Index of school terms:
Opening Ceremony | Closing Ceremony | Home Room classroom | Culture Festival | Sports Day | First Year Students | Second Year Students | Third Year Students | Cleaning Time | The Stoves and fans
Opening Ceremony: School assembly heralding in the beginning of the school term. The school brass band usually plays, the students file in and sit by class on the floor or on chairs, there are lots of boring, official speeches. In addition, the vice principal and principal make a token appearance and give encouraging, but stern speeches to the students. Everything is very formal, and organized.
Closing Ceremony: School assembly that signifies the closing of the school term. Same as above, except the students are a little more energetic because school is ALMOST OUT!
Home Room classroom: Each year, students are assigned a home-room classroom where they will have all their classes every day, with the exception of p.e., art, and science class. They generally spend all their time with their homeroom classmates and eat lunch in the classroom, so it is very important for students to make special friends in this class. Students are appointed jobs, such as 'head student'- who is responsible for leading the class greeting and bow at the beginning of class, and 'chalkboard cleaning student'- guess what they do? Certain students become unofficial class leaders, usually the more confident and cocky students, and the other students will often follow their lead. One teacher is appointed head of a home room classroom, so each teacher hopes to get an agreeable group, since they'll have to see them at the beginning of the day, during their topic class, and at the end of the day.
Culture Festival: Each school proudly holds a cultural festival once a year, usually in the fall term. Each home room classroom comes up with a project, perhaps a class play, game (for example, a maze or balloon game), food booth (such as curry rice cooked by the students), candy booth, toy booth, or other fun activity and then charges their visitors for participating in their event. It's great fun for the students, and nice bonding time- but tiring for everyone, because it is held on the weekend. Teachers must attend every day, but luckily we get a two day 'substitute holiday' the following Monday and Tuesday. On the second day, members of the community can come (including students from other high schools and teachers' children or spouses).
Sports Day: Each school has a sports day in which they play competitive games against each other all day. I've always gotten sent to another school to teach for my school's, but students are always really wiped out the day afterwards. They compete quite earnestly against each other to see which homeroom class can get the most wins.
First Year Students: The youngest students in a 'senior high school'. This is the Japanese equivalent of American 10th grade students, or sophomores. These students are making the adjustment from middle school to high school. High school skirts are shorter than they were at Junior high, and the more daring girls begin to hike up their regulation skirt uniforms by rolling them up at the waist to a cheerleader length. Students begin the year in a room full of virtual strangers but gradually get to know each other and get more comfortable with their 'group identity'. The first year students go on a small school trip in the fall to practice for larger trips they will go on as upperclassmen.
Second Year Students: The middle students at 'senior high school.' This is the Japanese equivalent of American 11th grade students, or Juniors. The students are getting more comfortable with each other and their classmates. Though they may experience the bittersweet sadness of being separated from their first year home room friends, they will have gotten more friends through club activities and will at least be familiar with their classmates. They are getting more confident, and may be brave enough to start dating at this point. Second year students will go on a class trip together, possibly as far as Okinawa or Hokkaido, staying overnight and making great memories. This trip is one of the highlights of Japanese school life for many students.
Third Year Students: The oldest students at 'senior high school.' This is the Japanese equivalent of American 12th grade students, or Seniors. These students are the most confident of themselves, and have really internalized their school identity at this point. Their English skills in particular have come a long way. They have come to the hardest point in their journey though, because this is when their studies are the most intensive as they prepare for high school and college examinations. Their scores on the college examination tests will determine their future lives- so understandably, they are stressed out, and must study very hard. Many of them go to cram school after school and on weekends.
Cleaning Time: Students at Japanese High Schools must help clean the schools, because there are no janitors. Teachers are appointed as supervisors, and so around the end of the school day, you can see crowds of students swiping the floor with sponges, their butts in the air as they gossip a mile a minute with their friends. The students even clean the bathrooms, which may explain why they always smell like spit and polish. Their general method for cleaning the bathrooms, not that I blame them, is to toss buckets of water into the room and call it clean. Or at least wet.
The Stoves and fans: Because the Japanese Board of Education and officials in charge of giving money to schools are stingy twits, they refuse to set up air conditioning or central heating in the schools. Some of these old relics are afraid of 'spoiling the children' with excessive creature comforts like heat and coolness. Because of this, schools are run much as they have been since the 1920s, I suppose- and ugly, gas or propane stoves are the only source of heat in the wintertime. Not only that, but there is a very short season in which it is permitted to turn on these archaic beasts, so the halls and classrooms are often quite arctic. Justin and I 'layer' clothing during winter, and look like chubby snowmen because of it. Meanwhile the schoolgirls in their short little skirts have blue legs. During the summer as the humidity creeps upward to miserable and the heat is completely oppressive, the students sweat and wilt in front of your very eyes. The teachers have fans in the teacher's rooms, which only circulates the dampness. Meanwhile, the principal's office, secretary's office, and library is air conditioned.