Monday, June 13, 2011

Being an ALT #10: More School Hopping

In the last installment of our Being an ALT series, we discussed how some ALT jobs cover more than one school and how hopping between schools can affect your experience as a teacher in Japan. This time we'll continue that discussion and look particularly at how an ALT's time is split between multiple schools and the ways that can increase or decrease your workload.

School Politics
If you are a shared resource between schools, you can bet that every one of your schools is out to get its fair share of your time. When you ask for time off from work at one school, you may be asked why you can't take a day off from the other school instead. On the other hand, if you manage things well, it will seem to any given school that you haven't asked for many days off at all.

At the beginning of each school year, determining annual calendars of what days you'll visit each school and trading or rescheduling days to make sure each school's total count stays equal are also part of the multi-school ALT adventure.

Finally, if you work at rivaling schools, you may find yourself having to choose between school festivals or enkai parties to attend, and you will be occasionally asked awkward questions by faculty about which school you think is better. (Perhaps an English teacher might even ask you this last question during a lesson, which you'll then get to handle, impromptu, in front of the students... ahem...)

Scheduling Loopholes
On the other side of schools fighting to make sure they each get you for their one-hundred-and-sixteen days per year (or whatever your number of days happens to be), being a multi-school ALT means you'll occasionally find yourself at the mercy of an unintended scheduling conflict. Your schools may have slightly different summer or winter holiday dates, or test days, or demo lesson days, or PTA conference days. This can work out in your favor with an extra few days of summer vacation, or it could work in the other direction, such as two English demo lessons in the same week or paying for two enkais instead of one.

Planning Classes
If your JTEs are well-organized, they'll be able to tell you a week in advance what classes you're going to be teaching and at what point the students will be in their studies. But, not all JTEs are on the ball with this. You may not know in advance what you will be doing next time you come to a certain school. This can manifest as a rushed Monday morning in which you are told last minute what you'll be doing in the day's first class. When you don't have all your materials with you (see next point), it can be a real mental strain.

Doubled Materials
Another tough part of the multi-school environment is maintaining your teaching materials. In short, if you want to have the materials you create available for you to teach with, you'll have to truck them around in your bag each day you change schools. Your desk may not feel like "your" desk, because it'll be inconvenient to store things in it, and if you commute by car your car may become a portable desk instead. If you commute by bicycle or public transportation, you may just have to lug around an obnoxiously heavy bag on your commute.

Along similar lines, if one school issues you a laptop, you probably won't be able to take that computer with you to use at other schools. Schools may quip about you bringing your own laptop into work. And very security-paranoid schools may even frown on your popping USB drives in and out of their computers. (But, honestly, that's a little extreme. If you explain openly that it's the only reasonable way to keep your materials together across workplaces, it should work out all right.)

On the plus side, you'll be able to get twice as much mileage out of any material you create: Multiple schools means more chances to do lessons with students of the same grade level. This means you can reuse materials you've already prepared and develop your ideas and lesson delivery through repetition. Repeating the same lesson twice (or more!) is one of the best ways to hone your in-class explanations and become a better teacher. A lot of the bullet points here have been negative, but to be honest, this point alone makes teaching at multiple schools worth the hassle!

So in summary, don't let the negative aspects of a multi-school job put you off. As an ALT you'll have all the same opportunity to get involved (just show your teachers that you want to be!), and the broader experience you gain from working with different sets of students and coworkers more than makes up for the smaller annoyances. Take our points here as warnings you can use to prepare yourself for the job, rather than letting them stress you out when you find them out alone. Enjoy your new job!


  1. Good points for encouraging the migrant teachers who may not feel they blelong anywhere.

  2. I work at 7 schools and let me say that getting to practice lessons multiple times is an awesome plus. When I test out a lesson Monday morning, it's probably going to suck, but luckily it's elementary first graders and they don't care. By the time I get to my tough 4th graders last period Friday, I can handle anything. And I know what I want to do the next week.

    Also it's really cool going to all the schools in my town so when there's a community event, like a festival or if I'm just going to the supermarket, I can see a kid and recognize his face, if not his name, and say hi. You feel like a super celebrity!