I’ve had some friends tell me, “You never put pictures up on your blog. Put some up!” I have my reasons, one mainly is consent. It’s hard to ask someone if I could include a picture of them in my blog. Especially if that blog was in a language totally foreign to them. Two years ago, I had a story of mines translated on a Japanese news site. I didn’t give my consent to the translation and upon reading the story it had taken an unintentional slant, which wasn’t included in my original piece. In order to keep things as real as possible on my blog, I refrain from including too much personal information about anyone but myself or friends who might be reading.
Another reason why I don’t include many pictures is because it could put my job in jeopardy. As you may already tell, I only mention general place names. And I never mention the names of my schools. This is something I have respected at the request of my employer. I need to have food on the table every night, right?
Besides these things, I still want to make things a little more visual on here. So the idea of this post came along: A Day in the Life of an ALT. Unfortunately, there will be no actual pictures of my schools. No pictures of cute, genki kids. No pictures of me actually teaching. But there will be some photos, of what I don’t really know yet…Let’s begin.
The morning sun pulls me out of dreamworld around six. I am fully back in reality when my alarm goes off. Somedays I hop off the bed and hit the ground running (the days I oversleep). Most other days it’s a long tape on playback in my mind: “You have a good two hours before you have to leave for work. Stay in dream land a little while longer.” I turn on the heat and sit up in my bed, close my eyes, and begin meditating.
Fifteen minutes later I open my eyes up and smile. The day is already mine.
Next is the usual. Brush teeth, make breakfast, etc. Although it only takes about fifteen minutes or so to eat, I use this time to gather my inspiration for the day. This usually involves watching motivating videos and reading an inspiring quote. Motivation is a habit, and inspiration can help in keeping one consistently motivated. I took this idea of carving out time in the day to inspire yourself from a Prep alum. This daily ritual has kept me going in the toughest of times. Sometimes this morning ritual gets intense. I’ll be watching a very moving video while self-visualizing my future, more accomplished self on a talk show interview. Suddenly a rush of emotions enters my stomach and travels up to my heart. I try to hold it back but those emotions rush forth and burst out of my tear ducts. Not tears of sadness, but happy tears. This is how it must feel to make it.
After pulling myself together I throw on a few tunes and put together something for work. At 7:55 I’m out.
I live fairly close to my schools: between 10-15 minutes in different directions. Just far enough that it would be somewhat of a challenge to bike it in a suit and tie. I’d be drenched in sweat before first period. So I hop into my neon light blue Suzuki WagonR box car. For the first time in my life, I don’t commute with the rush. It makes sense, seeing that the parents of my students are most likely commuting out of the neighborhood to work. I, on the other hand, remain in the general vicinity. I’m grateful for this, all those days I’ve spent stressed out in bumper-to-bumper traffic going to college and work. I finally have one less thing to worry about.
I arrive at school somewhere between 8:05-8:10. I make my way to the teacher’s room, saying hello to any kid I pass. When I arrive at the teacher’s room I let out a big and genki, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” to whoever is present. Everyone replies in near unison. Some even giving their best attempts at “good morning” in English. Usually around this time, the teacher’s room is fairly empty. Just the vice principal, tea lady, and substitutes. Japanese schools (and workplaces in general) are structured differently than American ones. Every teacher and staff member has a desk in the teacher’s room. The principal, vice principal and other higher ups share one really long desk on one side of the room. The principal also has a separate, private office connected to or nearby this room. But the principal’s office is really only used for hosting visitors and private meetings. Pictures of unsmiling older men dating back to the founding of the school line its walls. I assume they were former principals/schoolmasters. Depending on the school, my desk is usually grouped near other non-teaching staff (nurses, tea lady, secretary, etc.) since I’m technically not a certified teacher in Japan. At my junior high my desk is with the other third grade teachers. (There are three grades in junior high)
If I run into the head English teacher between my arrival and first period, she or he will go over today’s schedule just to make sure there’s no confusion between what she sent to the company and what got to me. In junior high especially, classes are always switching around. I may not know what’s going on before heading into the classroom. Once everything is good to go, I make my final preparations, put on a big smile, and step out to my first class. Smiling can make the difference between a great lesson and an average/boring one. Smiling and greeting students on the way to class gets me in the zone, pumped up, all those phrases used to describe an increase endorphins.
Depending on the school, first period is usually the first time I teach a new lesson. Even after seven months, it’s difficult to tell exactly how a new lesson will turn out. Unfortunately, those students in first period are my guinea pigs. I can figure out what worked and what didn’t. By second and third periods, I can teach the lesson with my eyes closed.
After fourth period is lunch. I almost always eat with the students in an assigned classroom. I really do enjoy it. When I eat in the teacher’s room, it’s generally small talk. I as well as the others both probably want to go beyond that, but there’s a fine line between small talk and personal stuff. My Japanese just isn’t at the level yet to walk that line. The younger the kids are, the more excited they are to have lunch with me. Sometimes it gets to the point that students fight for a seat next to me. In junior high, my seat is determined by who’s absent (there’s always at least 1-3 students absent, everyday). Also, the students will sometimes just sit me next to the kid that knows the most English. Little do they realize that he/she only knows so much because they aren’t afraid to talk in front of me. Lunch in junior high is all about making connections and comparisons. I want the students to feel like they have a lot in common with me, so they won’t feel embarrassed to have a conversation in the hallway or participate in class. Everyone is generally super shy, but they have opened up to me a lot more in recent months. Lunch with the elementary students is all about smiles and funny faces. Many of the students can barely comprehend a full sentence of English, so I use a whole lot of gestures to accompany my words. With the really young kids, if they talk to me in Japanese I respond in English, or pretend like I don’t know and get another student to translate. You’d be surprised by how much a student can comprehend. It makes sense though. They already primed their minds to look out for specific key words when they originally asked the question.
After lunch I may have one, maybe two classes. I spend the rest of the day preparing for tomorrow, and writing blog posts like this one. At junior high I spend time playing basketball with the students, or writing. Due to the lack of after school activities in elementary school, I usually end up going home a little early at 4:30.
Next is grocery shopping. Depending on how well I time it, I can stroll down the aisles with ease, or get caught up in the afternoon rush. Fortunately, the rush isn’t too bad when you run into a friendly face. I often run into my students and their parents around this time. Sometimes the kids run up to me, others just stare, wondering whether they should say hi. Even others are more or less forced by their parents to come up and say hello.
Around 5:45 I’m finally home. I don’t carry a smartphone so I hop online real quick to check emails. At 6:15 I cook dinner, which often ends up looking like my breakfast (I’m addicted to morning foods). 6:45 is dinner and an episode of Star Trek. Last summer was when I first became addicted to this franchise, and I’ve been watching off and on since. It’s just one of the few series’ (The Next Generation in particular) that manages to show the potential of the human race to move beyond the problems currently going on in the world.
After dinner I respond to emails, clean, and catch up on anything interesting I’ve recently come across online. I also may do some more writing and journaling. Afterwards, I hop in the shower around 9ish. Showering is followed by either a documentary or reading. Around 11:00pm I watch one small video on YouTube. This video can be about anything, as long as I believe that it will help me think from a new and different perspective (e.g. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Joe Rogan, or Alan Watts interviews). Finally, I drift back into Dreamland to the sounds of ocean waves rolling onto the shore (the shore of my iPod playlist, of course).
And that is a day in the life of me, Eric. An English teacher in Japan. Seems a lot like yours doesn’t it?