Rise and shine! The time you spend in the morning before teaching your class can either set you up for success or make your day rough. Master your mornings and your day will be a breeze! Here are my tips to have a good morning, every morning.
1. Have a routine morning
This should include waking up (that’s a great start to any day), eating breakfast, checking the weather/news on TV, and getting ready to head out. Make sure you have your lunch! Get a feel for how long your morning routine takes so that you know what time to get up. You can save some time by prepping things like your backpack, materials, and clothes the night before.
You can save some time by prepping things like your backpack, materials, and clothes the night before.
Some ALTs grab breakfast on the way to school. Just keep in mind that the cultural norms about eating in public and at work are different than they are in other countries. You may get strange looks if you’re eating while walking or eating on the train. At my schools, eating anything other than gifts from teachers in the teacher’s room outside of lunchtime is generally not allowed.
2. Commute to work
Your commute to work is very important. A previous Japanese teacher of mine told me about how some janitors commute to work in formal suits and then change into their maintenance uniforms at work.
A former ALT I know got in trouble in for wearing workout clothes on the train while commuting. Keep in mind that this ALT was going to school early to play tennis with the students (that’s a good thing, right?). A school principal, who was formerly a higher-up at the local board of education, saw him and complained about it. Using this logic, it would be better to commute to work in a suit and then change into something more casual (but still in the dress code) than to commute to school in a t-shirt and gym shorts and then wear a three-piece suit at school. Workout clothes are OK only if you’re biking.
3. Arrive at school before the morning meeting
If you ride a bike, try to arrive around 8:00 if you can. If you take the train or bus, see if you can possibly take the earlier one (unless it’s way too early or the one you take is already the first one). That way you’ll have some cushion if something goes wrong (like flat tires, accidents, freak storms, etc). If anything does go wrong, be sure to contact your school and/or supervisor. Punctuality is a big deal in Japan. You’ll want to establish yourself as a punctual person ASAP.
4. Greet the students if you have extra time in the morning
Greeting the students is a good way to build rapport with them outside of class and you can get a feel for how the students are doing that day. This is something teachers really want our ALTs to do as often as possible. It can be a pretty fun part of the job if you are the handshaking and backslapping type.
The students need to feel that they are getting something out of their interactions with you or they won’t engage.
Don’t worry if your greetings aren’t immediately met with a response. Some students take a longer time to let their guard down. Other students are just too cool to talk to you. The key is to be persistent and approachable. How you react to them will play a large role in their willingness to talk to you. The students need to feel that they are getting something out of their interactions with you or they won’t engage. Recognize that most kids are tired and don’t want to come to school. If a student has a bad attitude, the problem could be something at home (don’t take it personally). This is also a good chance for them to build social skills. Some students are shy when talking to others in Japanese, let alone English.
5. Head back to the teacher’s room for the morning meeting
Be in your seat before the bell rings. Try to look alert and attentive. Doing anything other than listening during the meeting is generally frowned upon. Checking out during the meeting will send a message that you don’t really care and will reflect negatively on you. The vice principal usually runs the meetings and you don’t want to get on the VP’s bad side.
Pay attention to the type of schedule. Do you have 50 minute or 45 minute classes? How many periods are there?
Avoid fanning yourself, using your phone, or doing other work. The exception would be if you have something urgent to do like meeting a deadline or making materials for a first period lesson that just got sprung on you. If you’ve established a good reputation by listening every day, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Pay attention to the type of schedule. Do you have 50 minute or 45 minute classes? How many periods are there? Most schools usually have five to six periods every day and sometimes only four classes on test days. Try to look at the whiteboard for any additional info including special start times for class, lunch times, homerooms, assemblies, meetings, other events, etc.
The amount of information you take away from the morning meeting will depend on your Japanese level. Even if you don’t speak that much Japanese, look at it as an opportunity to practice your comprehension skills.
