After all was set up for life in Ichinoseki, I had to get ready for school. Except, as I said, there were nearly three weeks before I started, and three weeks before I’d be earning regular money. Coupled with the fact that Interac pays the end of the following month (i.e. march pay comes on April 30th) I could see money would be a bit tight until I had done two months’ work of work. Initially I presumed this was the norm in Japan, but my wife soon told me it was not, although monthly payment is more common, she had never had to wait so long for the pay to come through.
So, the IC came around one day in April 2012 and I followed her to the two school I would be teaching at. It was a bit of a drive to Senmaya, along a road that would become very familiar over the next couple of years. Some 25 kilometres in distance, often hellish in the winter, but I was soon at my first school.
Basically, we started with a meet and greet. I met the head master, a vice principal or two (we had two) and the head English teacher. We chatted a little about me. My head teacher was just starting at the school as well, so there wasn’t so much she could tell me about the school. I can’t remember what on Earth we talked about to be honest. There were a lot of ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’s – ‘Let’s work well together’ being the only rough translation I ever received of that, and I was shown where my desk would be.
The desk was somewhat full of stuff left by the person who had previously held the position. There were lesson plans, and props galore, and in the end… I really didn’t use any of it! I would use different text books and needed to work it all out from scratch. Plus, on arrival it was all pretty difficult to make head or tail of.
At the second school, I received a welcoming gift from the Principal who liked to do woodwork. It was pretty similar though. I had to wear the school slippers – anyone who hasn’t been to Japan might not know of the custom of taking off your shoes inside. This doesn’t extend to shops or most supermarkets, but it does extend to schools despite the fact that the flooring is all lino. The schools provide slippers, but to be honest they are not comfortable and you do not want to be wearing them every day, and standing in them for long periods of time. Everyone tends to buy a cheap but comfy pair of sneakers only for indoors. You get a shoe locker. Keep them at your school.
It should also be noted in fire drills, everyone takes the time to change into their outdoor shoes. The level of worry about bringing dirt via shoes from outside to in is something I had a hard time dealing with in Japan. It would be fair to say Japan is slightly OCD, especially on that score!
A couple of weeks later it was time to start teaching. In at 8am – you must never be late in Japan. Ten minutes early is considered late! I had to give a brief speech to introduce myself to the teachers at the morning meeting. Then I had a chance to print out my sheets on the copy machines. I learned pretty quickly how to make a decent worksheet, although my earlier ones were a little embarrassing. I would go out of my way to find pictures and the like to spruce it up and make it look good.
But the first week I was doing an introduction lesson. I learnt quickly that my lesson had too much planned for fifty minutes, despite planning it out activity by activity. I also learnt that some classes take longer to do something, some are quicker. The range can be very different!
I had altered my planned first lesson so many times before I began it. I quizzed the kids on Australia, told them about myself, sang a song or two from Australia and got them to fill out a profile. It’s all pretty standard.
In first year, things were very quiet. Like me, the kids were all new to the school, and didn’t know each other. I remember the 2F and 3F classes, all boys, being the noisiest. I was learning quickly. My previous experience in Georgia was teaching primary school children, and it was useful but different to what I faced in Japan.
But the first week and the introductory lessons were really not so much to worry about. I received in the first week, the schedule for the second, where I would be tackling the text books and grammar structures and the like. And I felt THAT is when the real challenges began!
Yes. That’s where I’m leaving it for this Saturday. You’d better check back in a week for part four! Until then – may the slogans never end! 😉