This past Monday the term opened and I began to teach at Shimonohashi Junior School. Shimonohashi is the oldest school in the city, has a small museum inside (very rare), and counts among its alumni many famous people, including a poet and a prime minister.
The school has about 300 students, divided into three classes per grade, plus one special education class and one class for deaf students.
Each week, I will work exclusively with one grade of students, and at the end of each week I will switch down a grade. So, this first week I worked with the third year (ninth grade) students; next week I will work with the second year (eighth grade), and the week after the first year (seventh grade) students. From time to time I will also visit the special education students and the deaf students' classroom.
There are three English teachers at my school. Mr. Miura teaches the third year students, and Mr. Suzuki teaches the second year students. Mr. Miura and Mr. Suzuki share the teaching of the first year students. They are assisted by a third English teacher, who has no classes of her own. This means that sometimes I am working with two teachers, and other times I am working with three.
Unfortunately, at my school the vice principal is very ill. The vice principal is generally responsible for handling a lot of the scheduling and activities preparation of the school; since he has been gone for at least several months, and they are not seeking a replacement, it means that all of the teachers are under significant additional stress.
I have a desk in the teachers' room with the group of second year teachers. I sit next to two of my English teachers, which is helpful.
In Shimonohashi, students must ask for special permission and declare a reason to enter the teachers' room. This is slightly more strict than most junior high schools. Of the six ALT junior high schools, mine is ranked (by test score) highest.
In addition to team teaching classes, I have been visiting Mr. Suzuki's homeroom and talking to the kids during lunch and cleaning time.
I am also helping prepare students for the speech competition (which is in English). There are actually two contests- one for the best speech a student has written, and one for the best recitation of a story from the textbook. This means I have to show up at school at 7:45, which is a little painful. However, I am finished each day around four o'clock, which gives me plenty of time to relax before dinner.
For the term opening ceremony, I had to introduce myself in English and Japanese to an assembly of all of the students and teachers. Having done this before when I was on the Earlham study abroad program in Morioka three years ago, I was ok. I was not prepared, however, for what followed-- 300 students doing a prepared, choreographed dance for me. That sure surprised me.
The first week of lessons for the third year students centered on a story about a young girl who comforts a little boy after the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, and that night despite their best efforts they both die. It was a little awkward to start with, but thankfully Mr. Miura made it easier.
Of course, it has only been a week, but so far I really enjoy working at my school.