Well, it’s that time of year again, folks. The school summer holidays are almost upon us. In my case, I’ll finish up my classes for the semester next week. For those of you working as ALTs in the public school system, it will probably be about a week to ten days later.
It is perhaps in the summer holidays when the divide between the differing types of employee in the ALT sector in Japan becomes most pronounced.
For direct hire ALTs (those employed directly by a city or prefectural government, or a government sponsored scheme such as the JET program) not much really changes. You will still have to report to school every day even though there is precious little work to do. We may, if we’re lucky, get three to five days discretionary summer leave, in addition to our annual entitlement, but this is very much a case by case issue, and such leave is not by any means guaranteed.
On the plus side, it can be somewhat amusing around this time to observe the lengths your Japanese colleagues will go to in order to create so-called “busy work” for themselves. Those in the ALT community who work for dispatch companies—at last count more than two-thirds the entire ALT market in Japan—are either very lucky or the opposite, depending on how you view things
Basically, most dispatch ALTs will be given about five weeks off work at this time. “Yay! I get to go and explore Japan!” they may be thinking to themselves—but good luck with that when you’re probably only getting at most 60 percent of your usual monthly salary. Sadly, in an increasing number of cases, these unfortunate teachers aren’t paid anything at all for their work in August. Rent and other expenses of course remain the same as they always have during the working months. All of a sudden that week long jaunt to Okinawa seems a bit less likely, doesn’t it?
Whether you’re an ALT with nothing to do in August or a JET who has to pretend it’s business as usual despite a lack of work in your tray, there are plenty of things one can do to make the most of this time of year.
1) Japanese study
Now, depending on which of the two categories you fall into, how much time you can dedicate to Japanese study may depend entirely on your working schedule. However, across Japan at this time, a lot of Japanese language schools will offer three- or four-week intensive courses, to allow you to make the most of your time. If you’re planning on taking an exam such as the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December, then an August preparatory course may be the way to go.
If, on the other hand, you still have to report for work as normal during most of August, then perhaps your best chance to improve your technique would be to pick up a textbook such as Minna no Nihongo (or something similar) and just plough through as much of the book as you can before the end of the summer.
Smartphone apps and audio visual courses could also be an option—if you have a particularly accommodating school.
2) Get fit and sporty
Although there are no classes at school during the summer vacation, at junior and senior high schools the summer sports clubs will be in full swing. Have you wanted to learn how to play soccer? Never held a baseball bat in your life? Ever watched a judo or kendo match and wondered what the hell was going on? Well, now is your chance to find out.
Go along and visit the clubs. Play some sports if you can, if not then just watch. Either way, it will be good to interact with your students during the summer and get to know them a bit better. If nothing else, it will hopefully make them a bit more receptive to your instructions come class time again in the autumn.
If you’re not at school in August, then why not hit the gym. It’s a good way to get fit and at only ¥8-10,000 per month, a gym membership is a good way to keep yourself occupied without breaking the bank.
3) Get a head start on preparing next semester’s lessons
Probably the least fun—but most worthwhile—thing to do in your August downtime.
In just five days last summer, I managed to map out an entire lesson schedule and materials for my junior high grades 1, 2 and 3. It certainly saved me a lot of stress come term time, when occasionally forgetful colleagues can, albeit unintentionally, throw you under the bus by forgetting to meet with you for lesson planning. Getting at least some kind of head start in August will save you considerable headaches further down the line. It also underlines your professionalism to your colleagues when it comes time for that dreaded contract renewal.
As you can see, whether you’re actually at school working or not, there are plenty of things you can do this August to keep you occupied as an ALT in Japan.
Then again, you could just get the phone out and play Angry Birds.