Saturday, September 10, 2016

High School-Japanese Style

The name of the high school that I work at is Izumigaoka High School. (E-zumi-gio-ka). Yes it’s a mouthful. It has 1,200 students in grades 10, 11, and 12. It is a high achieving academic senior high school and it considered to be one of the best and most competitive high schools in the prefecture (like a state). 

The building is quite large, it has five stories. It is equipped with a sports field, a large auditorium, technologically advanced science rooms, and a large indoor gym. Of course there is more than this,  I am just trying to paint the picture that it is like your typical American high school. 

I am lucky that my school is just a 10 minute walk or five minute bike ride from my apartment. On my way, there is a post box in case I need to mail something. Also there is a convenience store kitty corner if I need to buy anything. Directly across the street is supposedly one of the best bakeries in Kanazawa. I have yet to try it because it is currently going through a remodel. On my way in I pass a little coffee shop. This area is the epitome of convenience, it’s a great area to live and work in.

School schedule/my work schedule
Classes for students take place between the hours of 8:20 am and 3:50 pm. I have been working about 8-5.  Each of the seven class periods is 50 minutes long and students have a 10 minute break in between. Lunch is between 12:15 and 1 pm and for lunch, many students bring food as they are not allowed to leave campus. Some, may choose to buy hot lunch and eat in the small cafeteria. Otherwise they remain their classroom to eat. Teachers can buy hot lunch and it’s best to go during 4th period, right before lunch when it is swarmed with students. School lunch cost 430 yen or about $4.00 and usually consists of a type of meat, small salad, soup, and rice.  

I am in the classroom about 15 hours of my 35-40 hour work week assisting and leading English lessons. 20 hours of my week are spent preparing and grading student work. I spend additional time taking part in after school club activities. I will compose a longer, more inclusive post about teaching at a later time. 

When the school day completes at 3:50 students can’t race for the door. For the next 25 minutes or so they complete cleaning tasks. The school has a small maintenance staff but, in Japan, it is a custom to have the students share in the responsibility of cleaning their space. See it as a character building exercise. Everyone has a job such as sweeping, cleaning a bathroom, or emptying a garbage can to keep the school clean and tidy. 

Students participate in mandatory extracurricular club activities after the school day ends. Club activities are led primarily by students but with a few teachers in an advisory role. I have a small responsibility for the English Club, as an advisor. This club creates dramatic skits in English to perform and some members participate in debate or speech competitions. I help the students hone their English speaking skills by helping with pronunciation and natural flow. Club activities can take up an enormous amount of a student’s time. Many clubs meet daily, and at times the students remain at school until 6 p.m. or later doing these activities. Some even meet on weekends. 

 Here is the extensive list of clubs the students have to choose from:
Student Council Committees
General Affairs, Treasury, Student Safety, Health, Cleaning, Culture, Physical Education, Library, Broadcasting, Cheering
Cultural Clubs
Literary, Drama, Chorus, Art, English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Calligraphy, Film, Earth Science, Tea Ceremony, Photography, Brass Band, Karuta, I-go & Shogi, Newspaper, Broadcasting, Cheering, Junior Red Cross, Advanced Mathematics, Computer
Sports Clubs
Track and Field, Swimming, Baseball, Mountain-Climbing, Basketball, Table Tennis, Badminton, Judo, Kendo, Volleyball, Sumo, Soft Court Tennis, Hard Court Tennis, Skiing, Handball, Soccer, Japanese Archery
Special Interest Clubs
Anime, Cooking, Quiz, Railroad

The students
In Japanese high school, students are broken into homeroom classes of 40 members. For each grade there are about 10 homeroom classes. These groups of students or classes have their own designated room in the building. They spend the entire day together, in their own room, being taught each lesson by different teachers of different subjects.  The teachers work out of a communal “teachers’ room” or staff room and they go to the students in their prospective locations, instead of the other way around. 

Students wear a uniform which consists of a white button down shirt or more casual polo and grey slacks for boys and grey skirt for girls. They also have a neck tie and suit jacket that they wear for the most formal occasions. Everyone must take off their outdoor shoes before entering school. For teachers, their shoes are kept in a locker near the school entrance. Students all wear identical flip flops in school. They are actually color coded for their grade. Red for 1st years (10th grade), blue for 2nd years (11th grade), and green for 3rd years (12th grade). 

My high school is tough to get into and highly sought after. They must pass an entrance exam to attend. Students in this school are among some of the hardest working students in the city. Most of the students in my school will go to college. It is what is known as a Super Global School as well as a Super Science School. Many of the students will pursue the sciences, though there are many other paths they can pursue.  A large majority of them have the opportunity to participate in some international trip to places like Boston, New York City, Taiwan, or Mongolia.

I am told there is little to no bullying in school. Also the idea of cliques don't exactly exist either. I can't make generalizations about school in Japan as a whole, but I do know that the students in this school are extremely respectful to  fellow classmates as well as their teachers. I have seen little to no behavioral issues.

P.S. If you remember by school festival post, I wrote about the Back to the Future skit. During the first week of classes I recognized one of my students as the actor who played Marty McFly! I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. 

Japanese school year
The Japanese school year begins in April. Students receive a summer vacation for about five weeks, late July thorough August. Second semester commences at the beginning of September and a winter break given for two weeks in late December to early January. Spring break is one week and is taken in March. Graduation of the 3rd year high school students is in March, and for those going to college they will begin their next stage in April.  There are many national holidays in which the students get off throughout the year. This system, is similar to the balanced schedule that some U.S. schools are beginning to instigate.

Stay tuned for more posts about school and teaching life!