Practicing Minimalism and conscious consumerism in Japan

Desk Warming: An ALT Reality

Today I’ll be writing about something different.  I don’t usually blog about my job, and if I do it’s usually very positive things either raving about how awesome it is to live and work in Japan or how fun my students are.  All of those things are beyond true but of course everything can’t just be roses and butterflies right?  There are also pitfalls.

What is Desk Warming?

I feel like recently I’ve been trapped in the typical ALT conundrum: desk warming.  Desk warming is basically just sitting at your desk with nothing to do.  This happens mostly during Summer, where all of our students have a full month of summer vacation but the teachers still have to come in (one thing I still never understand about Japan’s schooling system). If your a privately contracted ALT, you’ll most likely get long breaks off, but with no pay.  JET ALTS unfortunately do not get time off unless they want to dip into their coveted paid vacation leave (we get 20 days a year and can roll over 12 days into the following year in my prefecture).

Now, most teachers at my school have at least a few things to do during the day, like helping students with sports and other club activities.  As an ALT, it’s extremely rare to be in charge of a club so we kinda just chill at our desk for the most part hence desk warming.  And yes, at least for newly arriving ALTS we have stuff to do, but if you are me, you’ll finish everything within the first week or two and then you’re left with nothing.

What Do We Do About It?

Lately, especially on Facebook, I’ve been reading a lot of complaints and comments about how none of us are really doing anything. It’s spring break, so some of us have two weeks off or in my case, I’ve been without classes for over five weeks if you can believe it.  Some people with nothing to do can go insane.  I’ve been there, I know how that feels.  As my third year on JET is nearing a close (t minus 4 months to go) I’ve become the master at overcoming desk warming.  It’s a fine art but if approached correctly you can also enjoy your time doing “nothing”.   Below I’ll share with you my top tips on how to get over the summer and spring drag of nothing to do.

Tip 1 : Study Japanese.  Yes yes yes I know, that’s just a no brainer but raise your hand if you opened your Japanese textbook today.  Probably not.  Actually all of mine have been collecting dust since December but even if it’s just one kanji, or a few words here and there you’re doing something to pass the time plus you’re bettering yourself.  I’d recommend using Memrize for tackling vocabulary, plus you can compete with your friends!

Tip 2: Study something else! Sick of Japanese?  Me too!  Memrize can also be used to study a ton of other things.  The other day I started learning about Greek Mythology which I’ve always wanted to learn about and now I obviously have the time to do it!  If you’re more serious about studying you can take a course online through websites like Coursera or Alison (free courses). Last year I took an online course to get TEFL certified which has helped with my job as an ALT. I’ve even heard of other ALTS who have actually done graduate school online while working! The online world has made everything much more accessible and it’s easy to find something that’s a right fit, free or not!

Tip 3: Read.  I recommend reading on your computer through the kindle reader.  I’ve read so many books during my free time and with kindle it’s easy to find books in English. Get the kindle reader here:

Tip 4: Organize and Clean. This one is great if you’ve been siting in front of a mountain of papers and books.  Besides organizing your desk you can go even deeper and color code your team teaching lessons with different colored files and so on.  I also tend to clean around the teachers room when I have nothing to do and am bothered by the grimy sink or disgusting cabinet that hasn’t been dusted in years.  Your co-workers will really appreciate the help and you’ll most likely get comments like “ERAI!” “ARIGAOU” “SUGOI” which is a confidence booster and a way to talk to some co-workers you may not have been able to talk with before.

Tip 5: Plan/Do Your Own Creative Endeavor.  I think for the most part, the reason why I blog is because I desk warm so much, and blogging has actually become a passion of mine.  I don’t think I would have even found this creative outlet if it hadn’t been for nothing to do.  Desk warming is a perfect time to find yourself.  To find exactly where you want to be and what you want to do now or in the future. If you want to be a writer, why not write as much as you can every day? If you want to go into business why not take a course online and learn about it.

I always keep a journal on hand and brainstorm what I want to do now, in a week, in a month, and in the future.  I brainstorm blog posts, write articles for other websites, and connect through apps like depop or instagram.   Recently, I’ve been writing a ton of articles for this website all about japan called Odigo, and the best part is I’m getting paid to do it.  To top it off, my blog isn’t the most popular in the world, so an article that has an annual view count of ten may actually get one hundred views on Odigo.  I feel like it’s a great way to introduce my ideas and writings about Japan to the world  (join Odigo through my referral link here and we’ll both get perks).

And there you have it, my tips on how to tackle the dreaded desk warming.  These days I welcome the time I don’t have classes because I can really focus on myself.  Thanks for reading!