Having taught elementary school in Seattle, it is a treat to visit an elementary school in Sendai and see what it is like! I have been visiting Katahiracho Elementary School once a week to help teach English to students of all ages. It is a great opportunity for me to compare the experiences of teachers and students in America to those in Japan.
Of course there are many similarities between the elementary school I have been visiting and the ones that I have taught in throughout Washington state. Students are divided by grade level, and teachers can collaborate to teach certain ideas or concepts. The excitement, self-consciousness and participation levels of students varies by age - just as it does back home. The sight of kids running around on the playground and trying to settle back into school work after lunch is definitely familiar to me.
Of course there are many interesting differences as well. I was very surprised to see a swimming pool at the elementary school! There are a few high schools in Seattle that have swimming pools, but even that isn't the norm. I am also impressed with the teachers for teaching class sizes that can have as many as 40 students. The average class size in Seattle is 25-30 students per class. I also was surprised to discover that the summer break in Japan is one month long. Although students enjoy a 10 week summer break back home, I find that they forget much of what they learned the previous year!