ALTs confronting the daily schedule.
A Day in the Life
Congratulations! You've made it through the first few days of school and all the attendant meetings and ceremonies. But now it’s time to tackle the confusing mess that is the daily schedule.
In this article, we're going to walk you through a typical one-day schedule for ALTs, starting from the moment you get to work until the very end of the working day. So, let's assume you've gotten yourself to campus, changed your shoes, greeted everyone in a cheerful manner, and found your desk. Great! You're just in time for...
Pictured: The Morning Announcements
The Morning Meeting
Sometime around 8:00 (might be 7:55, might be 8:05, check with your school) the teachers and administration will have a brief meeting in the staff room to go over the day's events and any important notices.
As an ALT you will not be expected to make any announcements yourself, but there are things you may need to know about, so you'll want to make sure you are at your desk and ready at least five minutes before the meeting starts. Try to avoid playing with your phone during this time. Seriously, pay attention.
The meeting will be brief; around 8:20, the home room teachers will leave for their classrooms to take attendance and brief the students on the day's events.
First and Second Period
Approximately 8:30 to 10:30
Before each class, designated students will come to the staff room and announce the name of the teacher they are looking for. They then go to that teacher's desk and offer to escort the teacher to his or her classroom.
You should wait at your desk for the assigned students to find you. Encourage them to speak to you in English. They will offer to carry any textbooks or materials to class for you. Unless it's sensitive material (e.g. test preparation worksheets) you should let them do so.
Once the bell signals the beginning of class, start your lesson plan. Don't worry about late or absent students - that's the home room teachers' job. Enjoy your class time and make sure to finish on time. Students (and teachers) only have about 10 minutes between classes so it's important that they have that time to prepare and move around the school.
Once you've made it through the first two classes of the day, it's break time.
Someone said recess?
Approximately 10:15 to 10:45
You might have noticed that our times for first and second period and recess overlap. That's because the situation is different for elementary and junior high schools. At elementary schools, after second period, students will have a twenty minute recess period. If you are free during this time, it is a good chance to head out to the playground and throw a ball with or talk to some of the children. However, it is also a very good time to get resources made or prepared, or to meet with your team teachers.
Junior highs, unfortunately, don't get the recess period. However, some days will have an alternate schedule, leaving a twenty to forty minute gap between second and third period. They might use it to practice for an event or to study for tests. As with elementary schools, you should use this time as best you are able to prepare for lessons and so on.
Third and Fourth Period
Approximately 10:30 to 12:30
As you might suspect, third and fourth periods are essentially a repeat of first and second periods, only everyone is a little bit less energetic and a lot hungrier. Which is good, because after fourth period is...
Pictured: Students Preparing Lunch for an ALT
Approximately 12:30 to 1:30
By now, Japanese school lunch customs have become somewhat well known: Students serve lunch to their teachers and their classmates from prepared bulk portions in either their classrooms or the school cafeteria. Just as before teaching periods, students will come to the staff room to ask you to eat lunch with their class.
Japanese school lunches are usually decent, if not good, and students are always curious about other countries and customs. So, be entertaining and have fun. Try to tell jokes, ask questions, and learn about your students.
Lunch lasts for about thirty minutes. Students will take care of the clean-up, so no need to get your hands dirty. But rest up, because after lunch is...
Recess / Cleaning Time
Approximately 1:30 to 2:00
After lunch, students at both elementary and junior high schools have a bit of a break. At elementary, this is codified into a formal recess period, at junior high, it is a less-structured period of about twenty minutes before fifth period begins. However, once recessed is finished, the brooms and dustpans get pulled out of storage closets for cleaning time.
Students (and teachers, including you!) go to their assigned area and generally tidy up, sweep, and wipe down any dusty surfaces. Honestly, there's not as much cleaning actually being done as some news shows would have you believe, but it is an important part of the school day, so you should try to participate.
Fifth and Sixth Period
Approximately 2:00 to 3:30
While fifth period happens just as you might expect, sixth period can be a little different in that, many days, there is no sixth period. Rather, there is unstructured study time where students can work on various projects, homework, club activities, and so on.
If there is no sixth period, feel free to walk about the school and check in with students. As with lunch, this is a chance for you, the ALT, to get to know your students and for them to get to know you, so make the most of it. Poke your head into rehearsal spaces and art rooms and, if invited, join in.
Beaten, battered, triumphant: us at the end of the day.
The End of the Day
Approximately 4:00 or 4:30
After fifth or sixth period and / or cleaning time, students will return to their classrooms for a final meeting. You should head to the staff room and work at your desk until the bell has rung to dismiss students. By this point in the day, it's probably close to four-thirty and you're ready to go home. But not just yet!
Before you leave, make sure to check in with your co-teachers to talk about the next day's plans and schedule. Once that's done, announce your departure, and get yourself out the door.
Congratulations, you've successfully navigated a full school day without missing any classes or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rest up and be back bright and early tomorrow so we can do it all over again!