My Schools in Japan

Hello!  Long time no read.  I have gotten some requests on what I should talk about, so I will be posting information about those once I have written out an outline for them.  For now, I thought I would tackle the easiest request first, and that is, what is my schedule like?  It won’t be exactly the same every school year, but the premise of it will still be the same.  Also, I should probably explain a bit about the Japanese school system before I get into my schedule, to help you better understand.


I teach at high school level schools.  I have two schools.  Currently, I work 5 days a week, with Wednesday being my visit school day at my low level school.  My base school is high academic.  The only real difference, apart from the distance, is lesson planning and requirements.  Other than that, it is basically the same.


All JETs work at public schools.  Public schools are technically funded by the government, but only with some things.  Everything else is paid for via student tuition.  For students, high school is optional.  However, once they enter into a school, they are not allowed to transfer or drop out.  They can never come back or go to another school.  Students also are responsible for paying tuition.  Parents usually pay it, but at lower level schools, the students sometimes work to pay for their own tuition.  The tuition is cheaper than you would expect, so students working a part time job are easily able to afford it themselves.  It is not as cruel as it sounds.  Public schools (or commercial schools) all have a standard which the board of education sets.  All schools are required to have these standards met.  These standards are mostly regarding entrance exams.  There are entrance exams for high school, and college.  Every public high school has the same exam.  What qualifies students to enter into one school over another is simply the score requirements of a particular school.  There isn’t a standard for each school.  The standard is determined after all the students have taken their entrance exams, and after their exams have been graded.  Actually, last week I spent 2 days of overtime grading the English essays from those very exams, not once, but four times.  Four!  I get two times, but not four!  There were hundreds of exams.  Hundreds!  Anyway, back on topic.  Right now, the teachers are looking at the scores from all the students, and deciding what the minimum total score must be to enter this high school.  Now, if they were like colleges, the minimum would have already been determined and if you didn’t make it, then you didn’t make it.  But at high schools, they have a quota that needs to be filled, as well as a reputation, and they have to determine which one is more important.  So as you can imagine, there is a lot of fighting going on right now.  I do not have to be involved in such things as I am only an assistant teacher.


Colleges also have these exams, but there are 3 major differences: 1) they are much more expensive, 2) each exam is designed by the individual universities themselves, and 3) the standard has already been decided, so you either pass or you don’t.


SIDE NOTE: The difference between private schools and public schools in Japan is that one is government funded, and the other is student funded.  Public schools are also higher academically than private schools.  There is a negative stigma with a private school.


Unlike the United States, high schools have an academic focus.  Meaning, if you want to go into business, then you go to a business high school.  If you want to go into nursing, you go to a medical high school.  They all have standards, but if it does not relate to their field of study, then they don’t study it.  For example, if you are wanting to be a business man, you don’t need to take chemistry.  How is that going to help you run a business in the future?  My base school is business focused, so much of what they learn is bookkeeping and have classes on how to wear a suit (Why?  IDK) and my visit school is more of a vocational school. (They don’t expect their students to go into college.  It is kind of sad.)


I am sure there is much more to explain but this is my basic understanding of how things work.  So, if I have gotten anything incorrect, please kindly advise me in the guestbook section of the website, or send me feedback.


The schools in Japan follow the Prussian school year systems.  A school year starts in the second or first week of April, and finishes during the middle of March.  There are 3 terms instead of 2, so I can’t really call them semesters as semi means half.  Let’s call them trimesters. The first trimester goes from April until July.  Then they have a summer vacation that lasts for about a month, and they start back up again from August/September until December.  Their winter vacation usually starts after Christmas, as New Year’s is a much bigger holiday here.  Much like how Thanksgiving is in the US.  The third Trimester then begins in January, and ends in March.  There are other national holidays, of course, at least once a month there is a holiday.  Japan has the happy Monday system, but that mostly affects trash day, post offices, banks, and other small businesses.  Not so much schools or companies. (Happy Monday system is giving a 3 day weekend every month).  Very rarely do Japanese holidays coincide with American holidays.


