Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Day in the Life: My Routine, Job, and Students Part I

My apologies that this is coming so late. First I accidentally deleted my pictures and had to take them, download them, and sort them again, then the pictures wouldn`t download onto my blog, then blogger erased my draft. Hopefully, it works properly now.

Lots of people have been asking, "So you have all these crazy adventures in Japan. You`re involved in mission work. You write. But what exactly are you SUPPOSED to be doing? I mean, they hired you for a reason, right? What are you PAID to do?"

Ok, Ok, it`s not all fun and games. I just don`t find my school life to be worth writing about. Not that I don`t find it enjoyable, productive, and all that. It`s just that I`m a sci-fi/fantasy writer at heart. I look for the story that is unusual or special and write about that. But I think you`re absolutely right that I tend to neglect the every-day details, which often make a story come alive and feel more "real." So before I post about my amazing adventures in Yokohama this weekend, allow me to give you a "day in the life." A regular day, that is. Some of this may be a repeat, but here it is, in order, no cuts.

I usually wake up between 7:00-7:30AM. My hot water heater button is located on a box in my kitchen, so I have to remember to press it before I get in the shower, otherwise I end up draping myself in a towel and running into my 30 degree kitchen to press it. I have to set the temperature I want before I get in the shower, and of course it`s in Celsius. I like it around 37 degrees, which is about 98.6 degrees Farenheit. A good temperature to memorize, because if you ever find yourself sick in a foreign country, that`s the temperature your body is supposed to be at.

My shower drain plugs really easily, so I have to cover it with a plastic strainer thingy and clean it out often. I still have had no luck finding a way to tack my shower head to the wall, so I awkwardly hold it up over my head with one hand and try to wash my hair with the other. Not exactly effective, but no one`s complained that I smell yet. This is what my Japanese bathroom looks like. Note that the toilet is in another room, which is very convenient for when guests spend the night:

Traditionally, Japanese people wash before they get in the tub. There is a drain in the floor. Once they`re clean, they get into the tub and soak, then rinse off in the shower. They do this to keep from getting the bath tube dirty. Traditionally this was because everyone shared the same bath water, but I can see why they still do it today. For some reason, Japanese tubs get dirty really easy. I have to wash mine every time after I take a shower. I have yet to actually take a bath, however. My tube is very tiny. But if a Japanese person ever comes to your house, be sure to tell them to wash after they get in the tube, otherwise they`ll flood your floor. Believe me, it`s happened before.

After my shower, I eat breakfast (which usually consists of green tea and organic cereal with fruit and plain yogurt instead of milk because I`m allergic to straight milk), pack my “bento” or Japanese box lunch with leftovers from the night before, and head out the door around 8:00AM. If I have no leftovers, I make a sandwich or buy something from the bread ladies who come to school during lunch time, which is 12:45-1:15 for the students, anywhere from 12:00-1:30 for the teachers. I really love the bread ladies` chocolate pudding and custard stuffed buns. There is no cafeteria; students all bring bentos to eat in their rooms and I often join them. Here`s a picture of a “bento”:

On a nice day, I ride my bike. You`ve seen a picture of it; old but reliable. I call her "Trusty Rusty." It`s about two and a half miles to school, mostly uphill, and takes me about thirty minutes. It`s a hard ride, but the early morning air and exercise gets me energized for the day. The nice thing is that the way home is mostly downhill, so at the end of the day I get a nice, relaxing ride with beautiful mountain and leaf-changing scenery. Here`s two pictures of that:

In bad weather or when I`m just not feeling up to it (which is about 50% of the time) I take the train and then walk a mile from the station to the school. The train costs \150 one way, so \300 round trip, which is about $3.25. So it adds up. But I can get these buy ten, get one free tickets that are really nice and convenient, so I do that. There`s no expiration date and I don`t have to wait in line to buy a ticket each time. If I feel really awful or my umbrella has been broken by the rain and winds, I also take the bus, which is \160 yen and drops me off about a quarter mile from the school entrance. I rarely take the bus; I think less than 10 times.

I arrive at school at around 8:30. The first thing I do is change from my sneakers into a black slipper-shoe. The shoes I`m currently not wearing go into the metal shoe box with my name. Any time you find that you have to step up or step down somewhere in Japan, you have to change shoes. The idea is that your outside shoes are dirty and should not go on clean tatami (rice straw mat; traditional Japanese flooring), tile, wood, or anything else. The Japanese, as far as I`ve seen, never have carpet.

I also have to change into wooden “toilet shoes” when I go into the bathroom. All of the toilets in the school are “squatters” or simple porcelain holes in the floor. Except for one near the teacher`s room. That one`s mine. Here`s a picture of a “squatter.”:

Once inside the teacher`s room, I use my “inkan” or signature stamp to “sign” the employee book for that day. I have my very own page that shows when I was here and when I took ninque, or paid vacation time. Ninque is also used for sick days. I have a total of 25 ninque I can use throughout the year. Five of those days can only be used in the summer and the only time I get actual “sick leave” is if I`m in the hospital. Still, it`s pretty generous, I think.

Then there is a morning meeting conducted by the vice principal, and other teachers speak up as needed, mostly giving news about this or that. The band teacher might talk about a competition and how they did, the baseball coach might talk about a tournament, that sort of thing. The nurse almost always speaks about watching out for illness and proper “gargling” and all that. If any classes have been closed down because of the flu, that is mentioned. (It takes only two sick students to close down a class of thirty. Go figure.) The meeting usually lasts about five minutes and I understand very little of it. If there`s something important for me to know, like one of my classes being shut down, my supervisor, Nakayama sensei, lets me know.

From about 8:40-8:50 there is “morning reading” in the students` home rooms. Students are given a passage to read with questions. Sometimes the passage is in English, in which case, home room teachers will ask me to come to the class and read the passage aloud, with any new vocabulary, having the students repeat as necessary. This dosn`t happen very often. Usually I spend the time making sure I have everything I need, going over the lesson in my head, that sort of thing.

First period begins at around 8:55. Each class is about fifty-five minutes, except when there is “shortening” for an assembly, explanations, presentations, that sort of thing. This happens about once a week. Then each class is only forty-five minutes. Most students have seven classes, though some have only six, though I`m not sure why. I average at about two classes per day. Some days I have as many as four, some days none at all. So I`m really lucky.

In my slight defense, however, each class is a performance. Back in the states, I had high school teachers who for a lesson would tell us to read for twenty minutes, then answer questions at the end of a passage, and might talk for five minutes, and that`s it. For my lesson I spend the whole time either presenting, singing, dancing (or rather, doing motions to make what I`m saying more clear), demonstrating dialogues, and trying as hard as I can to understand their broken English/very fast Japanese and reply in a way they`ll actually understand. I have to be “on” and performing the whole time, and I have the whole thing scripted and then some in case the students catch on quick, plus I have to deal with things as they come up, and keep the teacher I`m team-teaching with feeling like she`s doing something, when in actuality she`s usually just standing there saying “eh…toe…” (Um…uh…” and keeping things from moving forward despite the fact that I gave her my lesson plans a week in advance and had two meetings with her beforehand. (OK, that`s a little mean. Only one of the teachers I work with is like that.) There are three main teachers I work with, besides four that I sometimes visit.

Here is a picture of my school, Kikyogaoka high school:

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