Being an ALT: The Greatest Job?
by Cristina Zamora
A lady in front of Odawara Castle
I am a representative from the Odawara-Chula Vista International Understanding Program. I am from San Diego, CA and my city Chula Vista has been sister city with Odawara since the early 1990s. In Chula Vista, I have been working with local Junior High Schools for 6 years but not as a classroom teacher but as a Social Worker. This program has been placing ALTs at local junior high schools for almost 20 years. I arrived in Odawara on June 2009 and was assigned to work as an ALT at Shiroyama, Kamonomiya and Tachibana Junior High Schools. What are some of the highs and lows of teaching English?
Paperwork? Unpaid overtime? Datelines? Stress at work? I think I remember what that is like!
For the last 8 months these words do not belong to my vocabulary:
No grading, no testing, no meetings. Paid holidays and paid vacation days, depending on your hiring company.
The responsibilities of an ALT are minimum and I am enjoying every minute of it. Out of the 6 periods in the day, ALTs only teach a few hours; and we are expected to stay at school for the entire school day, even if there are only two classes scheduled for you. The rest of the day we are supposed prepare our lesson plans.
But each grade’s lesson plan is the same for the rest of the week. Depending on your perspective and creativity, this could be either the greatest, most relaxing and most flexible, or the most boring job you could have.
I created an English Corner/ Bulletin Board that I update on monthly basis at each of my school. A group of students help me after school. I personally enjoy this because it gives me time to get to know my students and it is also a way of unstructured
The English Teachers are very busy and often very limited time is spent discussing the school’s and ALTs’ expectations. The English skills of Japanese English teachers vary greatly and this could lead to misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations.
Teachers have a very different concept about classroom management from what we have in the States. Students might sleep, have individual conversations or get up and walk around the classroom all these while the teacher continues with his/her class.What are some of the highs and lows of living in Japan?
I think the public transportation system is exceptional, reliable and you can travel all around the country by only public transportation! I do not disagree walking or riding a bike to get to the nearest train station is a great healthy “Save the Earth” conscious lifestyle. But sometimes doing this under the rain, in the middle of winter or summer, could make your day start a little grouchy. Adapting to this lifestyle took me a while. Food is healthy and fresh, so if you take advantage of this you could be at your optimal body condition.What advice would you give to someone interested in teaching English?
Learn conversational Japanese . I cannot stress this enough.
Before you start teaching, ask your supervisor for a sample lesson plans form a former ALT.
Once in the classroom you could observe an English class before you actually start teaching.What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a more successful teacher of English?
Students really enjoy group work and sometimes are too shy to speak before the entire class so group or pair work would work for conversational activities.
Don’t take anything personally. Students are teenagers and remember they are rebellious, they like to challenge authority and more often than not, they act silly.