A day in the life of an English teacher

I am writing this post in August 2014, 10 years after I moved to Japan to teach English. As I am rewriting and reposting my original blog entries, I realized that I didn’t write a lot about a typical day as an English teacher. In July and August 2004, I was working 6 and 7 day weeks at Kawasaki NOVA to pay back the shift swaps required for my visitors. This post is about a typical day at that time.

Kawasaki NOVA, like most NOVA schools, offers English lessons from 10:00am to 9:00pm Monday through Saturday, and 10:00am to 6:00pm on Sunday. Lessons are 40 minutes long, except for some of the daytime slots which run 45 minutes. Since NOVA is a conversational English school, most of the students take lessons in the evenings. This means that most teachers are scheduled for evenings. After switching to full time, my typical shift was 1:00pm to 9:00pm. This shift included 8 lessons and one food break.

Since I am not a morning person, I would typically start my day by sleeping until 9:30 or 10:00. I would get up, walk downstairs, and have some breakfast. I usually had cereal and toast for breakfast, eating in Hello House’s common room while chatting with the other residents or watching TV. After breakfast I would return to my room and get my bathrobe and a towel and head to the shower room.

The shower room in Hello House had about 8 shower stalls, and a big bathtub that nobody used. Each shower stall was big enough to hang your bathrobe and towel so they would stay dry while you were showering. The shower was coin operated and cost 100 yen for 10 minutes. Ending a shower early would give the minutes to the next person. In my 10 minutes, I would shower, wash my hair, and shave. No, it wasn’t exactly a relaxing shower experience.

After the shower, I would return to my room and get dressed for work. Usually this would involve realizing that I had no clean shirts in my room, going to the outdoor clothes drying area to get something, then returning to the common room to use the common iron. Many of my work socks had small holes in them. I was too cheap to replace them, so I just made sure to wear the socks with holes on days with no kids classes. That way I could keep my shoes on and nobody would know.

Before I left Hello House, I made sure that I had my cell phone, my book for the train, and my collection of lesson plans. NOVA switched to a proper textbook with standard lesson plans in late 2004. Before that we used a horrible textbook created for Spanish speakers to learn American English in the 80’s. Teachers were responsible for creating their own lesson plans, using the horrible textbook as a tool. I had a big binder full of my handmade lesson plans that I always carried with me.

Walking from Hello House to Noborito station takes about 5 minutes. On the way I always saw mothers riding bicycles around the neighbourhood with their young children, usually carrying groceries as well. I am still impressed by the balance required to do that successfully. At Noborito station I scanned my Suica commuter train pass and waited at the JR platform for Nanbu line.

In 2004, Nanbu line had no express trains. The train would stop at each of the 13 stations between Noborito and Kawasaki. The total train ride was 27 minutes. If I was lucky, I could get a seat. Otherwise, I would try to stand near the door so I could lean on the wall and read a book. If the door spots were taken, I would hold the book with one hand and the passenger handle with the other hand. This is not easy to do, and impossible with large books.

Kawasaki station is the southern end of Nanbu line. The station is always busy. On any day I was sure to see two things: recruiters from local hostess clubs trying to harass women into becoming hostesses, and a giant billboard playing the same horrible animated chihuahua music video. I don’t know what the purpose of the chihuahua video was, but it was HORRIBLE.

I will cover the actual work part of work in another post, since that is a big topic by itself. Half way through my shift, I would be scheduled for a dinner break. Fortunately there were a lot of good options in and around Kawasaki station. The station itself has a food court with lots of options, a small supermarket, and a Becker’s Burgers. The underground mall near the station had a number of restaurants as well. My favourite choices were Bibimbap from the food court or a burger from Becker’s.

My post work activities varied depending on the day of the week. Thursday was group karaoke night in Yokohama. On other nights, I would either go to the internet cafe nearby and catch up on my email and blogging, have a few beers at the train station with coworkers, or return to Hello House right after work.

The train ride back to Noborito was usually more interesting than the ride to Kawasaki. After 9:00pm there are a lot of drunk people on the train, and I was occasionally one of them. When I got back to Noborito, I would either go home and cook some food, or head to Daiei to catch the end of day discounted deli food. If I got home at a reasonable time, I would usually hang out with Lux on the stoop and chat about the day.

This sounds like a fairly typical workday for a shift worker, but every day I was surrounded by Japanese signs, crowds of people with black hair, and lots of interesting things to look at. Even the most typical work is a bit of an adventure when you are living in a foreign country, especially one with a different culture. I miss a lot of things about living in Japan, but the enjoyment of experiencing something new every day is one of the things I miss the most.

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