Monday, June 06, 2011

Being an ALT #9: Hopping Between Schools

In some ALT positions, you will teach at not just one school, but instead rotate through a set of assigned schools. This is especially common among junior high school and elementary school ALTs, but even high school ALTs may find themselves covering a few small, rural high schools or trucking out to a special needs school once every couple weeks.

This game of musical workplaces can be good or bad, depending on your preferences. Over our next two Being an ALT posts, we'll discuss some of the pros and cons of this arrangement. First, we'll look at some of the interpersonal impacts of having more schools to visit, and next time we'll consider scheduling issues it might provoke. If you're considering a move to a multi-school job, we hope these posts will provide you some food for thought.

A More Diverse Experience
First off, with multiple schools, you'll encounter a much wider variety of students and teachers. Every class of students has its own personality, and every school has a personality, too. Some schools are the pride and joy of their community. Other schools are out in the slums (or as close as you can get in Japan), and student behavior will reflect this fact. Lunch and cleaning time routines vary from school to school, as do teacher meetings and the way ALTs are employed. You may be a human tape recorder at one school but be given free reign over most lessons at another.

More Coworkers
More faces means more Japanese names to remember, and moving around between schools also means it will take a little longer for coworkers at any given school to warm up to you. However, as a team-teaching ALT, more coworkers means more people for you to try working with and a greater chance to meet teachers with whom you really jive in the classroom.

Perpetual Visitor
A common complaint about the ALT job is that you never really fit in as part of the team. It's easy to feel like an outsider or a special exception in this world. The intensity of that feeling depends on you and your specific situation, but if you're sensitive to that kind of thing, be aware that a multi-school ALT job can exacerbate or prolong the feeling. It will take longer to build relationships with your students and coworkers if you only see them for part of each week, and jumping between schools makes it easier to be "forgotten."

Being Forgotten
This is standard new-ALT rigamarole, especially if you don't speak Japanese (but even if you do!). A lot of information that circulates the school will fail to come across your desk. Maybe it slipped the English teacher's mind to let you know, maybe they didn't make enough copies of an announcement to put one on your desk, maybe they didn't think you'd be interested, or maybe it's something they've decided you don't need to know.

Serious things, like a student stealing a teacher's wallet, school property being vandalized over the weekend, a teacher's loss of a relative, or a student running away from home, tend to get swept out of the ALT's field of vision, intentionally or otherwise. These probably won't be explained in English to you.

But, other daily information that you really do need might not reach your ears, either. The daily schedule might have been shifted by ten minutes in one direction, or maybe lunch comes an hour earlier than usual. This kind of information is usually circulated in the daily schedule or on the chalkboard in the staff room, but it's going to be in Japanese.

This and other things, like not hearing about the annual staff photo until the morning of, can leave ALTs feeling pretty cynical or impotent in the workplace.

Of course, one of the biggest issues with multi-school ALT jobs is how the schools divide your time. Next week we'll look at how schools deal with sharing an ALT and how it'll increase (or sometimes decrease!) your workload. Stay tuned, and as always, if you have any experiences to share, please comment below!

    1 comment:

    1. Good post, I completely agree with what you have said...but I am based at one school!
      I am still treated like a visitor, called my predecessors name, and forgotten, despite having been at this school for almost two years now!

      If I turn up to another staff photo wearing a bright pink jumper because nobody bothered to tell me I am going to go sabotage it...