TEFL Japan: A Day in The Life of an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT)

TEFL Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher ALTThe typical day of an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) starts much earlier than that of a conversational school teacher and some prefer it that way. You usually arrive at school by 8AM. In 99% of the cases, you will have your own desk within the office for you to prepare for class. Greeting the staff with a simple “ohayo” or good morning is recommended.

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Speaking Japanese –  TEFL Japan as an ALT

Don’t be shy about speaking Japanese. Most of the teaching staff at High Schools and Junior High Schools will appreciate any attempts you make. This is especially true in Elementary schools where teachers only understand Japanese for the most part. Working at public schools involves the use of Japanese so you will pick it up pretty quickly.

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Morning Staff Meeting – TEFL Japan as an ALT

Most schools start with a morning staff meeting. For the most part, you can just sit quietly and listen. Then the homeroom teachers will be off to their classes. They will usually drop off a schedule of your classes for the day on your desk if they didn’t send you one by email earlier that week. There are usually a minimum of two to three and a maximum of five classes a day. If it’s a special day like Christmas or Halloween, elementary schools usually ask you to work more hours.

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Co-Teaching – TEFL Japan as an ALT

As an ALT, you do not teach by yourself as you would in a conversational school. You would be doing something called team-teaching which involves teaching with the English teacher of that given class. Usually the Japanese English Teacher (JET) will tell you the grammar point or just show you what unit they want to do during class and ask you to come up with an activity (usually a speaking one). Ideas for games can be found on the internet or you can use your own ideas. Usually your company would have given you a textbook full of ideas to help you along the way so there is no need to panic.

Read: Teaching in Yokohama

Read: Teaching in Nagoya

Having Lunch with Students – TEFL Japan as an ALT

Lunches will be served and eaten in the classrooms with the students. Lunches are pretty healthy and very Japanese. There is usually rice or noodles with a different array of dishes with soup and milk. Your company will almost require you to pay and eat with the kids as that is part of the job of spending time with the students. The meals are around 200YEN (around 2 dollars) so it’s actually a pretty good deal. If you aren’t into Japanese food all that much you can choose to baggy the lunch. Something that I did was that I would swamp something such as natto (fermented soy beans) for something a particular student doesn’t like that I would want. This is usually a good way to get to get in good with the students so that you can become more involved during the lunch hours. This move is especially helpful when you haven’t learned a great deal of Japanese to communicate with them.

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Extra Tasks – TEFL Japan as an ALT

The truly fun part of being an ALT is hanging out with the kids after class. There will be cleaning to do be done after classes and unlike schools in Canada or America, the cleaning is all done by the students and teachers. I recommend just carrying a cloth around and wiping while saying hi to the kids. After classes are done, there are club activities and you can pick one you are interested in and join in with the kids. If you want to try everything as I did, you can walk around after school and see what the kids are doing and join in if you are interested. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to get to know your students outside of class. Aside from the normal days, you will spend a large amount of time participating in school-wide events such as the school festivals (junior high school and high school), sports day (elementary school) and of course the opening and closing ceremony of the school year. Each school in different areas have their own events so you are always in for a nice surprise.

School Hours – TEFL Japan as an ALT

Schools have different closing hours depending on the season. School and club activities end around 5PM in the winter and 6PM in the summer. You are not required to stay until the end of their club activities and most companies tell you that you can go home at 5PM. The good part about starting early is getting off work early so you still have your whole evening and night to do your own thing.

The life of an ALT is great for some and not as fun for others. It really depends on how into the Japanese lifestyle you want to be. A lot of people do have trouble with the way the teachers teach because the system is very different in terms of the amount of group work (barely any) that is involved and the “tape recording” style of teaching English, which is less ineffective than using the Communicative Approach. However, I do believe that coming into an ALT job with an open mind will lead to one of the best experiences you ever had. So think about it and I hope this helps you on your path to picking your career in Japan!

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