Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Being An ALT #12: Is It Really This Easy?

One thing which will probably occur to you pretty quickly in this job is that not a lot is usually expected of you.

You can potentially change that, though I wouldn't guarantee it. This entry is about how you can use your free time at school.

If you put in the effort and show some well thought out games and activities, or show that your teaching ability/classroom control is high, you may be given more responsibility.

However, sometimes, however much you try, you still have several hours a day with literally nothing to do.

Some people love this, some hate it. You can use it to go on Facebook if you want. You can learn Japanese, write a book or even study for a university course.

You can also, of course, use at least part of it to evaluate your own teaching skills. We all have weaknesses in some areas, and taking a step back (a particularly useful tool here is the video-taped demo lesson) to assess where you can improve will not only help you sharpen up your game, it will also make you feel better.

That last one is an important point. It's very common for the ALT to be left out of school (and even lesson) stuff to the extent that we sometimes wonder if we're needed at all. If you choose to accept that and follow your own pursuits in your free time at school, no one will mind. If that's what you want, then it's a great scenario for you.

However, some people might find the alienation to be a bit down-heartening. If that's you, then you can use your time to create resources or displays that make you a more prominent part of the school. If you do this, the fact that 90% of ALTs don't may work in your favour enough to impress your coworkers/employer.

In short, if you can take pride in this job which literally anyone can do moderately, and do it well, it won't be as easy as it has a reputation for being. Or, you could just slack off and enjoy it. "Both of OK".

But the truth is that Japan is a very difficult place for a foreigner to find permanent work. If you're working the ALT gig and thinking about a long-term stay in Japan, then you had better take every opportunity you can to make yourself more employable.


  1. What sort of things would you suggest doing in order to get involved? I'm moving to Japan this Fall as an ALT and would love to be involved at my school(s) as much as possible. Is showing an interest enough? I'm planning on joining a club at each school (if possible) and asking the Japanese teacher for help learning the language. What sort of things do you do to get involved?

  2. Kaley: Thanks for the comments. Where will you be moving to?

    I do things like make displays about my home country, me, and my various hobbies, and make appearances when possible at sports games and practices. It's also sometimes possible to get in classes of other subjects if you have none of your own. For example, go to cookery class or art class if you have a free afternoon. Kids like it, and teachers, too. Joining clubs is a good idea. Really you have to just see what is available at your school. The size will dictate your opportunities a lot of the time. Good luck!

  3. How long do ALTs usually stay in Japan? I was an exchange student and I loved it, I wouldn't mind going back ^^

  4. inuslilmiko: It varies a lot. JETs have a 5 year maximum term, and most that I've met seem to leave around 3 years. Other people I know have stayed between 1 and 23 years, the average being around 3, I suppose. If you're content to do the same job for the rest of your life, you can do so here as an ALT. Up to you.

  5. I've been an ALT for about 4 weeks now, 2 weeks of actual teaching. I'm finding it really difficult. Junior High is great, pretty much because not a lot is expected of me, but if I have input, my teachers are happy to go with it. They're really kind as well. At Elementary, it's as if I am the HRT, and the HRT is the ALT, or a really stern-looking statue in the back of the classroom. With zero previous teaching experience and only four days initial traiing, I feel like I'm drowning in the deep end, especially when I have five grades in one day and every class is different. I don't see how things will change, considering that is how the previous JET did things. I wish I had hours in which to do whatever!

  6. Lorelle, thanks for the comments. You really hit the nail on the head with your description of difficulties in an ALT's first elementary lessons and inspired me to put together another Being an ALT series post on that very topic. Keep an eye out for it; I'll see if we can't shift things around a bit and get it published within the month for you. :)

  7. Encouraging read. My Nihon teacher friends say with the mass migration of foreigners from Japan last year post tsunami, English schools are quite desperate for teachers. I understand their strict 4 year college grad criteria has dropped to a 2 yr degree in anythng. Heaps of ALT jobs in Tokyo. ie setup a job alert on or check Tokyo classifieds, or other online Japan blogs. Sallery has not changed though, dont expect to get rich on 250,000 yen/month as an alt.