6 Ways to spend time at school when not teaching the ABCs

By Josh Del Pino

Are you free at school?  All of the time? You may be wondering, “What do I do when I have all of this free time?” Of course, on paper, as ALTs we are here to support the English teaching needs of our Japanese counterparts. However, I believe that as ALTs many of us have greater opportunities to create valuable experiences (for ourselves and for our neighbors) by getting involved outside of the classroom. If sitting at your desk for extended periods of time and wishing you had something to do is your reality at school, the following is just for you. If you are swamped with grading papers, interviewing students, designing tests, and regularly differentiating between the pronunciation of rice and lice, then you can drop it like it’s hot.

1. You can meet and greet the students in the morning. It is a great time to literally have “face-time” with your students as they start their day. I personally take this time to introduce simple and G rated slang, cool gestures, such as the terrorist fist bump (“hit the rock!”) and the handshake from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Students usually arrive during and before the morning meeting for teachers and staff, so instead of attending the morning meetings I greet the students. You may have to ask a JTE if it’s kosher. And there goes 10 minutes of your time…

2. Become the Minister of Cleaning, or in Japanese 掃除大臣. You can help clean the staff room or the main entrance in the mornings (This time is separate from the daily cleaning time).  If you haven’t noticed yet, Japanese culture kind of values cleanliness.  When I started to clean in the mornings, everyone started to thank me, even in English – totally unexpected!  If you are lucky, your cleaning skills and abilities will be praised during a professional evaluation meeting, only if you’re lucky though.  And there’s goes another 10 minutes of your day…

3. You can ask a non-English teacher to observe or to even participate in a class. You can learn about something new and better understand what your students’ classes are like. You can even take on the “student-role”, giving your students the opportunity to teach you!   It can be empowering for them and it’s a win-win situation!  While at school in my free time, I have programmed robots, completed electric circuitry, made arts and crafts, shared with and cooked my banana bread recipe in a rice cooker, played sports, played instruments, sat in on homerooms, and other things not directly related to “I’m fine thank you. And you?”   So that’s 45 – 50 minutes… gone!

4. Study Japanese. This is a no-brainer, but still.  Of course some of you are thinking, “I live in Japan and have to use Japanese everyday. I don’t want to study. I’ll just absorb it.” And others are thinking, “ I live in Japan and have to use Japanese everyday. I better get my learn on.” Regardless of which camp you are in at the moment, I think it’s a good idea to make studying Japanese a part of your daily routine, even if it is just for 20 minutes. Of course, some of you may work at school(s) where they do not appreciate you spending your time studying personal material, so be aware of that. If you don’t know, it’s OK to ask someone. So there is 0 minutes to 200 + minutes of your school day, さようなら!

5. You come to school and see that your schedule for the day has you attending… wait for it… ZERO classes. This can be a painfully slow day or it can be an awesome day! It’s up to you. Once again the power of asking a question is in your favor. I don’t know what that question should be, but just ask someone. I used to attend a pre-school and play in a pool with kids in the beautiful summer sun instead of sitting at a desk all day, simply because I asked someone. I was even able to regularly attend a calligraphy class with the elderly during the school year because, you guessed it: I asked someone!

6. What’s this? You are done grading papers and planning lessons for the week? Well, now is your chance to take over the world. Or just design an English board or a day trip to Guam. Now is your chance to take a moment to daydream, breath, and enjoy the present moment of peace, quiet and doing nothingness. You won’t always have the luxury of “free time” so enjoy it while it lasts. I realize that all of you are go-getters, but, resting is just as important as working. And learning to be is just as important as learning to do.

So, have a great day at school!


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