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School Life part 1

School life in Japan is an entirely different animal than school life in the U.S. At this point, I’ve had a year to get used to the way they do things here, and let me tell you, a year is nowhere near enough. You need a lifetime of indoctrination to view this crazy-ass place as normal.

Even the phrase ‘school life’ is not one you’d normally hear in the English vernacular. (There are a lot of these pieces of ‘Japanese English’ in Japan- English phrases that have meaning to Japanese people but aren’t part of a native English speaker’s vocabulary.) For Japanese people, ‘school life’ encompasses way more than the phrase brings to mind for the average American. And judging from my conversations with my non-American ALT friends, more than what it brings to mind for the average ‘Westerner’ in general. I can’t say whether it is uniquely Japanese (I expect not), but I can say it is very Japanese. It doesn’t just refer to the time students spend at school learning and being involved with clubs. It includes that yes, but it refers to the lifestyle students lead while attending school. For the students who attend school and also the teachers who work there, school is the center of their universe.

Some details:

Compulsory education in Japan runs from 1st grade to 9th grade. Elementary schools are 1st-6th. Junior high schools are 7th-9th. After that, high school is another 3 years (10th-12th grade). Because compulsory education ends after middle school, students must take entrance exams to get into a high school. This is a huge point of stress for students and the teachers who must prepare them for the tests. Similarly, in high school, students must take entrance exams to get into a university. It’s not uncommon for a senior high school student who failed to pass the entrance exam for his preferred university to take a year ‘off’ to study and try again a year later.

The school day at Shoryo:

School starts at 8am. In the morning, there is ‘reading time’; students sit in their homeroom classrooms and read a book of their choice for 20 minutes. Then, there’s a 10 minute homeroom. My school has 5 or 6 periods per day depending on the day.Classes are usually 50 minutes long and lunch is 40 minutes. The students have ‘free time’ after lunch for 20 minutes and everyday there are 10 minutes set aside for everyone to clean the school. Then, afternoon homeroom again to finish up the day. Often there are special events or assemblies that mess with the schedule, so classes will be 45 minutes and/or periods are removed from the schedule all together.

The problem with starting a blog so late into my time here is that I can’t share things as I experience them. Now that I’ve started writing, I realize just how much I have to talk about. So, I’m going to split this School Life topic into multiple posts. In my next post, (cleverly titled ‘School Life part 2’) I’ll explain how exactly school is The Center of the Universe for Japanese students and teachers. Hopefully, I’ll venture more into personal experiences, rather than general facts about the Japanese education system.  However, I want to say one last thing before I stop for the day:

I love my school. I love my students. I enjoy my job. Being an ALT is not something I could do forever for various reasons that I’ll cover in later posts, but most days I enjoy it for what it is. School life for me may not be as all encompassing as it is for the Japanese people around me, and though at times I struggle against what as an American I see as a huge intrusion into my private life, I have found myself conforming more and more to this norm of Japanese life. Home is truly where the heart is, and in Japan, my heart is in my school. My apartment in Japan may be my own little space to rest and relax, but it’s my school that’s my home.

A late start (are you surprised?)

Today marks the end of my 1st year as an Assistant Language Teacher at Shoryo Junior High School. 

For the simple reason that I am lazy, I did not start a blog chronicling my sometimes thrilling, sometimes frustrating, but always wacky adventures in Japan-land until now. From now on, I’ll be sharing my journey with you all, giving you back story from this previous year when necessary. 

My goal for this blog is to provide my friends and family a window into my life in Japan, to give myself something to look back on once I leave Japan, and to simply try to retain my English abilities.