My ALT Experience
So let’s first get a few general questions out of the way:
What exactly is an ALT?
Assistant Language Teacher. The bread and butter of Japan’s currently implemented English education system. They are dispatched to elementary, junior high or high schools. An ALT’s most fundamental role is to serve as, well…, an assistant to the main teacher of English in class. The ALT might commonly be asked to prepare speaking, listening and or writing activities. In addition, they might also have to do pronunciation drills (commonly known as “tape recorder” work) or lead lessons from the textbook. In some rare cases, the Japanese English Teacher (JET) might just hand over their entire class to the ALT and expect them to conduct the whole lesson. Basically, whatever the JET asks, the ALT does.
What were your thoughts while being an ALT?
At first, being an ALT was a little stressful, especially since it was my first time for doing a lot new things at once i.e. moving, living and working in a new country. The initial training I received really set the tone for what I thought I should be expecting to do as an ALT. It was a week long and for me it definitely felt like a bootcamp. I have very vivid memories of instructors doing various demo lessons with bottomless enthusiasm and energy. Everything they showed us was by their book and they constantly preached to us that whenever we were in front of the class, it was OUR time—we are the teacher. The Teacher? