Just don't look down. Trust us on this one.
One of the more challenging aspects of ALT life happens at lunch. While it seems simple enough on paper - eat lunch with your students - the reality is seldom that simple. In addition to the logistical problems of when to go to which classroom there is the larger problem of what to do. Just sit there in stony silence? Try to be “on” and entertain every student in the class for the full lunch period? There are no easy answers, but in today’s article, we’re going to give you a few tips to survive lunch hour.
So much rice.
How Can We Eat?
The school lunch, called kyushoku, alternates between Japanese and international fare and usually consists of a main course, a salad, and a soup. For the Japanese meals, rice is served alongside fish and traditional foods like tofu and miso soup. International meals, on the other hand, may feature bread or pasta and sometimes even a dessert cup!
In fact, recently, here in Tochigi, for the international meals there has been an effort to provide meals centered around different countries cuisines. In other words, there might be a "Brazil Day" or an "Australia Day" where (Japanese interpretations) of that country's food is served. It can be hit or miss, but it's fun to see the efforts and interpretations.
Unfortunately, the meal service is not free. As an ALT you will be charged the same fee that other teachers and staff members are charged on a monthly basis. The good news is that this is often very cheap, coming in at as little as ¥250 per day, not to mention that the food is nutritious and usually tastes pretty good, too.
No cocktails allowed. Not even intergalactic ones.
Why Do We Eat?
ALTs are asked to eat with the students for a couple of reasons. The first, and most important of these is that it gives the children a chance to bond with an instructor they may not see all that often. By sitting down at a lunch table with a small group of kids, it is hoped that the students will lose some of the shyness and hesitancy that they often exhibit in the presence of foreigners.
Alongside this is the hope that the students will be willing and able to use what they have learned in their English classes. By the time they're in third grade, most students should be able to ask simple questions about the teacher's likes and dislikes as well as understand (simple, reasonable) answers. By giving the kids a chance to use what they've learned, they will gain confidence and be more willing to learn.
Your role here is to be friendly and to make conversation however you can. Ask the students about their likes and dislikes in English, or ask them about their lives outside of school, or tell them silly jokes. What you talk about it is not as important as making the effort to talk and bond with your students. And keep it local. You don’t need to entertain the entire class. Instead focus on the small group of kids in your group. Make sure they get your full attention and that they feel connected to you and you’ll have friends for life.
Where Shall We Have Lunch?
Some schools have a dedicated lunchroom, others have the students eat in their classrooms. Either way, you'll be asked to lunch just as you would be asked to a lesson, and shown to a seat. If it’s a few minutes into the lunch hour and no one has come for you, talk to the staff present in the staff room. They can, and will, call up to the classroom for you and make sure that you’ve not been forgotten.
And again, even though you're there with the entire class, you should focus your attention on the three or four kids in your lunch group. Introduce yourself even if the kids are familiar with you and ask their names. In short, be a good guest and avail yourself of the chance to chat with your students.
Once you’ve been served, wait until the student leaders have asked everyone for silence and lead the class in saying “itadakimasu.” Once that’s done, dig in! When you’re finished, say “gochisosama deshita” and return your dishes to the serving carts. But don’t leave just yet. Instead, either go back to your group or to another group and continue to talk to the kids until the end of the lunch period. Then you can escape back to your desk.
Milliways, the only place to eat.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
At the beginning of the school year, make sure to introduce yourself to the school nutritionist and let them know about any dietary restrictions or preferences you have.
In recent years, the schools here in Tochigi have been making a special effort to cater to any and all dietary requests, but they are limited in how many changes to the set menu they can make. In other words, if you are allergic to dairy, they can and will accommodate your needs by providing a juice instead of milk and by not giving you yogurt. Likewise, allergies that can be easily avoided merely by not having, for example, shrimp in your meal, can also be accommodated.
However, for those of you who may be keeping to strict vegan or halal diets, you may be better off bringing your own lunch. For those kinds of special needs, it is best to communicate openly and often with your schools to find the right meal plan for you.
Introduce Yourself: 4 Steps for Preparing a Self-Introduction That Will Keep Your Students’ Attention
If only our self-introduction was this iconic...
By now, you’ve made it through training, you’ve met your co-workers, and you’ve navigated your first few days at school. Congratulations! But now the real work begins: teaching. And, as a general rule, during your first lesson, you'll be asked to introduce yourself to your classes. It can seem daunting, but with a little prep work, you can put together a quick and informative presentation that will charm your students.
In this article, we'll give you a few tips for making an easy self-introduction that you can use at elementary and junior high schools. Let’s begin with…
We just want to know where the popcorn's at.
The Beginning: What do your students want to know?
While it can seem as though self-introductions are challenging because you don’t have enough to say, it’s often the exact opposite that becomes a problem. In fact, the real challenge is in giving them both information about yourself and the context with which to frame it.
After all, most of the children you'll be teaching have no direct experience of the world outside Japan. Many have no experience outside Tochigi Prefecture. And even then, most of them are not old enough to have a solid grasp of life outside their bubbles of family, school, and town.
(In other words, telling a bunch of Japanese fifth graders that you love 18th century artwork by the Dutch masters is pointless. Fifth graders don’t have anywhere near the knowledge or experience to relate to such information. On the other hand, telling them that you love One Piece, they understand that. They’ve all seen the program and they love it.)
With that in mind, the information children (and teachers) generally want to know about their new ALTs can be broken down into two broad categories: information about you and information about where you’re from.
But this brings us back to - what do students want to know about you? What do they want to know about your hometown? Let’s move on to…
First Google result for "Japanese Culture."
Brainstorming: Small Differences and Large
Our keyword for brainstorming this presentation is “relatable.” Children, especially elementary school aged and younger have two frames of reference - their immediate family, friends, and school life, and Japan (and the world) in broad strokes. We want to tell things about ourselves that they can push into one of these two frames.
Let’s do a quick brainstorming exercise: draw a circle on a sheet of paper. In the middle of this, write “me”. Around this, add four big branches. Label these Bio, Likes, Dislikes, and Experiences. On the bio branch list basic facts about yourself that you are comfortable sharing. These might be your age, marital status, favorite food, etc.
For the Likes and Dislikes branches, think about the things you liked when you were in elementary or junior high school. Are they still around and will the children be familiar with them? (Pokemon - yes, Thundercats - not so much.) But also think about things that are present in Japan. Add sub-branches like “favorite Japanese food” or “most disliked Japanese food” and fill in the tertiary branches accordingly.
And for the Experiences branch, list out experiences that your students might also have had. Think “first trip to Tokyo Disney” or “first time eating sesame ice cream.” It is also a good idea to list experiences that you have had that they may be looking forward to - traveling to other countries, holding a koala, meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.
On a separate piece of paper, make the same circle for your country or hometown. List of categories for Flora, Fauna, and so on. Think about unique and interesting plants, animals, and places - the kinds of things that get shown on t.v. programs about your country. If you’re Australian this is koalas and Ayer’s Rock. If you’re English, this is foxes and Big Ben, and so on.
Once you have several ideas written down on the appropriate branches, start looking at which ones are most relatable to your students. Also consider which pieces of information can be easily tailored to differences in ages and grade levels. But before you choose any, let’s talk about…
No, pan-der. P-A-N...you know what? It's fine. We're just gonna go with it.
Relating to your audience is paramount. Kids want to know all about you, but kids also have the attention span of, well, kids. We like to use two avenues of attack in our presentations: cultural differences and shocking facts.
Cultural differences come in two flavors: big, shocking revelations that were previously unknown to you or your audience, and small, everyday differences that you can either confirm or explain to the students. (As an example of the latter - Japanese kids are taught that Americans all wear shoes indoors, all the time. Explaining when and why this is only partly true can be an interesting part of your presentation. By contrast, and to show the former - many Americans grow up owning horses or multiple dogs and cats, or other interesting pets. Many Japanese students might have only a single animal as a pet, if any at all.)
Kids have a fair bit of factual knowledge about their country. They know that Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan. They know how tall Tokyo Tower is. Compare these landmarks to places in your own country. It doesn't really matter if it's the closest one to where you're from or whether you even have any direct experience of it - it's far more important that it helps the students build a lasting impression of you. If they know you, or feel that they do, they will be far more comfortable learning from you.
Because you're presentation all has to go together. Like a puzzle. Yeah.
Putting It All Together
By now you've got several sections to assemble: there are things about yourself, your experiences, and how they all relate to your country. Look for logical through-lines that you can use to make your presentation flow. For example: start by telling the students your name and asking them to guess where’re you from. Introduce your country with a large, famous landmark. Ask the students what the most appropriate feature of Japan is. Move on to a famous food from your country. Segue into your favorite food, then your favorite Japanese food, then ask the students what their favorite foods are, and so on and so forth.
Once you’ve got your outline or script set, start looking for photos or realia that help show exactly what it is you’re talking about. If you have your own photos that you’re willing to share, that’s even better. Prepare a slideshow or prints and make sure you have your notes ready and you should have a great presentation.
Just remember, kids are unpredictable. You never know what’s going to set them off on a tangent or how hard it’s going to be to bring them back in line. In our experience, it’s better to go with the flow rather than rigidly adhere to your plan. At the same time, they’re already pre-disposed to like you. They’re going to be curious about you and they’re going to be interested in anything you have to say as long as you say it with a smile.
Pretty much us. Every year.
The new school year is just around the corner and teachers and students alike are getting ready to tackle a new round of academic challenges. But before anyone can get to any of that, there is...the first day of school!
Here are five things you can do to make sure you start the year off on the right foot:
Ok, maybe not this early.
1. Get There Early
The first day of school is chaotic. Students are figuring out where they need to be, teachers are trying to do ten things at once, and the administrative staff are making sure nothing gets left undone. In other words, no one needs you showing up late, adding to the confusion or throwing off everyone else's schedules.
So don't just be on time. Instead, make sure to arrive at your school with enough time to introduce yourself, shake a few hands, and be shown to your seat before announcements and assemblies begin. Usually, this means being on campus, in the teacher's room, five to ten minutes before 8:00 am.
Make it a point to introduce yourself. Ahem. Sorry.
2. Announce Yourself
Whether it's your first day at a new school or your fifth year at the same school, there will be lots of people around who have no idea who you are. You can fix this in three short, easy steps:
First days are the same in every school. Even flight school, apparently.
3. Get Out of the Way
As stated above, the first day of school is chaotic. Generally, teachers and staff will want to accommodate you, but they will also be very pressed for time. Therefore, once you've introduced yourself and been shown to a desk, be prepared to wait a while.
If you seem to have some time, get out a textbook and study some Japanese or familiarize yourself with your schools' textbooks and routines. Request a seating chart of the teacher's room, and any logistical paperwork you may need (phone tree, school phone numbers, etc.)
If possible, and after checking with your lead teacher or vice-principal, take a walk around the school grounds. Learn where the classrooms are and which teachers head each class. Locate the specialty classrooms (like the art room and music room) and the library. These will be good places to interact with students later on, so it makes sense to learn where they are while you have some free time.
Whatever you do, be proactive in finding the tools and resources you may need in the months and weeks ahead.
Not pictured: teachers trying to figure out where they need to be.
4. Hurry Up
Be prepared for your point-of-contact person or the vice-principal to suddenly request your presence at an assembly or in a classroom. There will be an opening ceremony on the first day of school and you, along with every other new teacher, will be asked to briefly introduce yourself. However, we've said it twice now - the first day of school is chaotic. Teachers may not be sure when and where they need you to be until the very last minute.
Therefore, you should stay at or near your desk* and be ready to drop whatever it is your doing and accompany the staff to wherever they need you to be.
*The exception to this might be taking a walk around the school as per point 3. However, do not just leave your desk. As we said above, check in with the lead teacher or vice-principal just to make sure they don't need you elsewhere right then.
Our very best smile.
5. Keep Smiling
To be honest, we've had great first days and we've had not so great first days. There is chaos and there is confusion and it can be difficult to find anyone to tell you what's going on or to help you with anything you may need. And, frankly, it's understandable. After all, and sorry to be blunt, but, the day is not about you.
It is about getting the students into the right mindset and routine so that they can excel academically. It is about giving the teachers a chance to take stock of their charges and to make sure that they are prepared to do their best. It is about the staff making sure that all the gears are working smoothly so that the school can serve its purpose.
Your role is to support and help however you can. And, on the first day, the best thing you can do is smile, be friendly, and be patient. Later, you will be able to befriend all the students and all the teachers and show them the glory that is the English language. But for now, just smile.
Just your typical ALT on his way to lessons.
Is there a dress code for ALTs?
We hear this question a lot. And the answer, like the answer to so many other questions is - it depends on your school. But there are a few rules and guidelines that we’ll share with you in this article.
To begin, dress standards at Japanese schools are generally business-professional. Teachers, administrative staff, and support staff all wear suits and ties to school. ALTs are expected to do the same. Depending on your schools, there may be specialty requirements based on season or occasion or even exceptions to the standard suit.
We’ll cover all this and more, but before we do, there is one absolute rule you should remember: This is only a guide. For actual best practices look at what the teachers at your schools wear day in and day out and copy them as best you can.
Read on then, for Work Tochigi’s guide to dressing for ALT success!
Standard Issue: 3 Piece Suit and Scowl
What's a suit and how do I wear one?
Just kidding. We’re assuming you know how to dress yourself. However, in our experience, many younger people are not accustomed to wearing suits day in and day out. Think of this section as a guide to things you may have forgotten or never known about.
A standard men's suit in Japan consists of a blue or black jacket and slacks, button-front dress shirt, a necktie (not a clip-on), dress socks, and belt. Three-piece suits, will also have a matching vest (waistcoat).
Things NOT generally acceptable:
This traditional blazer is perfect for both teaching and putting up with 007.
Standard suits for women consist of jacket and trousers or skirt, and blouse. The blouse may be colored, but beware of plunging necklines or loose buttons. It is also common for women in Japan to wear stockings or hose under their suit, even if it is a trousered suit. Camisoles are also very common as an underblouse.
Things NOT generally acceptable:
Note: These are separate from things you might want to have in your bag. This list is of things that go on your body or in your pocket.
Things you may want to keep in your bag:
Here's a list of things you might want to have in your bag to keep at your desk:
* Many westerners find that, due to different body chemistry, Japanese deodorant brands do not work as well as those from their native countries. Thus we recommend keeping a large stock on hand for your personal use.
**This, again, is highly dependent on individual schools, but many Japanese teachers keep some light snacks, like senbei or peanuts, at their desks as a quick bite between lessons.
You know M's got snacks in her desk. Probably something salty.
Track suits or athletic clothes?
Teachers at your schools may spend a lot of their time in track suits. We'd prefer that, as representatives of Work Tochigi, you avoid doing this. After all, you are not p.e. teachers and will most likely not be running around outside. In the event that you are invited to participate in a soccer game or baseball practice or some other lunchtime or after school game, you should feel free to don athletic gear. However, please change back into proper attire before heading back into the classroom.
Black ties or white ties?
Black neck ties are reserved for funerals in Japan. They are, quite literally, worn at no other times. So, no matter how stylish you may look, you should not wear a black tie to a school event.
Conversely, white neck ties are celebratory and are often worn to weddings and graduations. You may want to consider picking up a white neck tie either before coming to Japan or before the end of the school year. Many schools ask their ALTs to participate in graduation ceremonies and wearing a white neck tie is an easy and fun way to be a part of the group.
Shoes in Japanese Schools
Will I need separate shoes for indoors and outdoors?
Yes. Faculty usually have two different pairs of shoes at their schools, not including the shoes they wear to and from work (e.g. business or dress shoes). One pair of shoes - often sneakers or athletic shoes - is to be worn outside on the school grounds during p.e. classes, fire drills, and assemblies. The other pair is usually a comfortable (but clean and well-kept) pair of athletic shoes or sandals that can be worn in classrooms.
As a general rule, new ALTs will be able to wear guest slippers during their first day of school, but you should be prepared to provide your own shoes as soon as possible.
And, to be very clear, shoes that have been worn outside, at any point, are not acceptable for indoor use, no matter how thoroughly they have been cleaned.
Well, that's one way to stay warm in class.
Hot & Cold
Staying warm during the winter months can be a challenge in Tochigi Prefecture. Depending on just how far north your school is, it can be a very big challenge. Winter brings temperatures in the low single digits or even below, snow, wind, and rain. Adding to the general misery is that Japanese schools do not have central heating.
Often, Japanese schools, especially older ones, will have individual heating units installed in classrooms and staff areas. Additionally, wearing an overcoat or wool cap in the classroom is frowned upon. Which means that spending any time in the hallways results in rapid, irreversible ice-cubing of many ALTs.
Fortunately, modern technology provides many ways to avoid becoming an ice-cube without ruining the lines of your suit.
Here are a few:
Uniqlo (and other clothing makers) have perfected cheap, warm clothing thin enough to go under your normal suit without adding bulk or stretching the fabric. These items can be purchased online via Amazon and other e-sellers or in person at the many, many Uniqlo retail stores.
But, if you don't mind bulk and want to go with traditional underwear, thermal long-johns are your best bet.
Three piece suits have never really gone out of fashion in Japan, partly because of the heating issues. Many stores offer thick, warm sweaters and vests for men and women designed to go between your shirt and your jacket. These layers are especially good for teachers in areas that may have a wide shift in temperature throughout the day. What is particularly appealing is that they are designed to be part of a suit, so they don't ruin the lines but can be removed in the middle of class without scandal.
Kairo are small chemically activated heating packs sold throughout Japan in drugstores. Many of your students will have them in their pockets any time the temperature drops below 20 degrees celcius.
What about “Cool Biz”?
Summers in Tochigi can be hot. Really hot. And humid. And did we mention hot? Several years ago, Japan implemented a policy called "cool biz" in an effort to cut down on energy costs in offices and government buildings across Japan. In short, the government asked office workers to dress business-casual for the summer months, thereby reducing the amount of air conditioning and cooling needed. Less cooling means less power, or so the reasoning goes.
Does this apply to me?
As always, the definitive answer is - it depends on your individual school. There's no harm in asking, although it might be best to just observe your fellow teachers and do as they do. When in Rome, after all.
How do I dress “Cool Biz”?
For most teachers and office workers, Cool Biz means reducing a suit to slacks, a short-sleeved button front shirt and no tie. We also recommend an undershirt (for men and women) and cooling underwear (see our favorite retailer Uniqlo!).
For special occasions only.
Do you have any other advice?
Yes. Now is the time to stock up on towels and body wipes. However many you think is enough, double it. These items can really help you feel relaxed and able to move through your day more easily.
Conversely, you might also want to take a sweater. Schools do not have central air conditioning. Instead, each classroom has its own cooling unit, which the Japanese teacher will be in charge of. Schools may also be under a mandate to not lower the temperature beyond a certain point (24 degrees Celcius, for example). Depending on how many students, what kind of weather, and, of course, your own tolerances, many teachers keep a sweater or wrap handy for those days when the air conditioning is really putting in the work.
Anything else I need to know?
We mentioned above that it is a good idea to keep a toothbrush either in your bag or at your desk. In addition to being useful for your own self-care, oral hygiene is very important in the Japanese education system. Children are instructed to brush their teeth immediately after lunch. Teachers are expected to be good role models for the students. Thus...
As for the rest, it's optional, of course. But take it from us as lessons learned. Adjusting to temperatures in new settings can be difficult. Having the tools on hand to make yourself comfortable and presentable can go a long way to helping you become a valued member of the teaching team at your schools.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to dressing for ALT success. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send them to us via our contact form. In the meantime, good luck and have a great school year!