A Day in a Japanese Junior High School Teacher’s Office

As I approach the sixth month mark since arriving in Japan, I figure I should give you a little insight into what a typical day is like inside a junior high school teacher’s office in Japan. I teach at two different junior high schools. I’m grateful to have friendly and helpful teachers at both schools.

8:05 AM I pass my principle at the intersection outside the school. Every morning he plays crossing guard while waving a big flag to make sure 13-15 year olds cross a one lane street safely on a back road. This road gets maybe 15 cars a minute. This is more of a way to welcome students on their way to school than a safety precaution. Never the less, I think its pretty neat that school principles do this in Japan, as they have very little time to interact with students. Shortly after giving him the ole, “Ohayou gozaimasu!”, I pull up to school in style. Today, I am sporting a giant fur winter hat and a 24 gear all white bicycle that is sized for someone about 5 inches shorter than me. But I can’t complain because the bike was free, as it was left by my predecessor.

As for the hat, I notice two teacher’s standing afar off and chuckling to each other, while motioning their hands around their head in reaction to my new dome piece. They think I can’t see them. But I know they are just jealous that they cant experience the feel of plush genuine rabbit fur, lining their frozen cheeks with goose down insulating their bare heads.

Look at all that fur!

Look at all that fur!

8:10 AM I’m inside the teacher’s office now and I listen to the morning announcements given my both the vice principle and then by the principle. To me, it sounds a lot like a telephone conversation on a Charlie Brown cartoon; I don’t understand a thing. By now, I am used to being the last to know what’s going on. Interestingly, many other teacher’s continue to open desk drawers, crinkle bags, and read their email. I guess in Japan when your boss is addressing you, it’s okay not to give him/her your full attention.

8:40 AM Homeroom is over and the bell for first period rings. Luckily, I have this period off, and I use my time to plan a lesson for the next period. Today’s topic: ordering food and comparing McDonalds in Japan to the U.S.. I put together a quick power point highlighting the major differences, like how a large soda in Japan is just 1.5 more ounces than a small in the U.S..

9:40 AM Second period starts and I reveal to my students how McDonalds has been ripping them off their entire lives with tiny cups. I do however explain how nice it is that at McDonalds in Japan, sometimes the entire staff bows to you and excitingly say, “Irrashaimase!”. This means, “Welcome. Please take your time.” No country can beat Japan’s customer service.

10:30 AM Class ends and I return to my desk to grab some materials for my next class.

10:45 AM I return to the teacher’s office because nobody showed up to my class. I ask a Japanese English teacher where the students are. He tells me that there is no class because a few of the students have the flu. Information like this would have been nice to know earlier. I’m a little confused as to why the entire class was cancelled, but there are no English speaking teachers in the office at the moment.

11:00-12:30 PM Read the news, study Japanese, check email/facebook/instagram/anything else that distracts me from studying. Another teacher clips his finger nails over a trash can at his desk. After six months, it almost seems normal to hear the sound of clippers cutting away while in the office. It’s also common to hear hear teeth being brushed too. I would like to note that not all teachers agree with the practice of nail cutting and teeth brushing in the office.

12:30-1:00 PM Eat lunch. I’m surprised to see one of my favorite meals sitting on my lunch tray. It’s a huge bowl of yakisoba. This is essentially the Japanese version of chow mein. Today’s version is fried noodles with chicken, some vegetables, and a delicious sauce.

One of my favorite Japanese dishes, yakisoba.

One of my favorite Japanese dishes, yakisoba.

At lunch I sit with the other Japanese English teacher. I finally get an explanation why class was cancelled. It turns out that if a few kids have the flu, the ENTIRE class stays home until all the students feel better! So this means in the morning, before school starts, the teacher has to call every student’s house to tell them not to go to school. I’m told that these students must stay inside all day and study from home. I’m pretty sure if America had this rule, then kids would just rotate acting sick year round, and everyone would play outside everyday.

1:00-1:20 PM Lunch is winding down and I go to third year’s home room. (In Japan, students eat lunch in their home room class room.) I stick my head in the door and yell, “Basketball. Ikimashou!” (Basketball. Lets go!) We’re off to the gym for a little 3 vs. 3 action. I just started playing with them at lunch this week because it can get really boring in the office. I swear time stands still in there.

1:30-4:10 PM I have the entire afternoon off. No classes. No lesson planning. Nothing. I spend this time organizing my desk and finally filing a bunch of loose papers that I have accumulated. There is a five minute long meeting in the teacher’s office between periods. Again, I am clueless. Luckily, another teacher informs me that the announcement was made to let everyone know that tomorrow’s New Year’s party has been cancelled. I asked why, and he said it’s because one teacher has the flu and they don’t want it to spread to everyone at the party. WHAT?!

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this logic. I understand that Japan is very much focussed on “the group,” and they would never want to  exclude a group member from anything. But canceling a whole party on account for one person seems a little too much. This is just another example of how fearful many Japanese are when it comes to catching the flu.

I’m able to kill about 30 minutes in the break room by talking with the Japanese English teacher over some coffee. His class has the flu too, so he is in the same boat as me with in not having anything to do. However, once we finished our coffee, we return to our desks to make it look like we are working away very busily. After all, this is traditional Japanese manner. You must always look like you are busy. It’s all about saving face over here.

It’s 4:10 and time to go home, but something feels odd. It’s probably because the entire staff room is empty. On my way out, I see through the window that all the teachers are having a meeting in the conference room. It definitely feels a little awkward walking past this meeting. I wonder what they’re talking about? Maybe what to do with the two classes that can’t go to school, or when to reschedule the party, or how to more effectively use me. I doubt the latter.

I hope you enjoyed a day inside a Japanese junior high school teacher’s office. This was a particularly slow day. I usually have around three classes. But today, it was just one. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

10 thoughts on “A Day in a Japanese Junior High School Teacher’s Office

  1. Stephen, I love reading about your adventures in Japan. You’ll have some wonderful conversation topics, and memories when you get back to the USA. Enjoy
    Ellen Bradford -Member CSChurch-Hingham

  2. With too many slow days in your Japanese school setting, you may have a rough transition to an American school:-) Do you think that Japanese teachers are less stressed overall or is the demand there as great on teachers as it is here? In my experience, high quality American private/independent schools are high-demand environments between the required academic rigor, parental expectations, generally high standards, etc. Hard to imagine entire classes missing class time for a few illnesses–just seems inconsistent with using time well. I enjoy reading about your experiences. Thanks.

    • Hi Ann!
      Teaching in Japan is high demand for most teachers. But it’s never too stressful for me. Over here, teachers also play the parent role even more so than in the US. For example, one time a teacher stopped his car to get out and tell a student to put a helmet on when he rides his bike. This was on a Sunday too. Teachers also go to school on Saturday, and during the summer. Overall, they are more respected than in the US.

  3. Thanks for your reply. It is good to hear that teaching is a valued and respected profession in Japan, as it should be. Your experience will strengthen you as an educator wherever you may land. Best wishes for continued learning and teaching!

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  6. hahaha . thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. i really enjoyed your writing. Fortunately, i am also working as an ALT in JHS. I am going through the same situation. i am reading your blogs in my free time and bursting into laughter. you made my day.

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