After the morning meeting with all the teachers is over, they break into grade levels. This is a good time to go check your e-mail/communication on the computer. Spend a few minutes catching up on messages, but if something’s going to need a detailed response, save it for later. Sometimes sending someone an e-mail letting them know you received their message and will get back to them later can help bridge any communication gaps.
If you can, try to talk with the teacher’s you’ll be working with later just to confirm the class and the contents. There have been a few times where schedules have changed and classes were switched around during the morning meeting.
7. Double check your schedule and materials
Make sure that you have all of your materials for the day. You should always take your textbook for that grade level to class when you teach and something to write with to every class. Even if you think you won’t need it, bring it anyway. It’s a good resource. Having it means that you’re always ready and will convey the image that you are always prepared (thus more professional). Teachers have complained in the past about ALTs who don’t bring their books to class. They didn’t say anything to the ALT directly, they just complained to the BOE ("How dare you train ALTs for a month and they don’t bring their textbooks to class!?!?!" - Actual quote). An emergency situation might come up and your JTE won't be able to make it. If you have your textbook, you can still continue with the lesson. Other materials you may need include worksheets, cards, dice, game sheets, CDs, PowerPoint clickers, flashcards, etc. If your teacher is in the teacher’s room and not busy, it’s a good idea to briefly go over the game plan one more time (like 1-2 minutes).
You should always take your textbook for that grade level to class when you teach and something to write with to every class.
If there is a change in the schedule and you end up not teaching a certain class, you will probably do it later and will have everything prepped already so don’t stress about it too much. If the school is constantly adding classes to your schedule after it has been made, that means that whoever is making the schedule is not doing the best job. Changes to the schedule usually happen when there are big events like Sports Day, Culture Day, and the Day at Work program. The occasional change isn’t a problem, but it shouldn’t be happening every day.
8. Plan out your time
After you've prepped for the day, this is a good time to make a list of all of the tasks you have to complete and prioritize them. In a full day of work, I usually teach classes, do some admin work for my team of ALTs, and take care of any other additional responsibilities or projects. Lately I’ve been juggling lesson planning, meeting with teachers about lessons, grading, making new training materials, updating this blog, working on our newsletter, making documents for my BOE, practicing for speech contests, writing our weekly briefings, e-mailing other ALTs, helping out with ALT Training Online, and overseeing other projects.
Write down everything you need to get done on a checklist and prioritize them from most to least urgent. Think about what needs to be done now and what can wait. It’s usually a good idea to knock things out that other people might be waiting for if they’re important so you don’t hold up their work. Think about the deadlines, who needs the work, and what they need it for. Long compositions (like vacation homework) can usually wait for a few days, but it’s better to correct speeches and compositions for contests quickly so the students can move forward with their practice. When making a plan of action, think about how much free time you have in your day and where you can fit this extra work in. If you’re teaching a lot of classes, your time will be limited. Do your best to work efficiently with accuracy.
Write down everything you need to get done on a checklist and prioritize them from most to least urgent. Think about what needs to be done now and what can wait.
If you are habitually working hours of overtime, missing deadlines, forgetting about events, or having errors in your work, then you more than likely have a problem with how you’re managing your time. Staying at school past your time to go home is not bad from time to time, but think about why you’re staying late.
The only times I usually stay later is to either go to clubs, help students practice for speech contests, or to put the finishing touches on a lesson/project that’s almost done. On these days I usually leave around 16:45 – 17:00 at the latest. Give yourself enough time to complete these tasks and double check them to make sure they are error free. For more on time management, check here.
9. Set a spell
Take a quick 5-10 minute break before the end of homeroom bell to use the bathroom, have a drink of water/tea/coffee, or collect your thoughts and then get ready for a day of work. Just make sure you stay awake!
Now, go forth and educate!
The morning is done and it's time to get to work. You can get a lot done to make your day run smoothly if you establish a good routine and prepare ahead of time. What are your mornings like? Do you have anything to add? Let me know!