Not all of the time a teacher spends at school is occupied with actual teaching. For many foreign teachers a majority of their in-school hours are taken up with tedious desk-sitting. This is the ideal time to prepare for future classes, and that’s what most Japanese teachers and private company supervisors expect. However, what does one do when everything has been prepared? What should you do at school when there’s nothing to do?

Talk To Yourself

The first, and perhaps most obvious, suggestion for everyone is to study. Even people who have been studying the language of their host country for a long time will most likely still need to keep up the hard work before they reach the pro leagues. This is especially true with languages like Japanese, which has thousands of Kanji characters in it. I’ve got a Kanji dictionary and I’m pretty sure that if I attached it to a sturdy pole I could make a +1 Mace.

When I first arrived in Japan I used some sound files of listening tests on my computer to help me study via headphones. This was fine for a while before I noticed a couple of other teachers flashing me odd looks. I realised that as I was listening I had been mouthing the various sounds and words. I must have looked pretty, pretty, preeeetty nuts.

As well as studying the local language it helps for English teachers to keep their knowledge sharp. I, for one, didn’t know a lot about English grammar and structure when I first started teaching. I’ve learned a few things over the years but there are still gaps so I also try to study a bit of English now and then.

Surf’s Up

Some schools will provide the foreign teacher with a computer to use. However I have only seen this happen in High School and even then only two out of five of the High Schools I’ve worked at. Many teachers choose to bring their own laptops to school. I actually bought a super-portable EeePC for that very purpose (using it to write this in fact). My company has explicitly laid down rules that we should not connect our personal laptops to our school’s network. This means no printing and no internet. I heard this rule was created because some time in the past a teacher managed to infect an entire school network with a nasty virus. There’s also issues with sharing sensitive student information with an outside contractor.

The way I get over this hurdle is to use tethering with my phone. This allows the laptop to connect to the internet by wirelessly interfacing with the phone and then using its data connection to access the web. As long as I don’t start downloading massive files or watch HD movies I rarely get charged extra by my carrier. It’s perfect for checking emails and a bit of light surfing.

The What Nots

Here’s a brief list of things a teacher really shouldn’t be doing during their free time. These are mostly based on my experiences and on instructions from my employer so these rules may vary in different situations.

  • Don’t have fun. Obviously you’re not expected to just wallow in misery, but at the same time don’t whip out a deck and start a round of Texas Hold ‘Em. I think the main reasoning behind this rule is that it makes the hard-working Japanese teachers feel bad. I’ve also been told not to read books but I’ve found ebooks to be a neat way around this rule – it’s easy to have one open on the computer, making it look like you’re still working!
  • Don’t use USB Drives. Using USB drives on school computers presents the same potential risks as connecting a personal laptop to the school network – viruses. I’ll admit that I have broken this rule in the past to print off my worksheets, but only after asking for explicit permission from the Vice Principal first. (Also, remember that if you use Mac or Linux your USB drive can still be a carrier of Windows viruses!)
  • No Poking. In fact, using any social network to do any kind of activity is heavily frowned upon. Now, okay, sure, I’ve broken this rule a few times too (I’m not really a good role model am I?) but just try to be sensitive of other, far busier, teachers. So … you know … be sneaky.

Get Creative

As well as the more conventional time-fillers that I’ve mentioned it can also be fun to try something different. One year I took up studying Python, a simple programming language. I was able to read up on it and practice coding from my desk. A friend of mine used his free time to teach himself to draw, and once he felt comfortable with his skills he moved on to painting. It’s now a full-on hobby for him and he’s getting really good at it.

And as for now, what do I do? Well, I write about stuff like Board Games and Convenience Stores and Magnums. I write for this website-thing you’re looking at now. I use a simple Markdown editor to draft my posts in-between lessons and then lather them with pictures and links at home later.

So don’t let your free time go to waste – get to work and improve your teaching skills or do something that can benefit you in the long-run.

What do you do in your free time at school? Is your school more liberal or strict about rules than mine have been? Let us know below.

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