A day in the life of David Van Tol

18th April 2014 at 01:00
In Japan, this history teacher looks out over a beautiful bay - he lives in luxury that is reserved for millionaires in his native Australia. At school, his greatest challenge is the language barrier

As soon as I pull back the curtains in the morning, I can tell what sort of day it's going to be. My apartment is on the eighth floor, and the view stretches over the beach of Hakata Bay in Fukuoka and across the water. It's where ships seek refuge during typhoon season and where windsurfers zip about in summer. On a nice day, it's like a Mediterranean haven, with islands before the horizon. I'm from Sydney, Australia, where real estate like this is for multimillionaires.

After putting on the coffee and checking the news from home, I read the daily announcements email from my section head at Fukuoka International School, where I teach history to Grades 6-12 (aged 12-18).

My journey to school is a 10-minute bike ride along the River Muromi. My wife teaches Grade 5 science and my two children also attend the school. Since living here we've cycled in sweltering heat, pouring rain and snow. A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to obtain a car for less than the cost of my mobile phone, so now we drive to school on rainy days.

The school day starts with a 20-minute homeroom session at 8.10am, during which I take the register, read the daily announcements and, if I have time, lighten the mood with a quirky YouTube clip or a bizarre piece of news, such as the python in northern Australia that ate a crocodile.

It's a small school, so each grade has just one class. I look after Grade 11, a group of 17-year-olds from Japanese and Korean backgrounds. They are a quiet but amiable bunch, and I'm getting to know them better over time. In such a small school, direct contact with parents is much easier. Despite the language barrier, I have never been in such regular communication with parents as I am here.

The teaching day begins at 8.30am and consists of six one-hour periods. My greatest challenge is the range of English proficiency among students - I have often said to my colleagues that I doubt we will ever teach a wider range of abilities. But I'm lucky to have two wonderful specialists in English as a second language, who come into my class on a regular basis. Their feedback is essential.

There is always something going on outside of the classroom. At lunchtime, I might be selling pizzas in the lobby to raise funds for the school prom; otherwise, I retreat to the common room to chat to my colleagues. The most satisfying discussions tend to be about the day's teaching.

The school day ends at 3.40pm for students, after another 10-minute homeroom session. In the tradition of Japanese schooling, the children clean the room, wipe the board, straighten the furniture and listen to any important announcements. My work then continues, either in one-on-one meetings with students who have sought my help, or in staff meetings, training or Japanese language classes.

On a nice day, I find that the best way to unwind is with a drink on my balcony, overlooking the beautiful Hakata Bay.

Your day

Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email richard.vaughan@tes.co.uk

We will give your school pound;100 if your story is published.


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