School Cleaning Time at Japanese Schools
If you've watched any school-life anime, you'll know that an important part of the school day is cleaning the school. Students are allocated a set amount of time, either after lunch (elementary) or at the end of the day (junior high school) to clean. They're responsible for cleaning both their classroom and the common areas of the school.
Usually, a little jingle will play through the speakers to keep kids peppy and encourage them to clean. If the school is progressive, they’ll play pop music with lyrics. The homeroom teachers will also be around, both supervising (making sure they don't slack off) and helping to clean.
Now, here comes the big question: as an ALT, are you responsible for cleaning as well?
Honestly, the answer depends on you. Technically, you're not required to clean. In fact, on your daily schedule, you shouldn't be scheduled to work during that time. I also have an old work contract (from around 2007) that states you aren't required to clean, and if you are asked to, contact Interac first.
But just because you're not obligated to clean doesn't mean that you shouldn't clean. At the same time, you shouldn't feel pressured to clean by the school either. It's honestly completely up to you and how you feel about it.
How Does Cleaning Work?
In elementary school, students clean by homeroom classes generally. In junior high, homerooms can be broken into smaller groups (usually their table groups) to clean certain areas depending on the day's assignment.
My biggest obstacle with cleaning was not knowing where to go to help clean. At every one of my schools, there was no group of students that came to clean the teacher's room. (Though the janitors will come in from time to time to vacuum, etc.)
If you’re determined, you can simply ask your vice principal where to help clean. More than likely, he'll be thrilled by your initiative and show you where the extra cleaning supply closet is. Or, if you eat lunch with your students, or happen to be teaching a class before cleaning time, ask the homeroom teacher if you can help with their cleaning assignments.
This is the cleaning supply closet located in my English room. Every homeroom will have one, typically in the back. In typical Japanese fashion, there's a place for everything - it's even labeled!
Students will use brooms and dustpans to collect dirt. Depending on where they clean, they may also have cloths to wipe surfaces down. While you can see a vacuum in the picture above, I’ve never seen anyone use it before, apart from the janitorial staff.
If you do want to clean, copy what the students are doing. Don’t bring a vacuum to a broom fight, or whatever the quote is…
My Opinions on Cleaning Time
On the occasions that I would help clean, I always slowed my group down and I always felt really bad about it. I think the students and I had two different mindsets about cleaning: they just wanted to get the job done as fast as possible, while I wanted to get every nook and cranny. Eventually, I learned to sweep faster and it worked. When I'd help clean the teacher's room, I could clean at a more leisurely pace.
And if you don't want to clean, that's your choice. Your school isn't going to take any points away from you. A lot of the office workers, support teachers, and teachers who don't have homeroom classes usually don't clean and just hang out in the teacher's room during cleaning time so you won’t be alone.
It's also important to note that volunteering to clean a few times in a row may set a precedent and you may be almost expected to clean once the routine is started. I used to only clean sometimes, but I usually didn’t offer to.