My Interview With a REAL Junior High School Student!

Teaching at a junior high school, I often have the problem of surface-level communication with my students.  Sure, I’d like to have deep conversations, perhaps offer what little advice I have, or encourage a student if they’re going through a rough time in life.  What teacher doesn’t?  But when many of your students are still mastering the basics of the English language, (and I myself still struggle with communication in Japanese,) it’s difficult to step into the role of mentor as an ALT. Continue reading

How to be a Great Co-Worker

Spring break is drawing to a close, which means that for most of us here in Ishikawa with the JET Program, we’re headed back to a regular working schedule.  Back to teaching, back to English club, and of course back to the staff room.

The Staff Room

Ah, thar she is. ‘Tis a thing of beauty.

In light of that last reality, I recently found a great survey from the website What Japan Thinks, a site dedicated to translating Japanese public opinion polls into English.  If you have time, it’s a great way to gain insight and understanding into some really intriguing subjects of Japanese culture that are rarely discussed openly, much less with people from other countries.

The survey I want to discuss, however, is one that all of us can learn from and use in our daily JET lives: Office Annoyances That You Just Can’t Talk About.

The survey asked over 1,000 Japanese office workers what kind of behaviors they can’t stand in their co-workers, yet do stand, presumably because it’d disrupt the social harmony of the office if they burst out screaming at their neighbor.  Reading through the list, I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty at my own office habits.

Especially since I (and may I be so bold as to suggest that a majority of the readers) don’t speak Japanese at a fluent level, I’m sure there are little cues or tones of voice or connotations that I miss during interactions with my co-workers that would offer some clue as to how I could better my office behavior.  As such, I loved reading this survey.  Hopefully we can all learn a thing or two about how to become better co-workers while we’re in the staff room.  You can tell that the questions are geared more for your traditional office setting and not necessarily a school staff room, but overall I think they’re very applicable.

So then.  Are you ready to start being a better co-worker?  How many of these annoyances do you do on a daily basis?  You can find the full survey results here.

Topping the list is the co-worker “who has terrible coughs or sneezes and doesn’t wear a mask.”  Yeah, that seems a little rude I suppose, though I’d still advocate for “cover your nose/mouth and wash your hands frequently” over “wear a mask and let ’em rip,” as seems to be the approach in my own staff room.

Interestingly, the next two in line have to do with smell – co-workers who wear too much perfume, or co-workers who smell like an ashtray.  Take note!  Your fellow teachers have sensitive noses!  (Included in the ‘smell’ category is number twenty, “co-worker who eats smelly food like curry or ramen at their desk,” which I am most certainly guilty of.)

Pictured: Something way more adorable than me.

Pictured: Something way more adorable than me eating curry at their desk.

Many more of the annoyances had me vigorously nodding my head in agreement, such as “Co-worker who has an unnecessarily loud telephone voice” (HAI!  HAI!  ARIGATOUGOZAIMASU!  HAI!) and “Co-worker who batters their keyboard keys” (I once had someone in a completely silent staff room delete an entire paragraph of text by repeatedly slamming the backspace key, instead of holding the dang thing down or just highlight-deleting it.)

Yet just as often, I caught myself thinking, Oh, crap!  I didn’t know people found that annoying!  When I read things like “Co-worker who frequently cracks their knuckles, neck, etc.”

Sheesh!  Next thing I know, I'll learn that "staring menacingly at others" makes the list, too!

Sheesh! Next thing I know, I’ll learn that the “co-worker who stares menacingly at others” makes the list, too!


I hope the survey enables you to be a more hospitable office-mate to your fellow teachers this year, and that you can remember to avoid the things that secretly drive your co-workers crazy.




Daniel is a second-year JET living in Kanazawa.  He teaches at a junior high school and enjoys coffee, riding his bike around the city, and hanging out with his wife.

On Japanese Probability

Ever wondered why your JTEs seem to start every sentence with, “Maybe,” “Probably,” or “I think”?

Eryk over at This Japanese Life has answered your curiosity with an amusing and informative article on the gap between Western and Japanese notions of surety, “On Japanese Probability.”

Check out his article and see if you can’t get a better grasp on communication with your JTEs just in time for 8 hours with them at Skill Development Conference (October 28).

How To Dress: Undokai

Ahh the Undokai. One of my favorite times of year. September and early October are when many schools have their annual sports festivals. These festivals promote exercise, teamwork and school pride for the students. Upperclassmen will spend hours outside of the normal school day preparing for the undokai and trying to make it the best for the younger students.

As with all things in Japan there are some interesting fashion rules that occur the weeks prior to and on the day of the sports festival, which is another reason why I love undokai so much.

