One of the things that was stressed to JET ALTs at the various orientations was that we need to find ways to become “a part of the school.” We were encouraged to join clubs and sit in on classes. Do these things actually work?

In my experience, it worked best when I was invited to things, such as the cooking class. Whenever I tried to just volunteer to help, such as by asking if I should go out on the community clean up day, or if I could be designated a spot to clean with the students during the daily cleaning time, I was always met with “uh” or “you don’t have to do that.” I never really felt like I was an integrated part of my current school because I wasn’t involved with anything other than the one class I taught, and the old ESS neglected to tell me many things about how the club was running. This contributed to my feeling that I wasn’t being taken as a member of the school.

To my surprise I was asked to help with the students’ physicals that they had last week. This year, there’s two teachers who are pulling double duty as sub-homeroom teacher for two homerooms each, so I figured we were simply understaffed. (Later I was told that there were many teachers out on business trips that day, and that’s why I had been recruited to help.) Even so, I was genuinely happy that I had been given this responsibility that had nothing to do with my regular ALT duties.

In one day all students get basic tests such as having their weight and height measured, and taking vision and hearing tests. Exams requiring specialized knowledge or tools are handled by doctors and nurses, but the height and weight stations are manned by teams of teachers and students; the teachers taking turns measuring and relaying the information to the student in charge of writing this down on students’ results cards. I was asked to handle one of the stations for measuring sitting height (座高).  The teacher I was supposed to have been taking turns with hadn’t gotten a chance to eat lunch, so we decided that I would just go for the first hour and she would go for the second hour.

It went pretty smoothly; after all I only had to read numbers off the ruler in the vicinity of 75-100. There were some students who ended up shorter than they had been the previous year, but when I asked the boy writing down the results if this was possible or if I was messing up, he simply said “It’s alright” like it was nothing to worry about. Interestingly enough, the boys were more likely than the girls to try to cheat the test by slouching or putting their heads into their shoulders like turtles, though all were terrified of getting a high number for this measurement (e.g. they were scared of having most of their height be in their torso rather than in their legs).

As entertaining as all of that was, what I found interesting was that I felt more like a member of the school in that one hour of taking students’ height than I ever had before.