Daily Work Life of an ALT

I often get the question, “Erin, what do you do at work?” ”What is your job like?”

Its a good question. In this post I am going to try and describe to you the Daily work life of an ALT in Japan. I always struggle to answer this question in a concise way. Sometimes with my job, I’m so busy that I take work home every night and every weekend. Other times, I have nothing to do at work and I’m sitting around reading my kindle, writing in my blog, and studying Japanese.

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A typical Japanese high school staff room. All the teachers desks stay in one room and the teachers move from class to class visiting the students.

This week I find myself with a lot of free time since my students are all busy with their end of term exams. I don’t have classes to teach during testing weeks and I can’t proctor an exam since I’m not a certified teacher in Japan and can’t fully communicate with students. Instead, I sit at my desk and mark the occasional stack of tests left there.

I know I should be prepping lessons for next week when I become crazy busy again, cleaning out my desk and the LL (Language Lab, it’s the name of the room I teach in), or catching up on paperwork. However, I’m choosing to study and write away in here instead.

PART 1 of my job: Teaching Classes

During the times where I am super busy, I am often planning lessons. Even though my job title is ASSISTANT language teacher, I find myself leading most of my classes and planning and teaching them myself. I don’t say that begrudgingly, though. I am very happy that my JTEs think I am capable of teaching my own classes and planning my own lessons. This is all good practice for me when I become an art teacher at home. I think teaching English as a Foreign Language now will help me become better at working with the many ESL students I am sure to come across in Texas.

1st-year English classes are taught from multiple textbooks, but the one I teach with most often is called “Vision Quest: English Expressions.”

For each lesson, there is a model dialog, English speaking practice, and grammar pages. The JTE teaches the grammar pages in a separate class and I teach the model conversations and speaking pages. Here are some examples of the pages in the textbook.

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Lesson 2. (you can see the level of my students at the beginning of their first year of high school.)

 

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Lesson 12 (the level they SHOULD be at by the end of their first year of high school.)

Not all of my classes are taught with a textbook, though. In a class with 3rd-year students, the students do not have a textbook or a JTE so I am in charge of writing the curriculum. For these classes, I want the students to be speaking and using as much English as possible so I have them do projects centered around making presentations. We work on using a loud voice, speaking with notes and a visual aid, making eye contact and of course using proper English.

I have done projects like show and tell, debate, teaching an elementary school English lesson in English, and writing and performing skits.

I don’t just teach English in my classes. I also teach about foreign culture and current events as well. I have taught classes on racial discrimination, the Holocaust, holiday celebrations, Internet/texting shorthand English, and even current popular youtube videos (My students LOVED “What does the fox say?” For the record it says, “kon kon,” in Japanese).

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The LL room (Language Lab). This is where nearly all of my classes are taught. It has a computer, projector, headsets, and monitors around the room. fancy.

PART 2 of my job: After school teaching

Of course, there are other responsibilities outside of the classroom too. For example, my school just started an exchange program with a high school in Oregon. I was in charge of interviewing and choosing the students from those that applied to go on the exchange. I also prepared them in the months before their departure with after school conversation classes.

I also help students practice interviews for the Eiken test or university entrance exams. I help with speech contests (if my school has students who participate, which isn’t often…). When I do speech contests, I help my students write their speeches and I coach them on speaking. We work on pronunciation, eye contact, intonation, and fluency. I also help them by “choreographing” their gestures.

I also help run the ESS club (English Speaking Society) for students who want to speak more English after school.

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ESS Halloween party last year! We made toilet paper mummies and caramel apples!

 

PART 3 of my job: Human spell check

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This says, “Example.” If you read it with Japanese pronunciation it makes sense!

 

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This kid thinks Gulliver was brainwashed from traveling in, “Gulliver’s Travels.” I hope this was an unfortunate translation error.

 

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This kid isn’t calling me a rude word. Fagot is an unfortunate translation for the word bassoon. She was trying to say, “I play the piano and the bassoon.” Yikes.

 

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The ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds are the same in Japanese. He meant to say they all “CLAPPED.” with excitement. hysterical.

All of these pictures are of students’ writing. I do a lot of essay marking. It takes me about 25% of the time to correct a student essay as it takes one of my JTEs so when I have free time they often ask me to help with their marking.

Also, anytime the school needs to send official paperwork or letters in English, I usually read over them to correct any mistakes. The Japanese English teachers at my school are pretty good and don’t often need me to correct their English. However, with very official documents, like a letter from our principal to our sister school in Oregon or high school transcripts for American universities, I often give a final proof-read and change language to sound more polite or natural.

PART 4 of my job: non-voluntary “volunteer” work.

With my job in Fukui-ken I am required to volunteer at 2 English summer camps for students. I have little control over when in the summer these happen… A source of great frustration for many ALTs who want to plan vacations in the summer. I’m also required to volunteer at 2 weekend English events during the school year.

Sometimes we are given “thank-you” money for the required volunteering we do in our free time. This leads me to believe that the Board of Education doesn’t properly understand the word volunteer…

These weekends of “volunteering” are exhausting but always fun. I particularly enjoy volunteering at the international high schools since the kids that study there are required to study abroad. Some of the students are gone for an entire year studying in an English speaking country. Their English is AMAZING. It’s so inspiring to see so man young Japanese students so passionate about travel and foreign culture.

PART 5 of my job: Grassroots Internationalization

Part of the reason why the JET program was established by the Japanese government was to bring internationalism and foreigners to the rural countryside of Japan and to educate foreigners on Japanese culture. Just by living in and making connections in our community we are doing part of our job. Even though I’m not contracted by the Board of Education to promote grassroots internationalization, it was part of the Japanese government’s plan when they established the JET programme.

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Lizzy, Laura, and I after the Tsuruga 10k race with Fukui’s sports/athleltic mascot. I think his name is Ryu-kun.

Things like the English cafe that I volunteer at with another ALT, taking shamisen lessons, studying Japanese, volunteering for local festivals, and making friends are all a part of the reason why the Japanese government wants me to work here. Therefore, in a way, living in Fukui is a distant part or extension of my job.

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Fukui Champions’ League is an international one day soccer tournament that Simon a current ALT in Fukui started last year. It’s been a huge success!

 

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One of the teams from the Fukui soccer tournament. Simon and Yoshio put a ton of work in organizing this every year!

I hope that helps you to understand a bit about what I do on a daily basis and why I am brought to work in rural Japan from America. I really want to write more about daily life and everyday teaching experiences. Until now I feel like a lot of my blog has only been about exploring Japan but there is this whole other side to my life here that I do 5-6  days a week at school with my students and teachers. It’s just as important to me and my experience even if it is a little less glamorous.

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