Open Mic Morning
As I open the sliding door to the school’s main office, I immediately attract the attention of over two-dozen teachers. But just as quick as the eyes darted towards me, the staff meeting is drawn back to attention, where each “lead teacher” recites a list of upcoming events and updates on each regarding their homerooms. As I attempt to scurry to my desk in embarrassment, the vice-principle whispers to me “Don’t worry, you’re not late. Just stay at the front of the room, please.”
I stay in my place, in a full suit and tie, just waiting for some notice for me do actually do something. The principal and vice then stand up and ask for me to give my self-introduction, which would be a very repeated speech on the first official day of school. I gave my simple intro and then proceeded to weave around the various chairs to get to my desk. There wasn’t much else to pay attention to: most of the subjects the “lead teachers” talked about were internal matters that did not pertain to me.
I was then told to head to the auditorium, where a chorus of students could be heard. They were practicing the school’s song, but it had to be perfect. The teachers surrounded the large group of students, attentively watching to make sure they were using their vocal chords. The students sang over and over, with teachers (most specifically the music teacher) occasionally walking by yelling もっと！もっと！ More! More!. After about five renditions, the teachers and student leaders were content enough to call it a success.
The principal then told me to go to the front of the hoard, easily a group of about 120, all in single file lines coordinating to their class-year. He spoke into the mic, “This is the new ALT that will replace (my predecessor’s name). He does speak Japanese, so he can understand all of you.” I was handed the microphone and told to begin.
“Good Morning!” I said, with some odd thought that I’d get a response. Rather, silence would be all I received.
Wanting to keep it quick, I said my name, hometown, where I studied in Japan and wishes for good luck in the classroom, with the last bit in Japanese. Although I was done, I still had 120 students staring at me, awaiting my next word. I looked around and without much else said “あの…終わります.” Umm…I’m done now Then, applause.
The rest of the opening ceremony would be more student focused, with prizes being awarded to members of certain sports clubs that had won something the previous semester. Afterwards, the principal gave a speech telling the students to act their best the upcoming term. After such formalities, each of the classes split to have meetings with their respective teachers. I was told I could return to my desk.
Before coming back to Japan, when I would tell people about my upcoming job, a large majority of them would reply in admiration of the Japanese school system. “They are so disciplined!” and “They do so well in school!” were some of the more common responses. If anything, the opening ceremonies was just a taste of the structure in action: students were told to repeatedly stand up and sit down at various times at the command of the vice-principal, anyone with even the potential of acting out was on close-watch and even, single file lines was the only appropriate seating arrangement for the students. While the opening ceremonies only happen twice a year, I finally understood where the “so disciplined” students were put to the test. And god forbid if they fail.
It was easy to think during the entire occasion just how such a system would ultimately fail in an American school environment. Sure, one could argue a chicken-and-egg case here, but watching the ceremony made me recall my middle school first-day-of-school assemblies: Lots of yelling, getting “excited” for the upcoming year and inspirational speeches from all those important at the school. Hell, I remember our “famed” wrestling team being showcased in the same fashion as an opening lineup announcement at a NBA game.
It’s also easy to forget that, no matter how long one has stayed in a place before, culture-shock always has a way of re-introducing itself. While I can say that this was the first major case since I’ve been back, it was a pretty impacting one at that, making me really realize just what I was getting myself into. And this was just the first day of school.