What I Love (and What I Loathe) at My Schools


When it comes to my schools, I’ve got certain obligations I love and some that I don’t. All too often I’ll find myself ecstatic about one aspect of my job, but in another feel almost sickened about what I have to do. Here are two of the things I love about my job and two things I utterly despise.

I Love Getting Creative

One of my JTEs came up and requested an English Board for Itako 2nd. I accepted the challenge because I’d heard that English Boards were fun to make. However, I had no earthly clue how to make one at first. I researched a little online and figured out the basic idea.

Places like Englipedia are great for start-up ideas like English Boards and English Clubs. Also, Englipedia has activities and lesson plans that go along with the textbooks, so it really helps to make an ALT’s life much easier for last minute lesson plans. I highly recommend the site for ALTs in Japan.

Next, for my English Board I made up rough drafts of different designs and started getting translations for the various topics I wanted. It ended up looking like this:

English Board

My students liked the comic and pretty much ignored the rest. Jerks.

My JTEs seemed to like it and I’ve been requested to make more. I’m going to try in the next year to make one for both schools (with basically the same stuff) every month. I was glad I was given an opportunity to do something a little more artistic. Hopefully, the opportunities will keep coming. Also, I hope that I will eventually stop using blue as my default background color.

For my next trick, I got asked to do a poster for the top ten students who did well on a cultural assignment. Basically, the 3rd Years had to write a small essay about Japanese culture. I picked out the ones who used the best English and made this one:

Neat Fact: Tabs in Japan are called "Pops"

The Top 10 have won a place in the hall!

Sidenote: I got a small cultural lesson with this poster. My JTE asked me to make “Pops” to go along with the poster. I responded with a confused, “Pops?” and he explained that it’s something that goes along the side, one word, and helps people understand things fast. I realized he was talking about Tabs or Labels. I told him, “Oh! You mean Tabs or Labels.” and now we know. And knowing is half the battle!

Anyway, I was surprised at how well my students did on their small essays. Not to mention their drawings were actually pretty good. And that brings me to the next thing I love.

My Students are Awesome!

My students are so creative, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. When I see drawings of girl’s underwear I’m not so thrilled, but some of my kids can make mangaka look like amateurs. I hope that my kids will be happy with what I’ve made. They seem to be happy with English.

Chairs in the Courtyard

I had nothing to do with this, I swear! They did it all on their own.

They love talking to me, even if we don’t understand anything that anyone is saying. I love that they try. I know there are students out there that will make life a living hell for their ALTs just because the ALTs are foreign. My kids won’t shut up about how “cute” I am, which in turn makes me blush, which in turn makes them giggle.

I often get “jokes” that I don’t understand, but they’re in English so apparently I’m supposed to understand. For example, I was walking along the 2nd Years hall at Hinode JHS and a group of boys asked me, “Jessica-sensei! What time is it?”

I smiled and said, “It’s 1:15.”

They laughed and said, “Ok, ok. I go to Mexico for fried potato. Ok?”

I shrugged, “Ok. Do you know how to get to Mexico?”

“No, no, no! Balls not for sale!”

I had no response for that other than suppressed laughter. Seriously, my kids can make my day bright even in the cold, rainy winter.

But there are some things that make my day turn into abysmal misfortunes.

Not a Fan of The School Lunch

I only actually like one school lunch and that’s curry and rice. The others are only tolerable at best. The problem is two fold: 1) the food is usually lukewarm and 2) it’s usually got tofu in it, and I hate tofu hardcore.

Here’s what a stereotypical Japanese JHS school lunch looks like:

Please, sir, may I have some more?

I never thought I’d look back to middle school and think, “You know what? School lunch was delicious. I should have savored that PB&J!”

Basically, you get a carton of milk, which is fine. Usually, there’s some rice or noodles or bread in the big portion of the tray. Then, there’s some kind of odd soup/stew thing that contains a whole bunch of veggies and meat that might be good for you in a parallel universe but the fact is they’ve been soaked in broth/grease so no, no they’re not. The meat portion contains fish the majority of the time, and usually it’s near flavorless or soaked in some kind of sauce/ jelly that looks…less than appetizing. The cold veggies off to the top left are alright, unless they’re full of pickles. I hate pickles, and for some reason, they’re in a lot of lunches here.

