Wednesday, August 24, 2011

School Affairs

Not that kind of affair, weirdo. I mean school business. Today was the official first day of the new semester, but my first class isn't until Monday morning, meaning I have an entire weekend to fret by myself. I have two lesson plans finished, but likely have many more to complete. I am still acclimating myself to Japanese-style education, meaning that I am constantly thrown for a loop by their customs and business practices.

Today, I was invited to attend the new semester's Opening Ceremony at one of my junior high schools. If you've ever been a child, you've probably attended a school assembly. Most likely against your will. At all of the schools I've visited in Japan, these assemblies are professional affairs. Students stand in columns according to their class number, and no one speaks a word. I am serious. You would expect kids to mutter and murmur throughout assemblies, but you could here a pin drop here!

While we're here, let's take a tour of the school.

When you arrive, you will notice that the average Japanese school is much taller than your school. In Oregon, my elementary and junior high school only had one floor each; my high school had two floors. In Japan, most schools have three or more floors. You will find classrooms on the upper levels, while things like the teachers' room, nurse's office, and genkan are found on the first floor. While this type of architecture is common, it is not true of all schools.

The genkan, as I have explained before, is a room found in all Japanese buildings where visitors and occupants alike shed their footwear in order to avoid tracking dirt into their houses. They will usually adopt a second pair of indoor-exclusive shoes. In this picture, notice that each cubby has a divider in the middle. Outdoor shoes go on the bottom; indoor shoes go on the top. Schools have seperate genkan for teachers and students. As a teacher, I am fortunate enough to have a door on my genkan, to prevent people from spying on my fashionable shoe style and copying it.

This is not my teachers' room, but all of them look similar. Unlike in Oregon, where each teacher worked out of his or her classroom and shared a teachers' lounge, all of the teachers come here between lessons and have their own desks. The desks are arranged like so: three desks near the entrance to the room belong to the vice principal, the head teacher, and a third party. The rest of the desks are arranged in two rows and, as you can see, piled high with papers. Japanese schools do not have air conditioning, so we suffer together.

Classrooms hold approximately 36-40 students, and each grade is divided into different classes. Example: Grade 7, Class 1/A/whatever. They sit at the kind of desk pictured here (uncomfortable) while the teacher stands at a podium at the head of the class. Regarding secondary education, lecture-style teaching seems to be the preferred method. English language classes are compulsory at this level of schooling, while only recently English classes have begun to trickle down into elementary school. Since upper-level schooling is optional in Japan, secondary school may be the only chance some students have to learn English in a classroom setting.

I've left a lot out, but seeing as I haven't actually taught a single class yet, my expertise extends only so far. I am still naive about many aspects of Japanese culture, so if you've noticed any mistakes, feel to correct me. Regardless of the specific accuracy of this post, I think you can pick up a lot of general things about Japanese school life.


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