As one would expect, things in Japan will be unfamiliar and different from what you may have been accustomed to at home. Don’t assume anything! Ask questions. Your supervisor and senpai JETs in your area are probably the best people to ask questions while you are settling into your new community.
Who is my supervisor?
Because things aren’t confusing enough, the word “supervisor” is often used to mean two (hopefully not more) people. That’s because the word 所属長 (shozokuchou) and 担当者 (tantousha) are both translated as “supervisor.” Your shozokucho is most likely your principal, and he/she is generally considered responsible for you. However, the person who actually does all your supervising is often called your tantousha, and (for high school ALTs) is usually one of the English teachers (you may also hear them referred to as your go-between). For junior high school ALTs, someone at the local board of education is usually your supervisor. Also, in some cases, a number of English teachers may act as your supervisor depending on the situation and what you need help with. Here, when we say supervisor, we will be referring to your tantousha.
If nobody tells you that they are your supervisor, ask the question: 私の担当者は誰ですか? ( Watashi no tantousha wa dare desu ka?).
Role of your supervisor
In most situations (unless you are your school’s first JET), your supervisor will be fairly quick in explaining most of the important information that you will need to know. However, take a pro-active role and ask questions. Do not rely on your supervisor to tell you everything that you may want or need to know. Your supervisor should run you through your Personal Seal, bills, banking, and a tentative work schedule. It is common for household bills, such as gas, water, electricity, and so on to be paid through automatic withdrawal from your bank account; however, make sure to ask your supervisor when and how all of your bills will be paid. If you want to have your bills paid via automatic withdrawal (口座振替 koza-furikae), ask your supervisor to help you fill out the necessary forms at the bank. Most bills can be paid at convenience stores.
Transportation to and from work
Ask your supervisor about transportation to and from work. Some of you may have to take the train or bus, some may have to walk or ride a bike, and there are some who will need to drive commute by car or scooter. Please make sure to ask what means of transportation they allow, as some schools/BOEs don’t allow JETs to drive to work. However, most JETs are allowed to drive during non-working hours. If you’re having problems with that, see My BOE won’t let me drive!. If you are going to be driving, make sure to check out the Rules of the Road.
From the moment you arrive in Japan, you will be barraged with new names and faces. It is a good idea to spend the first week or so making a serious effort to memorize everyone’s name, especially the teachers and staff members at your school or BOE. Nothing is more embarrassing than not remembering someone’s name, especially people you see and work with every day. The quickest and easiest way to remember everyone’s name is to have one of the English teachers give you the staffroom seating chart with romaji or hiragana written above all of the names. When you have free time, you can sit there and look around the room matching the names to faces. You should also make sure to find out the following information on each teacher:
- What their title is, if any
- What they are in charge of. Some teachers act as tantousha of their shima (island of desks), others are in charge of 1st, 2nd or 3rd year student matters, and others may head up particular school projects, etc.
- What subject(s) they teach. In some schools it may be possible to sit in on other teacher’s classes or do a joint lesson with non-English teachers.
- Whether or not they are a homeroom teacher. Homeroom teachers are responsible for their students’ behavior in and outside of the classroom, and they are the one to talk to if you are having problems with a particular student in your class.
- What club(s), if any, they coach. Most schools allow their ALTs to participate in school clubs. Find out what is available.
Junior High Schools
Generally, JHS ALTs work for a city, town, or district board of education. This is your official employer, but you will be working at the junior high school(s) and/or elementary school(s) in the area covered by your BOE. Usually, most ALTs will be “working” at the BOE for about a month until the second term starts, and more than likely will have a lot of spare time away from your desk. Use this time to get to know your area, accommodations, and all of the new faces at the BOE and your school(s). Learn how your BOE functions, who does what, what people you need to know, and what your role there is.
Senior High Schools
As a high school JET, you will probably work at an individual high school, but the Prefectural Board of Education is your official employer. Unlike JHS JETs, all SHS JETs in Hyogo have the same contract. The downside to this is that most high school JETs will be stuck at school during the summer, even when there are no classes to teach. However, this can be advantageous for SHS JETs who have just arrived in a new place and do not know many people. Use this time to get to know your co-workers and how your school functions. If you find that you have too much free time, and checking your e-mail ten times a day does not seem to occupy enough time, try studying Japanese or joining one of the clubs at your school. Joining a club activity is a great way to communicate and interact with the students outside the classroom.
Questions About Work
Make sure you ask your supervisor or an English teacher about how your school works. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Your fellow teachers are usually more than willing to assist you. Please keep in mind, however, that teachers will be extremely busy during the term and will sometimes not have enough time to adequately answer your questions or discuss classes. If this is the case, ask to set aside a special time each week when you can meet to discuss classes or other matters – if it’s on their schedule, they are less likely to give you the “I’m too busy now” excuse. Most teachers have a lot of free time during the summer, so this is your best chance to ask them about their teaching methods, previous team-taught lessons, what was successful, what failed, and what new ideas they have for the future. Also, make a sincere effort to get to know them as individuals.
Things you might want to ask include:
- What level of students will I be teaching?
- Will we be using textbooks in the class?
- Can I supplement the textbook with my own materials?
- Did my predecessor leave any prior lesson plans?
- What clubs are there at this school? Can I participate?
- What extra-curricular duties, if any, do I have (community Eikaiwa, etc.)?
- What is the cleaning schedule and where/when I am supposed to help out?
- Where is the copy machine and how do I use it?
- Can I use the internet at school?
- Some schools don’t allow you to check your e-mail, but at the very least, you should be able to use the internet for finding teaching resources.
- What school events are held each year? What will I be expected to do during these activities?
- What are the rules about taking leave when I am sick?
- This one trips up a lot of ALTs, so please be sure to ask before you find yourself sick and using up your nenkyu/yearly leave!
Familiarize yourself with your surroundings as quickly as you can. Make sure that you locate your school, and the closest hospital, post office, bank, grocery store, convenience store, video rental store, train stops, bus stops, etc. Ask someone at your school to get you some train and bus schedules and then kindly ask one of the English teachers to translate them for you. Find out the hours for local stores – especially in the countryside, stores close extremely early. Many stores in Japan are closed one day a week, either Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Also, find out where the ATMs are, when they open and close (sometimes early), what their rates are, and if there are any days that they will not be open at all. It is also important to find out which JETs are closest (geographically and emotionally) to you. In case of an emergency or if you lose your sanity, they’ll probably be the ones that you can call for help. Also, find out about your nearest doctor or hospital (not something you want to put off until you have a 40° fever).
Everyone feels a little lonely sometimes, and not knowing Japanese can make you feel even more isolated. The Tokyo and local orientations are your best chance to make English-speaking friends in the prefecture. The next step is socializing with other ALTs during summer vacation events such as the AJET sponsored beer gardens or the numerous other exciting events held throughout the year. However, try to make some Japanese friends as well. Chances are, there won’t be that many ALTs in your immediate area, so getting to know people in your town is important. Your town probably has community sports clubs and cultural classes you can join, and there are many community events that you can attend. It is also helps to get to know your landlord, your neighbors, and local shopkeepers. Even if you don’t know Japanese, meeting Japanese people is not that difficult. Many Japanese people will actually be dying to practice their English. With a little Japanese, simple English, and gestures, it is possible to communicate. Besides, it is a good reminder of how your students will feel when trying to communicate in English.