It sucks sometimes when I get a lunch and basically it’s half tofu and half pickles. I have to force myself to eat, and it feels like a battle with my taste buds. On top of that, if I’m supposed to eat with the kids I have to shovel down all of my food so that they will eat, too. If I don’t eat, they tend not to eat either. All the while I’m smiling and pretending to have a good time, while internally I’m grossed out and praying nothing goes horribly awry later.

You see, my stomach gets pissed off every so often from one lunch or another, too. I don’t have the heart to tell my school that I play lunch roulette and that maybe one out of four lunches will make me sick. I’ll never know which ones will cause the problem, so I can’t prevent it unless I don’t eat the school lunch period. However, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I suffer in silence on this one.

However, for the last one, I’m pretty sure everyone over here knows how I feel.

I will Always and Forever Hate the F#@*ing Textbooks

I have the oh-so “wonderful” textbooks called New Horizon.

It's ALL WRONG!

The three reasons I could never be a full time English teacher in Japan.

My JTEs are awesome people. They work hard and Lord knows they’re trying their best with what they’ve got, but the curriculum they’re forced to teach is just atrocious. These textbooks are essentially used all too often as a JTE’s English Bible. They teach in order exactly what the textbook says to teach in this order. If they don’t, then the kids could fail a portion of the test because the tests reflect the textbooks, and it ends up being one vicious cycle.

There’s some bad English in these textbooks. For example, in the 1st Year book we get a skit with Kevin and Sakura talking about the weather. Kevin says, “How’s the weather?” and then Sakura says, “It’s cloudy. But OK.” No, Sakura, that’s bad. Say, “It’s cloudy, but that’s OK.” or “It’s cloudy, but it’s OK.” However, it’s something kind of small and I can just forgive it and move on.

Then, I have to watch as the student’s write down the sentences directly from the book over and over and over again. The book is littered with bad grammar, awkward sentence structures, and etc. I watch in horror sometimes when I see something blatantly wrong get taught and then gets repeatedly written down. Once or twice I’ve tried to tell a teacher how wrong something is, but I usually just get kind of patronizingly told that it’s fine.

On top of that, the students learn little to nothing about any English speaking countries or cultures. Every so often I’ll get something mentioned in class about living in America and what we do, but the textbooks (the Bibles as you will recall) take place in motherf@#!ing Japan. I end up saying idiotic stuff like, “I have natto for breakfast.” and “My favorite was Kinkaku-ji.” (I was told for this one that shrine is too difficulte for JHS students) and read stories about Japanese singers. The stories usually involve a Japanese cultural lesson in English,or make it so the ALT feels like a horrid person for being American.

For example, “A Mother’s Lullaby” is a story about how a tree recalls how the U.S. attacked Hiroshima and a little girl sings a lullaby to a little boy as he dies in her arms. She dies too, of course, and the ruins of Hiroshima are shown in all their glory. Meanwhile, an American ALT is standing at the front, reciting this story and feeling awkward. Some ALTs can get through it just fine, others request that they not be there for the lesson entirely, and then there’s people like me who just survive the experience.

Essentially, the textbooks themselves are designed to make kids learn English but essentially just keep learning about Japan from a limited Japanese perspective. We don’t talk about Pearl Harbor when we have to do “A Mother’s Lullaby” or the Nanking Massacre. We just get the A-bomb drop and nothing else.

When I studied French in middle school, German in high school, and then German again in college, I was learning the language and culture all in one. I learned about French artists, different parts of France, what a German breakfast looks like, how German and French students go to school, and never once did I see anything to do with America. When I was in my foreign language classes, I watched foreign language movies and had to do small reports about the movies in that language.

I do the best when I can, but trying to fight against the system does no good. I’ve just had to learn to force myself to not go crazy about it and just do my job. Still, a lesson from the textbook can make me feel utterly useless, enraged, and sickened all at once.

In the end, the good does outweigh the bad. As I said before, my kids are great and my JTEs and other co-workers are hard workers. I love getting out of bed in the morning and going to work, which I don’t think everybody can say. I want to keep doing this for another two years, and hopefully become a better teacher as time goes on.

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