If there is one thing I have learned from my time teaching English in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), it is how to be flexible. I teach with twelve homeroom teachers from three elementary schools and none of them have been specifically trained to teach English. This has provided both fascinating and difficult situations, and there are many challenges an ALT could face while co-teaching. Part of the battle is identifying the problem and dealing with it. I would like to point out three different types of teaching styles you may encounter while teaching in Japan, and provide some input on how you might be able to improve your co-teaching relationships with them.
For ALTs Co-Teaching with a Passive Teacher
A passive teacher is one who does not contribute in class except to occasionally chime in and discipline a student. The ALT ends up teaching the whole class. The best way to solve this problem is to involve the teacher in the class. Call out their name to ask them a question. Plan an activity that the teacher can get involved in. Perhaps the teacher does not quite understand the lesson or is shy when it comes to speaking English. Do the best you can to explain the lesson plan before class so that when the time comes, they are confident enough to contribute.
For ALTs Co-Teaching with a Controlling Teacher
The controlling teacher is one who teaches the whole class and only has the ALT briefly contribute, like teaching the vocabulary words. After that, the ALT stands off to the side and does not get used again. The first step in dealing with this would be to meet with the teacher to talk about being more involved in the lesson. Share some specific ideas of more ways you can contribute. For example, instead of the teacher explaining the game in Japanese, you could act out the instructions. Try to give examples of things you can bring to the class that the homeroom teacher would not necessarily be able to provide. From using classroom English instructions (i.e. please open your textbooks) to providing weekly updates of current events happening around the world, there are many ways your participation can be invaluable to the teacher and instructive to students.
For ALTs Co-Teaching with a Translator Teacher
The translator teacher is a teacher who translates everything you say into Japanese. They do not wait for the students to piece together what was said. One way to prevent this is to plan out what will be said during the lesson with the teacher beforehand. Tell them when translating is fine and when it should not be used. The teacher should not be the sole translator either. Students who have understood what was said can be asked to explain it to their classmates. That way the students can get more involved in the lesson and do not have the expectation that the teacher will always translate.
Read: English-Only Policy
In the end, it is about communication between both parties. Teachers are often busy and have many meetings. Some will work until the school is closed up. If that is a problem, perhaps exchange emails or leave notes on their desks to communicate. Maybe even try passing back and forth an English class notebook. The best thing for ALT’s to do is create good habits at the beginning of the school year. Set a meeting time and stick to it throughout the year. Make sure the teachers know you need to meet with them and what you expect from them. Keeping in constant communication with your co-teachers will prevent a lot of stress and friction later.