Being an Assistant Language Teacher or ALT in Japan can be (and has been) an incredibly rewarding career. When you first start out though, it can feel like a daunting task, even if it’s not your first time being in the country. Other than the obvious language barrier, there are cultural and curriculum-based differences that can leave first-time teachers feeling lost. With that being said, here are five tips from an experienced ALT on how to go about the job and become the best teacher you can be!
This may seem like a no-brainer, but be wary. Professionalism in Japan could be different from your own home country. It is also an extremely important part of the Japanese workplace.
Be early, be prepared, and be cordial. Make sure to ask your employer and your higher-ups at your school or schools what they expect from you and what is considered acceptable. While you don’t need to wear a suit every day like the folks on the left, be prepared to carry yourself like a pro- you are one!
This tip applies to your life inside AND outside of the classroom. It’s a little more cut-and-dry for the classroom setting. Your lessons or even the Japanese teacher’s lessons won’t always go as planned, you have to be ready to compensate for that. Keep a handful of games and activities that can be adjusted to any situation on standby just in case.
Outside the classroom, however, being flexible becomes more complicated. You need to be ready for situations to arise that you’re not accustomed to. You might say something that could unintentionally offend someone, or vice-versa. In those moments, it’s important to keep your emotions in check and think logically.
Part of being an ALT is being an ambassador to your country and in some ways, every country outside of Japan. People are going to want to talk to you, especially if you are living and teaching in a small town. The people who approach you will be understanding if you can’t speak Japanese, but everyone understands body language and facial expressions.
If you look uncomfortable or look like you’re trying to avoid them, they will know. They will also talk to other people in the town about their experience with you. News travels fast in a small town, and you’re most definitely a topic of conversation. With that in mind, smile. Be friendly. Try to communicate. The effort in and of itself goes a long way.
Japanese people love it when you know things about their language, history, and culture. Due to Japan being an island nation with a proportionately small population of foreign residents, Japanese people will rarely have the opportunity to interact with a non-Japanese person concerning their own culture on any deeper level.
Watch some anime and read some manga, especially if it’s popular. Your students will love you for it. Watch some popular Japanese TV programs and familiarize yourself with popular Japanese comedians, bands and sports teams. Their parents will love you for it. Learn some of the language and the history. Everyone will love you for it.
Very few people from abroad will visit Japan in their lifetimes. As an ALT, you not only have the opportunity to do so; you’re getting paid to live there! Take advantage of it. Eat the food, swim in the ocean, go to the festivals, go to the onsen, TRAVEL. Say “yes” to as many things as you possibly can.
Japan has a lot to offer, and it would be quite a shame to not take advantage of the opportunity that being an ALT presents to experience as much as you can. I guarantee you will become a better, more well-rounded person for doing so.
Ready to become an Assistant Language Teacher yourself? You can get the ball rolling today and become an ALT for spring 2022!
Images provided by Connor Steck. Cover image courtesy of Unsplash.com
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From the US
Started his new life in Japan with a year in Hokkaido!