The infamous desk shuffle!

If you think that working in a Japanese staff room isn’t difficult enough and you want a challenge in your life then I suggest going away for over a week during the spring break at the end of the school year. You’ll leave at the end of the 3rd term and come back to the start of the new school year with a whole new layout to deal with. New students. New teachers. New dress code for spring. New everything.

I had heard rumors about the April desk and teacher shuffle. I had heard the legends passed down by those who have been here longer than a year. Fortunately for me, only two of my teachers transferred and neither were my English teachers.

Before I went on holiday I was actually allowed to go to the staff meeting for a change! Which was where my Principal announced who was transferring. Now my Japanese ability is shaky at the best of times but sometimes I manage to understand what’s going on. And this was almost one of those times.

I understood that…

  • Science-sensei was leaving to go to Takeno JHS,
  • New Social studies-sensei is coming from Takeno JHS
  • New science-sensei is coming from Morimoto JHS
  • Social studies-sensei was leaving

And that’s where I lost it. I missed poor old Social studies-senseis announcement, I got that he was leaving but wasn’t sure where he was going. So I repeated the announcements one by one in English to the English teacher I sat next to, and when I got to Social studies-sensei I asked where he was going and my English teacher flat out said “He’s dead.” I repeated that back to him as a question and he nodded and said again, “He’s dead” with a smile on his face.

I was so confused and still am. Obviously he’s not dead, or dying, or sick. In fact on my trip home from my holiday I saw him coming home from a holiday to Kyoto and he looked fine, even gave him a little present from Okinawa. I didn’t have enough time to ask him where he was transferring to as I had to catch a connecting train but he legitimately looked like he was happy and healthy. Gonna just put this down to one of those things that I will never understand. I think he must be retiring?

Before teacher shuffle – total teachers 9, Principal, Vice Principal, school nurse, admin lady, grounds keeper and myself.

There was also a teacher who only came on Fridays, Friday Sensei, who was a calligraphy teacher and the school counselor who visited once every three weeks. So in total at my school there were 16 staff members officially. (I don’t think Friday Sensei was officially part of our staff, he wasn’t on the staff list, I can add for the record I know it should be 17 technically)

Breaking it down further …


1st year homeroom teachers – Music, Social studies and Maths teachers

2nd year homeroom teachers – One of the two English teachers, PE teacher and the History teacher

3rd year homeroom teachers – The other Maths teacher, the other English teacher and the science teacher

Obviously the teachers taught all year levels but they are separated into desk groups based on homeroom teacher groups. Last year (until March) I sat next to one of the English teachers in the 2nd year desk group.

After teacher shuffle…

The science and social studies teachers transferred to other schools and we got two next teachers. I also think according to the new staff list that was on my desk we have a new school counselor. Apart from that everyone stayed. The one thing I was dreading was that I was going to lose my Vice Principal, who just might be the best person I’ve ever met. He’s so lovely and always trying to help me. He took me to a fish market and auction late last year, across the river from school. (Where I live is famous for snow crab and the season starts in winter) which as strange as that sounds was really cool.  My predecessor here warned me that he was going to retire this year but he’s still here and boy am I glad.

So now the homeroom teachers are…
20150424_1400191st year homeroom teachers – Both of the Maths teachers and a English teacher.

2nd year homeroom teachers – New science teacher, new social studies teacher and the music teacher.

3rd year homeroom teachers – PE teacher, English teacher that I used to sit next to and the History teacher

Now I sit with the 1st year homeroom teachers and the nurse. It’s not a whole lot of change but it’s enough to get slightly confused every time I leave the staff room. I feel rather sad for some of my friends here who lost all of their English teachers and Principals that would be a big adjustment. Almost like starting from scratch again.

However with all the changes and the new students to deal with, there is a weird atmosphere in the staffroom. While being an ALT is a really good job and I love it to pieces, I would kill to take on a more serious role in this workplace. I want to help more.

Even if I was fluent in Japanese there would still be this invisible wall between us. They all studied to be teachers, I didn’t. I’m realizing lately that I want more than sitting at my desk and having not a lot to do. At my old job I worked crazy hours, and was constantly busy. And I did that for almost 5 years. So coming here I was ready for having a break and doing not a lot. I kind of felt that I was ready for a break, but I think this is too much. I need to be busy and useful, not just be a foreign shaped paper weight that stops my chair from freely roaming the staffroom.

I wonder if this means I want to be a teacher. Oh god I hope not. That’s a whole another degree and nightmare going back to university.