ALT Duties: First Impressions

Since I already put up a post about how I feel about teaching on the JET Program thus far, I thought it would be a good idea to also put up a more straightforward post about what working on the JET Program thus far has actually entailed. I’ll probably write more posts like this later on as new things come or go and if my thoughts on anything changes. But, for now, here’s a snapshot of what being an ALT in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture, is like day to day.

The Bigger School:

I go to my bigger school three times a week on a normal week. One of those days is only a half day since I spend part of it at the bigger school and part of it at the Board of Education. At the BoE, I usually have meetings or prep time for other stuff and it’s when I have the best chance to talk to my supervisor about different things.

So far, at my bigger school, I’ve taught up to four classes in a day. The grade level and class I teach varies depending on the day. The style in which I teach also depends on the class and the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) I’m working with that period. My JTEs are usually pretty busy throughout the day, but somehow, we can usually figure out a time to discuss the lesson before we get to the classroom. Luckily, I’m still just making my way through a self introduction lesson, so not much preparation is required. In my down time, though, I’ve been preparing and researching different warm-up games and activities that I can pull out at the drop of a hat. I’ve already been asked once at the end of a class if I had a game we could play and I set up a simple True/False question game. Once I’m done giving my self introduction lesson to all the classes, what I  teach will change based on where a class is in the textbook. One JTE has told me about how a class in the near future will probably involve us reading a story from the textbook aloud to the students.

When I’m not in class or at the BoE, I’m usually in the staff room preparing materials for games or the English bulletin board, which I’m planning on making a new display for every month. I’ve also been helping one of the JTEs make CDs of different recitations to help students with an upcoming speech and recitation contest.

So, in short, the three main things I do at my bigger school are classes, materials prep, and helping with speech and recitation contests. Helping with the contests will gradually move from making CDs to actively coaching students in their speeches, according to one of my JTEs.

The Smaller School:

I’ve only taught a few classes at this school so far because everyone has been busy preparing for the Sports Festival. There have been a couple of times when I’ve gone with one of the other teachers to just watch the students practice and chat with them when they don’t have anything to do. Aside from that, I’ve been doing mostly the same things here as at my bigger school. When I’m not in class with my self introduction lesson, I work on making materials for the English board and make any materials I might need for future activities in classes. Often, though, I get to chat with the other teachers in the staff room. Since this school is smaller, the teachers are a much more tight-knit group. That means it’s completely possible to just pause whatever you’re doing to have a quick conversation with someone (unless whatever you’re working on is urgent. But everyone seems to have a good idea of when you’re busy and when you’re not).

Sometimes on JET, school Sports Festivals will fall on a weekend and you’ll still be asked to be there. If this happens, you’ll get a supplementary day off later. However, I don’t need to worry about this at my smaller school because they planned to have it on a weekday. When the Sports Day does come around, I’m going to be helping the other teachers run it and cheer on the students. There won’t be any classes that day; it’s a day-long field day!

At my smaller school, I’ve taught a couple of special needs classes, which weren’t too different from my regular classes except the class size is smaller, and so me and the JTE are more involved with the students. Later on this month, I’m going to start teaching at a branch school, which is an offshoot of my smaller school. When that happens, I’ll start having half days in which I spend part of the day at my smaller school and part of the day at the branch school. The branch school is attached to a hospital and will have some of the smallest class sizes. From what I’ve been told, lessons at the branch school will be the most game based out of all the schools I work at.

Final Notes:

The best piece of advice that I’ve followed so far is to just be prepared. Have a bag of tricks ready to go for classes that you can pull from anytime. While I might go into several classes with the same lesson ready, I might have to teach it in a completely different way each time just because I’m working with a different teacher or because a class is more noisy or more quiet. Generally, I do the same things at every school, but the details are what make each school interesting. I’m quickly learning that the details are also what makes it so difficult to get a straight answer to questions about school life in the days leading up to teaching on JET. So that’s why the best thing to do, especially in your day to day life, is to just be prepared for anything that might happen at your schools. Be prepared and enjoy the little things. Because that’s what makes things fun.




Back to School: The First Week

As of the day I started writing this (September 2nd), I’ve lived in Izumo for one whole month. Also, as of now, I’ve finished my first week as a teacher. Before coming here, I’d never gained any formal classroom teaching experience, despite the fact that I majored in English Education for the past four years. This week was what I’d been looking forward to since I joined JET.

