form groups in relation to their neighborhoods. Each group is led by one or two older students with a cross-walk flag. Everything is extremely organized.
I leave school right at four so as to catch my train home. I get home about quarter to five everyday and make dinner, throw in laundry and wash dishes. Karl gets home about five thirty and finishes the laundry I started. We eat, watch TV or movies, read, and go to bed. It is so routine. I am still getting used to having such a normal schedule. I am not complaining though.
I am very thankful for such a wonderful life.