If this was North America, there’d be a riot
Going to school and participating in club activities or working on homework during your summer vacation? Working on your English speech during summer for a speech contest in the second week of school? That doesn’t really sound like a typical summer vacation. The summer vacation I knew as an elementary school student consisted of fun sports summer camps, camping or vacation with parents and not a care in the world regarding studies for school. In the past few weeks that I’ve spent living here in Japan, it wasn’t uncommon for me to walk to our Board of Education and say good morning to flocks of students on their bikes, making their way to school in uniform, rain or shine despite it being mid-August.
Today, August 26th, marked my first day at school! This is definitely the earliest first day of school I’ve ever had in my life, as we usually start school the day after Labour Day in Canada which always falls on the first Monday of September. It was a very interesting day nonetheless as I witnessed firsthand a few differences between a classroom in Toronto vs a classroom in somewhat rural Japan. I arrived at 8:15AM and it had been pouring outside. I suppose I was nervous this morning and woke myself up at 5:30AM, which was at least an hour before my first alarm, thinking that I had slept in and it was actually 10:10AM (Oh the horrors!).
There were so many things to think about as I groggily rubbed my eyes and forced myself to get ready for school. Were students going to ask me really inappropriate questions as they had prepped me for at the interview and orientation? Was my choice of clothing for the day appropriate? Was my shirt too bright? Was school lunch really going to be too large of a quantity and was I going to be able to finish all the carbs they were going to stuff me with? What was I even going to do today? Would the short and sweet introduction speech that I wrote in Japanese and English going to be sufficient for the Opening Ceremony? Why was it raining so hard?? Is it going to flood?? Is driving in this weather safe?
I forced myself to eat a large breakfast of peanut butter and banana on bread and some yogurt and granola, as I didn’t know what time lunch was at and didn’t want to be dying of hunger (aka HANGRY, which definitely happens sometimes).
Driving to school in the heavy rain wasn’t as bad as I’d though it would be. Afterall, it was only a 6 minute drive. I was more worried about finding parking in the school lot without running over any students but to my surprise, the parking lot was empty of students as they were already inside their classrooms and I succesfully backed my way into an empty parking spot. The rain had died down just enough for me to walk over to the entrance without walking in like a soggy wet cat.
The morning started with school cleaning. Oh what a sight to see! If this was North America, and you told kids they had to be on their knees scrubbing the floor there would be a riot. Heck, if you told an adult who had signed up to become a teacher in North America that they have to sweep the storage room and then scrub the kitchen floor, they would walk right out of that job and call the union. I had a twang of nostalgia, watching and helping everyone clean the school. It reminded me of when I was in cadets and they made us clean various places like the washroom or our barracks. Just imagine if this was part of our daily routine at school and we learned to respect our school. Schools here don’t have custodians or groundskeepers, they have teachers to do various gardening tasks and students to clean the washrooms. The students help with throwing out the trash as well, and everyone does their fair share of work.
I spent my morning working on an English Board to put up in the classroom, hopefully I’ll put some more information up and some short stories or poems in the next few weeks. I’m thinking maybe putting up something about Autumn or Terry Fox. I’m trying to put different materials on the board that are stimulating and interesting for various interests such as history, art, music, math, science, sports, etc. and various levels of English through the use of “Words of the week”, poems, short stories, autobiographies, fun phrases and jokes. Maybe if I have the energy, I can muster up the courage to ask to start an English club. We shall see… 🙂
The opening ceremony also reminded me a little of my cadet days with how they spoke and acted towards the students as they sat down in their perfect rows of two and would have to yell “Hai” when their names were called for various awards. Instead of the salute, they would bow to the presenter of the awards. I found it a little bit comedic when the water started to drip from the roof, through the lighting and onto the gym floor. The teachers who had been standing on the side of the gym, rushed in a panic to stop the dripping with about 10 different sized buckets, newspapers, towels and eventually they took action to hang a huge tarp to protect the basketball net. During this time, students were still giving speeches as if nothing was happening in the back and teachers weren’t putting out any fires.
The next eventful part of my day was school lunch, also known as kyoshoku.
いただきます! (ITADAKIMASU!) – Let’s EAT!
As per ALT duties/honours/customs, I get to eat with the students in their classroom! My kyoshoku costs about 4700 yen a month which is about $59 CAD (this is the current sad exchange rate we’ve got) which means that I’m eating lunch for about $3 a day if I eat 20 meals in a month. Lunch for today was a lot of rice with some sweet/sour chicken, a bowl of vegetable soup, orange jello and milk. The students and teachers eat in their classrooms together. The students take turns in their groups serving and handing out the food, and they all start eating their food at the same time. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish my food, as it was a large portion, I didn’t have that much time to eat, the students were eating really fast and they kept asking me questions. My English teacher asked me how was lunch and if I could finish it and I honestly asked him if we could make my portion a little smaller and he was totally fine with it yay!
Here’s a fun article that I hope to recreate with my own school lunches to give you an idea of what they look like: https://www.thejapanguy.com/ten-days-japanese-school-lunch/
A popular question from the students is “What is your age?” or “How old are you?” And I like to make a little game out of it and make them guess my age. Sometimes I pretend to misunderstand what they’ve said, “90? Wow, I look 90 years old??”, when they’ve clearly said 19, just to tease them a little. Or, I’ll tell them “up” or “down”. I’ll never accept them showing numbers with fingers, and tell them I don’t understand so they have to verbally tell me the number. It’s a fun little exchange which has gotten lots of giggles so far.
I also received some brownie points from some of the boys when one of them said he liked baseball and I asked if he was a pitcher or if preferred batting. Not gonna lie, I don’t know that much about baseball, but the boys definitely perked up and responded enthusiastically with what their preferred baseball positions were. I swear you don’t know rowdy until you meet Japanese kids. I don’t think I’ve seen such a rowdy group of kids (all really friendly and in high-spirits), but maybe that’s because I’ve been in post-secondary education for five years too long. I also got the comment that my eyes looked big and I smiled and said “Thanks!” to the student who said it. I also got called “Carrot” or “Caramel”, so thanks mom and dad for giving me a name that was extremely hard to pronounce in Japanese due to the “r” and “l”. Well, at least they’ll remember my name because I don’t know how I’m going to remember every student’s name between 2 schools. Other than that, there weren’t any inappropriate questions or comments (that I could understand), and I liked how brave they were to talk to me and questions in English. They also put in effort to answer my questions for them!
I’m proud to have taught my english teacher the uses for “Hey!”, “What’s up?” and “I survived”. I gave him context for “survived” by saying that it’s a little bit of a joke phrase that you use when you go through something difficult like rowdy kids, or a hard day (hee hee). >.<
Well, that was basically my day. Wow, can you believe I wrote an entire post about one single day? Well there you have it my friends, a little snapshot of my first day of being in a Japanese Junior High School. I get to relive this at my second school tomorrow… 🙂 I’m excited to see what the transition into the next few weeks is going to look like and I’ll write about them even if it does get boring.
I’m still so full from lunch I’m having trouble eating dinner…. I had lunch at 1PM and it is now 7PM!!!! Ahhhh…. oh well. Let me know what you think of this crazy first day of firsts and if you think you could survive. Any tips or tricks for inappropriate questions? Let me know, I’d love to hear them 🙂