Assistant Language Teacher: One man`s Experience of Being an ALT in Japan

Assistant Language Teacher Photo, The student pictured may be pure Japanese or a mixed Eurasian elementary school student in a new elementary school in Japan. (It is hard to tell).

(Japanese call mixed race people "half.") This generally has a good meaning, as "half," people are thought to be cute, pretty or handsome. Note the backpack that all of the students carry for six years during primary school.

Would you like to stay in a riverside cottage near Hakone and Hot Springs?

Spacious Cottage near Hakone

Minamiashigara shi, Kanagawa, Japan
Is located near the Kari River, across the street from a supermarket, and 3 minutes walk from Iiwahara Station (Daiyuzan Line). It is near a pleasant river walk with nearby rice fields and Iiwahara...

Assistant Language Teacher: This can be a great job in Japan if you are in with a good group of Japanese teachers. However a fair number of Japanese teachers it would seem, are difficult to work with. I don`t know why this is.

However a friend of mine has worked as an ALT for years and enjoys it. She said it is rare for her not to like the group of teachers she works with at a particular school.

Some complain about being asked to act like a parrot or tape recorder, and repeat the English for the students. Others absolutely love working as an ALT.

Assistant Language Teacher: Fuji-kyu Highland, Riding the ALT Rollercoaster

"I saw a documentary on NHK recently and it said that if the foreign teacher is allowed to teach and the Japanese teacher assists, then the class will go well. But if the Japanese teacher insists on teaching in a Japanese way and wants to control the class, the students don`t learn as much and the class doesn`t go as well. The foreign teacher and the Japanese teacher need to form a team, and that means allowing the foreign teacher to teach in the way she or he knows best."

--a Fuji Film Executive

"The teachers don`t like you because you speak English better than they do,you don`t know grammar like they do, they think you are just another guy from down the block. You aren`t part of their teacher`s union, and you look different, so you are fair game. You scare them. You have the power to embarrass them in front of their students. There isn`t much Japanese hate more than embarrassment."

--A JET Official

Assistant Language Teacher -- Preliminaries

Mr. Kawaguchi calls me on the phone, "Walkersan, can you please teach at two local elementary schools? We need a good, native English teacher like yourself."

Walker hesitates, he has never enjoyed teaching children, though has done it for many years. Does he want to do it yet again?

"No sorry, thank you for asking, but I am really just too busy right now."

A few days pass then Mr. Kawaguchi calls again. "Walkersan, I have reduced the hoursand you can teach any way you want. You don`t even have to discipline the students, the Japanese teachers will do that."

(Assistant Language Teacher, Photo of bikes at school by Richard Baladad)

Assistant Language Teacher: A Cultural Note:

(Japanese authorities in all walks of life make statements that in the West we would simply call: lies. In Japan however, they are commonly thought of as exaggerations or the best case scenario. To the Japanese who make these "exaggerations," they may feel, how can this man/woman really believe this. What I am really describing is the best case scenario. Rather than say that Japanese in authority positions routinely lie, let`s just say that it is a cultural difference and leave it at that. Before we leave this aside: the Japanese minister of agriculture once confidently stated on the TV news that we could never have mad cow disease in Japan, we had it within six months. Again, he was talking of the best case scenario but not reality. He knew we had been using the same sheep brain fertilizer they had used in Britain. Being an intelligent man, he probably also knew he was talking about the perfect scenario and not the reality of Japan. The tragedy of this cultural aspect is that people get hurt.)

Pictured, an English class in the Anne school at KES in Kanagawa. Not all classrooms in Japan have so much wood everywhere. This is a very nice classroom. To Page 2 of this article, games for ESL Students

"Then the foreign exchange student came, Alison. The English teacher (a Japanese) was actually afraid to talk to Alison and put her next to Misaki and told Misaki to help her. However, Misaki didn`t say much in class to Alison because when she did all the other kids thought she was just showing off. She had learned the first few months that speaking clear English was interpreted by others as showing off. `The nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.` Misaki often repeated. She was trying her best not to stick out too much."

--Tim Murphey, The Tale that Wags p. 8.

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