Tomorrow I start my third week as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, and so far I'm really enjoying it. All of the teachers at my schools have been amazingly nice, and most speaking better English than I do Japanese, which has helped me quite a bit.
The teaching aspect of the job is lots of fun since I just goof off with kids all day. They can be a bit reluctant to participate at first, but I'm finding ways to loosen them up, mostly by just being stupidly goofy. In each class there usually 2 or 3 enthusiastic boys act as liason to the shy kids, asking me questions they are afraid to. How old are you? When's your birthday? How tall are you? Do you have a girlfriend? What sports do you like?
They also seem to really enjoy my presence (or they are just really good at mocking me) and my novelty as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 185 cm (6'1"), western guy. When I walk the hallways, I always hear the kids shout at me "Hello!," "Jon-sensei!," and bits and pieces from my latest lesson (Nice to meet you! My name is Yuya!).
I teach at two elementary schools and one junior high school, spending most of my time at the junior high, and thee are some noticeable differences between the two age groups. First off, the elementary school kids are far more enthusiastic about English class. They are constantly calling out answer, begging to volunteer and are just great students. The junior high school students are a bit more reluctant to participate, either being too shy or too occupied with trying to be super cool. The advantages to junior high are the fact that there's a genuine English teacher with me that can act as translator when I need it and the kids themselves also have a better grasp on the English language, which gives me more to work with as a teacher and it enables me to have somewhat of a conversation with them during lunch time, which is great.
Kyushoku (school lunch) has easily been the most amazing, interesting and obvious difference between Japanese and American schools. In elementary school kids (who are all required to eat the school lunch) put on something that looks like a mix between and chef's and hazmat suit with surgical masks. In junior high they simply wear aprons, kerchiefs to cover their hair and surgical masks. There are no lunch ladies that administer the food nor are there cafeterias. A group of ladies prepare the food, and pairs students haul the large containers, one kid on each side grabbing a handle, up the stairs to their classrooms. With zero adult interference or prompting, the kids dole out duties to each other, one student serves each dish to another student who will place each bowl of that dish onto all the students' desks. For this reason it's considered both rude and unhygienic to sit on top of a desk. They wait until everyone is seated and served, then clasp their hands and in unison say "itadakimasu" (which literally means "I humbly receive," something said by all Japanese people before every meal) and eat away. I have yet to see a single problem or scuffle happens amongst the kids over this routine.
Here's a video showing what this looks like from YouTube user "expateach"(I did NOT record the video and I should note that contractually I AM not allowed to post photos or videos of my school or students online). The actual lunch serving starts at the 30 second mark.
Kyushoku is a great example of how well mannered and disciplined Japanese school children are. The kids are given a good amount of responsibilities, not only with serving lunch, but they also clean up the room and the chalkboard in between each class, and everyday there is a cleaning time where everyone pitches in and cleans the entire school (there are no janitor's on staff). Even though I've been told repeatedly that my junior high is a "problem school" with lots of misbehaving students, it's really nothing compared to what I've seen back in Miami. Kids always get along with one another, I've only seen one kid pick on another once, they almost always pay attention to you and they don't yell and disrupt my lessons. There are a three or four kids that could be considered "problematic," they don't wear their uniforms properly, have crazy hair, and skip class. But I find it hard to call them problematic when a few times they've skipped class to come watch my lesson.