Japanese School Tour: The Teacher's Room
As an Assistant Language Teacher, the teacher's room (shokuinshitsu) is where you're going to spend a majority of your time at school. If you thought you'd be in a classroom most of the time, this is actually a pretty rare situation. When I was teaching at elementary school, on my busiest days, I'll still spend at least 4 hours in the teachers room. Yes, even when I taught four classes a day, I'll still spend half my day in the teacher's room.
Consider yourself lucky if this is your case though. While you may be bored out of your mind (especially if your school is strict and won’t let you use electronics) it’s better than experiencing teaching burnout early on in your career. At my final school while teaching in Japan, I barely got any breaks and time in the teacher’s room and that was a huge contributing factor to me leaving the business.
I'll be honest though: sitting in the teacher’s room for hours upon hours a day is not very fun. If you like your coworkers and principal or vice principal, then at least you’ll have people to talk to. But it's still pretty boring and gets old fast.
Last year, when I didn't have access to a computer, I was going through 2-3 books a week because of all my downtime. You may think that you can plan all your lessons during this time, but there’s an inverse correlation between time spent in the teacher’s room and lessons planned. You spend the time in the teacher’s room because you don’t have any classes to teach and lessons to plan!
This is my desk. When I took the picture, it was wintertime so you can see both my scarf and my thermos on my desk. I fold my scarf like this and keep it on my lap over my legs because it gets really cold sometimes, especially when the heating is off (it’s more common than you’d think). Also Japanese people think that leaving the windows open helps prevent the flu from spreading, so you get that freezing wind in the winter and the hornets in the summer.
You can also see some of the materials I used to make my English Boards. I purchase a lot of materials myself (and some of it was reimbursed through Interac—this policy depends on your branch) but I am allowed to use the school's colored paper, scissors, glue, etc.
At the edge of my desk is some of the resources I use. I keep a binder for my activities, lesson plans, songs and lyrics, etc, as well as the required textbooks within arm's reach. I like to use the drawers of my desk for my stationary and it's also where I keep my purse.
At some schools (especially if you have multiple) you won’t have your own desk. You’ll have to share with another part time teacher or even another ALT. If that’s the case, keep your own belongings as minimal as possible. But since I was the only ALT and this was only my desk, I utilized it the best that I could.
The back of the teacher's room
My teacher's room is pretty large. There are three doors. At the front door closest to the entrance to the school sit the principal and vice principal. I sit towards the middle door (which is actually rarely used). This is the back of the room, where the third door is. The table with the folding chairs in the back is where I would eat lunch with my coworkers daily.
❗ This is the only school I’ve ever eaten with coworkers. At every other school, everyone eats at their desks (and sometimes there isn’t even a communal table).
This is the view of the back of the room from my second school. As you can see, it’s a lot smaller and there is no table. At this school, though, there’s a cafeteria that everyone eats in for lunch (no eating at your desk here).
The front of the room
This is the front of the teacher's room. The two desks facing the rest of the room are where the principal and vice principal sit. There's a computer in the room (not seen on the right) that I'm not allowed to use (I bring my own laptop), and the printer that I'm not allowed to use is pictured.
The desks are situated into islands, with the different grade level homeroom teachers sitting together. In my case, I sit with the supplementary teachers, like the school nurse, special needs teachers, and office workers. Many times, they have their own “rooms” and spend time there instead.
This is the teacher's room for my second school. As you can see, it's smaller than my main school's room. However, the layout is almost exactly the same. The teachers are seated in islands, and the principal and vice principal sit in the front and watch over the rest of the room.
I hope you enjoyed this mini tour of the teacher’s room. No matter what school level or area of Japan you’re headed to, every teacher’s room will be some variation of this. If it’s overwhelming, don’t worry! You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.