The week or so leading up to your undokai will usually involve some sort of training and various meetings between teachers and students during the school day. Since the teachers may be helping students prepare and train for the games they will be dressed a bit more casually than usual. Clothes such as cargo or track pants and basic T-shirts or sports gear are acceptable to wear during this time. If you aren’t sure if there will be some kind of training that day, wear your normal work clothes, but bring a bag with clothes to change into if you see other teachers in a casual manner.

Also, don’t be surprised if you have a lot of classes canceled this week. If you find yourself with a lot of free time, try to go watch the training for the games. It’s a great excuse to get out of the staff room and talk with some of your students.

On the day of the sports festival, the look you want is sporty casual. If you have a full track suit, you can wear that. Throughout September the weather is extremely hot and humid so dress in light, breathable clothes. There are usually a couple games where students face off between parents and teachers, so dress ready to participate in some activities such as relay races or tug of war.

Try not to wear clothes that are too tight or revealing. This is an event with lots of parents and VIPs in attendance and they may not appreciate your cleavage-enhancing tank top or junk-highlighting bike shorts. (Also, this is an event for children, who are you trying to impress, really?)

Other things to keep on your must-bring list include:

  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • Towel
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen

Melanie is a third-year JET living in Ishikawa. She wore a denim skirt and tank top to her first undokai.

How to Dress: Your First Day in Ishikawa

This is the first installment of the “How to Dress” series, where we tackle the topic of proper attire for various occasions throughout your JET career. The first of this series is dedicated to the new JETs and what they should wear upon their arrival in Ishikawa.

When you arrive in Tokyo, the Orientation Assistants are going to have you send all your luggage except for one bag ahead of you to Ishikawa. In your bag you should have at least three days worth of proper business attire (as well as casual clothes for evenings out in Tokyo).

Upon arriving in Ishikawa you should be in formal business clothes. You will be meeting your new supervisors, coworkers and possibly principals, various heads of departmental offices and maybe even the mayor or other higher-ups in your town. Many offices have implemented “Cool Biz” (クールビズ) meaning men can forego neckties and undershirts and women can dress in a more business casual fashion. It’s a great program, but it also means that the air conditioning will be set to a higher temperature in the office.

Since this is your first day and you may not know who you’ll be meeting, play it safe and opt for the full suit and tie. If your supervisor has any compassion, they’ll schedule all your important meet & greets early in the day so you can change out of your work clothes as quickly as possible.

Ladies, if you’re going to wear a skirt, it would be appropriate to wear pantyhose. Also sleeveless tops (even if it’s a blouse) are not considered proper business attire, so you way want your suit jacket or a nice cardigan to cover up bare arms. Again, this is more of a formality issue and something you may be able to get away with once the important meetings are finished.

Do your best to stay cool next week and we can’t wait to see you in the ‘Kawa!

Melanie is a 3rd year ALT in Kahoku. Her constant fashion faux pas in Japan led to an intervention held with some of her teachers. Please learn from her mistakes.

JET Discontinues JET Calendar, JET Diary

From the June 2011 CLAIR newsletter:

The JET Programme announces the cancellation of the 2012-2013 JET Calendar and JET Diary. We would like to thank current and past participants for the many photos submitted throughout the years. (link)

I’m quite sad to see that both of these items have been cut. My JET planner has saved me on the Tokyo subway more than once, and the crucial information it contained, which included medical terminology, road signs, food labels, and laundry tag information, all within a compact, easy-to-use format, will be sorely missed.

Leah Zoller is a second-year CIR in Anamizu and is the outgoing editor of this blog.

Join Entrepreneurial Teacher

With the new JETs arriving in two months, now is the time to upload your favorite lesson plans, proposals, and notes to Entrepreneurial Teacher. Give your successor and the rest of the Ishikawa JETs the benefit of your knowledge and experience in a format they can access before they even get to Ishikawa!

For example, what recipes went over well at English Club or your international cooking lesson? What would you do differently at your next eikaiwa? What are the best games for elementary first graders? What tips do you have for writing an event proposal?

The content of ET is only as good as we make it. Get a head start on your departure preparation or your orientation material collection today!

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Blog Review: JET Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interview Tips

Image from "履歴書 – Japanese Résumés (blog post by former CIR)"

Not recontracting? Building your professional resume and cover letter, whether in English or Japanese is, frankly, stressful. How do you convey exactly why and how you are the perfect candidate for a job—and how do you explain JET?

Luckily for us, Vince Ricci, a lecturer and admissions consultant at the University of Tokyo, does pro bono work helping JETs prepare for life outside the program. Although he will be at the Leaver’s Conference on Feb. 21-23, 2011, you can get started now with his blog, located at

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