I didn’t start working in Japan until August 3rd, so I came in during their summer vacation, not knowing it was summer vacation, expecting to start teaching within the week.  Nope.  I had the entire month to myself.  Also, it was a bit odd starting in the middle of the school year, but it mellowed out after about 4 months.


On a final note, there are 6 years of elementary school, 3 years of junior high school, and 3 years of high school.  So when you see me referring to 1 year students or 3 year students, just think in your mind 10th and 12th graders.


Ok, now that you understand somewhat how the schools work, now on to my schedule.  On any typical week, I have anywhere from 3-4 classes a day.  I teach a total of 17 classes per week.  My main focus year was first year students.  Next year there has been some debate about me teaching all the first years and third years, but I don’t know my new schedule yet, so I will just focus on what it was like last school year.


My school is huge.  Almost 1000 students.  Each class has 39-41 students.  There are 8 classes in total for each grade.  For example, every Monday, I taught first year’s class 1 and first year’s class 5.  I would see each class once a week.  I also saw the first 3 classes of the third year students, however, those were split up into 5 smaller classes because of their target focus.  Each of those classes had specific English they were learning.  Those classes ranged from 16-32 students.  I tended to like those classes better because they had a stronger desire to learn English than the other classes.  I taught with a total of 7 different English teachers.  With the exception of one teacher, I taught with each one twice a week.


On Wednesday, when I went to my visit school, I taught 4 classes.  That school is significantly smaller than my base school and also significantly less strict and military like.  I basically called the first years there, the crazy classes.  There is one in particular that makes you question your sanity if being a teacher.  Every day, there are students in trouble from that class.  There was one glorious day, when 7 rowdy boys were in the principal’s office all at the same time and that class was glorious.  The most peaceful lesson I ever had. 


That class has a few hundred students, so each grade is split into class A and class B.  Each class has 35-41 students.  I taught all the first years, and high academic second years (that class had 9 students) and a specialty class of the third years (16 students).  I feel a little guilty for saying it, but the third year class was my favorite class this year.  They really enjoyed my classes and really took advantage of asking me questions and using English.  They threw me 2 parties.  One was a surprise party, and one was a pizza party because they knew of my love of pizza.  They all wrote me letters on my first day and I wrote them back.  Then they gave me soo many snacks and sweets on my last class with them and gave me a good bye photo frame. So cute! Kawaii ^^!


At my visit school, I teach with only two teachers.  Unlike my base school, where almost everyone knows English pretty well, my visit school has just 3 people that speak English.  And even those people who know English, will speak to me in Japanese more often than not.  When I first arrive, they are using English like crazy, telling me about their week, their plans, and the weather, then after they have gotten that out of the way, they just use Japanese.  At the end of the day when they are driving me to bus stop, we use Japanglish, which is basically just speaking bilingually.  Using only certain phrases or words in one language over the other.  I could go into why we do this, but it would take too long to explain.  If you are interested in bilingualism then I recommend you research some scholarly articles.  It is quite fascinating.


I almost forgot about times!  Silly me.  My working hours are 8:25-4:10 Mon-Fri.  I usually arrive 10 minutes early and leave 5 minutes late.  It just ends up that way.  The teachers here don’t end their day until 4:55.  Depending upon the time of year, they will actually kick the teachers out and make them go home.  Half of the year they stay ridiculously late, and the other half they make them leave right at 4:55pm.  At 8:25am, they have a staff meeting where they talk about the schedule for the week and other things to remind their students, and other various things that are important for the day.  Then at 8:30 each grade has a meeting.  Meaning, all the teachers of first grade will meet and all the teachers of second grade will meet, and discuss specifics for that particular grade.  I just kind of sit there, trying my best to comprehend everything.  Also at 8:30, they play the school’s song over the loud speakers.  Not sure why though.  At 8:35 they have 10 minute home room, then break, then begin the lessons from 8:50.  Every 50 minutes there is a class with 10 minutes of a break in between.  There is lunch from 12:40-1:25 then resumes the lessons in the same format.  With the exception of Tuesday, they have 6 lessons a day.  After school, there is a 15 minute cleaning time, in which all the students clean the school while the teachers watch and yell at them for doing things wrong. 


That is basically it!  Remember to leave your suggestions in the guestbook of other things you wish to know.