My first day, I didn’t get to teach class at all. Since it was the first day of a new semester and everyone was busy preparing for the sports day, there were no classes. However, there was a welcome ceremony, and I had to get up in front of the entire school and introduce myself in English and Japanese. I’m pretty sure everyone could tell I was nervous, but the head JTE kept telling me I did well. She also told me that after I did my introduction, I was officially a part of the team of teachers.

So far, I’ve introduced myself at two different schools and it’s interesting to see the differences between them. My smaller school is much more close-knit in terms of all the teachers’ relationships with each other. During my time preparing materials in the staff room this week, it wasn’t unusual for teachers to look over my shoulder and ask about some pictures of my family or my dog that I had with me. Also, coincidentally, the principal at my smaller school recently visited my home state to watch the eclipse! While I was in the staff room, he showed me some pictures he took of the eclipse and told me all about his trip.

The first two classes I got to teach at my smaller school were special needs classes; Step Class, which is for students with disabilities like dyslexia, and Jump Class, which is for students who have been diagnosed with things like ASD. Both of these classes were really small and so the self intro lesson I’d prepared ended up being less like a lesson and more like a conversation between me, the JTE I was helping, and the students. The students themselves were so sweet and charming! At one point during my lesson in Step Class, I was talking about my favorite U-Pick fruit place back home, the White House. I explained that the White House “is not the President’s White House. It’s a farm house that is white.” The JTE translated what I’d said to the students and they just said, “Oh! Trump!” and one girl began doing an impression of Donald Trump that included crazy facial expressions and big hand gestures. In Jump Class, the one student present that day kept giving me advice throughout my self intro lesson. For example, I said something about how my youngest brother loves playing video games. The student said something quickly in Japanese and the JTE translated, “He thinks you should tell your brother what days he can play video games and what days he can’t play video games because he’s worried your brother might get addicted to games.”

At my bigger school, I became fast friends with two of the English teachers and another teacher who supports newly hired staff at different schools in the area. A lot of the teachers in this school look constantly busy, and we don’t chat in the staff room as often as at my smaller school, but everyone is still really nice. So far, this is the school I’ve taught the most at; three large classes in one day with one right after the other. I got to teach with the two different JTEs that I know best and the thing that surprised me the most was how much a class could change depending on the students and the teacher. One of my JTEs was very animated. She translated what I said in my self intro lesson often to make sure students understood and the students would giggle or whisper to their friends at different points in the lesson. On the other hand, in another class, the students were so shy that they barely said a word throughout the entire period and the JTE in that class had a style that involved more activities from the textbook and only translating a few word of what I was saying.

One thing that’s pretty consistent between both of my schools, though, is that students seem far more willing to talk with me outside of class than in class. I can’t walk down the hall without at least a few different groups of students saying, “Hello!” as I walk by. Also, on my first day at my smaller school, there were two students who came to the staff room to see me because they really loved my predecessor and they wanted to see the new ALT. Everyone tells me that as time goes by, students will be more open with me, but right now, they’re going to be really shy.

All in all, this is my first experience teaching anything in a school setting and I love it so far! I like seeing the differences in schools and classes and I like figuring out the best ways to adapt whatever I’m teaching to each situation. I like getting to know students and I feel really happy whenever I recognize one of them in the halls. Both of my schools are letting me make English bulletin boards, so I have something to contribute even when I’m not in a class. On top of all of that, just doing this job for one week has gotten me excited about what else I might be able to do in the next year.

Granted, the self intro lesson I’m doing now might be the biggest lesson I get to plan, and there’s a running joke among ALTs about how sometimes, we’re basically just used as human CD players in class. But that’s one good thing about having little teaching experience up to this point; I think it would be nice to help plan large lessons and lead classes, but at the same time, I know nothing about managing a classroom and so I’m also just as happy to observe and learn. The more varieties of classes and teaching styles I see, the more tricks I can use later when I go back to the States and become a teacher there. Already, I’m starting to see how much little things can matter in a class. And I figure if I can work out how to help students enjoy coming to class within the Japanese education system (which is way more test-focused than the American education system) I can work out how to help students enjoy coming to class just about anywhere. So, in short, I’m excited to see where I’ll be next month and at the end of this year.