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Bored in Japan: What to Do When You're Stuck in the Teacher's Room

It’s happened. You’re in Japan. You finished all the training. You have all your materials and your ALT Survival Kit is ready for anything. You’re ready to teach up a storm!

Ready, Set….

Sit in the Teachers Room.

Not every day as an ALT is terribly exciting. In fact, I’d go so far as to say most of them truly aren’t. You get used to accepting that various little things will be what make or break your day. A random hug or high five, a kid falling asleep while studying with you, origami gifts, and fights (yes, fights) become what you live for and what you know to avoid to maintain a reasonably upbeat ‘ALT Attitude’.

All placements are different, and even if you get one like mine where you teach 5-6 classes a day as well as tutor at lunch and after school there are still times where all the school will need you to do is sit in the 職員室 (staff room) and pretend you’re busy. Testing days, school trips, health checks, school meetings. Some people sit at their desk for a few days a month and some (sadly) sit there for most of the day, every day. So what are you supposed to do with (usually) no internet and virtually no lesson planning (if you’re in Jr. High or high school)?

Here are some ideas to get you through the day with your sanity and your reputation reasonably intact (in no particular order):

NOTE: These are unofficial suggestions only. Keep in mind every school is different--read your situation or ask someone if you don’t know if your school will want you to do some of the ideas on this list.

1. Study Japanese

The most recommended and the one that usually impresses your school the most. They love seeing you make the effort and you are literally surrounded by native speaking teachers. Free help!

2. Read a book

Probably the second most popular activity for off periods. I do prefer to have a physical book with me though--using my Nook feels more like goofing off and I feel a bit bad around all these people working so hard.

3. Planning

I’m not just talking school either. If that’s all finished, plan your to-do lists, grocery shopping, budgeting, journals, exercise schedule, what you’re going to do after the whole ALT thing gets old, and... I think you get the picture. All this time is good for life planning!

4. Watch other classes (with permission)

Many teachers are happy to have you sit in the back and watch or, in the case of P.E. especially, participate. I always find this really interesting and I love joining in soccer and track & field classes! This will definitely depend on your school though, and always get permission beforehand, not in front of the students.

5. Ask other teachers if they need help

From lesson planning, grading, shopping, gardening, cleaning, copying, mediating, and, of course, teaching, your coworkers have a lot on their plate! Offer to help: make their copies, carry something, join in on the weeding and watering. You’ll make some really good friends and you'll both win.

6. Make worksheets

Even if they’re never used it’s nice to show the JTE’s you’re trying. Coming up with activities or worksheets for future lessons can help them out and you may get more actual teaching out of it which then equals even less boredom. Perfect.

Yes, one of the "v"'s went missing after a day. It's fine.

7. Create an English Board (with permission)

My school has a bulletin board for me to change up every month. I post about the United States, holidays or events going on each month, what I did over vacations, ask them questions, and put up simple seasonal songs. A lot of the kids talk to me about it at lunch, breaking the awkward language-barrier silence. I've even given out stickers to anyone that comes to my desk and answers a question or a poll I've posted. Some ALT's will put a mailbox next to their board and write notes back and forth with any students that so choose!

8. Exercise/ Take a walk

Yup. Sometimes I just have to get up and go. I’ll do simple exercises like wall sits or squats or something in the bathroom or I’ll walk around the school grounds. Getting up every hour is important for your health too! Too much sitting is just…. Ugh.

9. Talk to someone

My main conversation buddy and Japanese grandma retired last year, but I still have my daily chats with the lunch ladies and a few other teachers. If someone near you doesn’t look super busy ask them a question about themselves, Japan, or your city! A lot of the teachers really want to talk to you but are too shy or unsure of their English to make the first move. My conversations usually wind up being a garbled mix of simple English and Japanese with a lot of charades and laughter. I even found a teacher that loves Maroon 5 and Leo DiCaprio even more than I do, woah.

10. Attend the event

If you don’t have classes because of an event, go watch it. Police come to school to teach the kids how to ride bikes, they have grade level and school-wide student meetings every now and then, sports days, volunteer days, clean up days. The list is endless and opportunities to learn and have fun abound.

With all this there are still days when I just sit and stare out the window watching the kids run around. Not every day is going to be one-of-a-kind exciting, but I know I wouldn’t trade in a second of it!

What do you do when you’re bored at work or in school? Let us know!

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Hey all! My name is Kendra B. and I'm happy to meet you! I'm a teacher with a need to continue learning and a heart torn between staying put and going out to experience the world. I'm about to leave for Peace Corps Zambia for the next 27 months and would love for you to join me on this new adventure!


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