Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
It’s almost April, the starting time for the school year in Japan. If you’re starting your first year working in Japan, this is useful info to know how your life at your new workplace will go.
Of course each situation will be different, but here is a head’s up about what to bring for working in a school in Japan. You will probably be introduced to staff before starting work, which is a good time to ask what you’re expected to bring. As an ALT, here is the list of things I brought to my school and left there (when I had one school), or bring from school to school every day. Let me know if I missed something.
Students bring a lot of things to school with them, which is why they wear cute Landsel backpacks in elementary school and carry school bags in junior high and high school. They will usually have a few small bags in their school bag to carry things like gym clothes, items for lunchtime, and of course special materials for classes. A lot of things get left in their classroom part of the time and only come home sometimes.
You might need a lot of things for your workday at schools as well. Keeping a separate bag you only use for work stocked with everything you need helps cut back on prep time in the morning when you’re on the way out. I keep my school bag stocked and ready to go by the door.
You will need a form called “Weekly Work Report” or something similar, and at the end of each day or week, it will be stamped by the vice principal or other staff. It will show the classes you were at for each day so your company has a record for the board of education if needed. You might have other paperwork and I recommend keeping a record of your lessons so you don’t have to try to remember what lesson every class has already had.
You might work at different schools and need to bring textbooks or other materials provided by your company from school to school. Sometimes you get lucky and have a set at each school or better yet, only work at one school.
At the junior high school, I had a pair of school shoes that I changed into when I got to school every day and changed out of when I left. A lot of staff also have gym shoes (at least in that area) for when you are at assemblies or events in the school gym. Gym shoes aren’t completely necessary because you might not be invited or expected to go to any events, or they might wear the regular school shoes in the gym. It depends on the area and school.
School shoes for students are the same just about everywhere in Japan, from preschool through junior high school. They are called uwabaki in Japanese, and they are white canvas slip-ons with an elastic band and colored rubber toe and sole. Most schools assign a specific color to each grade. You could buy these at any local department store for well under 1000 yen, but only if you want your students to kind of laugh at you. I thought it was funny to pretend I was a first year junior high school student and got the same color they wore.
Most school staff wear something durable and comfortable, and even Crocs are okay. Think athletic shoes or (more casual) office shoes. This goes for both gym shoes and school shoes. These aren’t something that needs to be fancy or expensive, just clean (if not new) shoes.
In Japan (and S. Korea) they have this awesome habit of brushing their teeth after eating lunch. There is a designated time for it at some schools. (My previous school always played this random song in English during brushing time. I wish I knew what it was, but all I know is it’s from the 80s and by a Swedish band.) Bring your own toothbrush, maybe a toothbrush case, toothpaste, a cup if you want, and a little hand towel so you can acquire this good habit too.
On the topic of hand towels, in Japan, you won’t see paper towels in public bathrooms. Japanese people bring along a hand towel to use after using the bathroom and washing their hands. Note: Men usually use a handkerchief and women usually use a hand towel, but whatever works for you.
Optional is bringing a box or little pack of tissues (also very handy on the occasion you need to use a bathroom in a park where is no toilet paper) or if you’re one to use tissues often during cold or allergy season.
Or…a spoon and fork if you need those.
Sometimes school lunch has chopsticks provided and sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on your city and school – I brought my own when I worked near Tokyo, but here in Kyushu there are (kid sized) chopsticks on the tray with school lunch.
You might not need any of these, depending on how many schools you go to, what type of school, how well your desk is stocked (if you have a desk), how much staff shares with you, and how much paperwork, grading, worksheet designing, poster, and flashcard making you will do. Don’t spend a lot of money on supplies (100 yen shops are fine) and don’t expect to be reimbursed for any supplies you do buy. Schools have lots of supplies that you can probably use for classes if you ask in advance. I’m a fan of the red pen and stamps for grading or signing off that students participated in a game during class.
Some staff have their own mug they leave at the school all the time, but if you work at more than one school, it might be better to bring a thermos each day. I recommend finding a cute mug at the 100 yen store if you don’t have more than a few schools. It can be used for water and also tea (sometimes served during lunch if you eat in the teachers’ room), and your own beverage – see below.
You might be asked to contribute to a coffee fund or just invited to drink coffee and tea shared between staff. In addition to a pot of coffee, there will probably be green tea and maybe some stick / instant coffee around. There are a lot of options at stores for instant lattes and milk tea, for example, plus packets of pour over style coffee (like the photo above). Make sure you ask before using someone’s instant coffee/hot cocoa, instant lemonade, or whatever else. If you bring your own, you can have what you know you like, and not be stuck without caffeine or something sweet when you need it.
Note: Try to avoid eating at school with the exception of school lunch and don’t snack unless it’s in the teachers’ room (and it’s something that doesn’t make a mess or have a strong smell). Don’t bring any snacks or drinks into the classrooms. Students aren’t allowed to drink water in the classroom and they will be confused if you have something just to keep your voice from falling apart. If you really need it, ask to be excused for a sec and drink something from the sinks in the hallways.
That’s all for now and I hope your school bag isn’t too heavy!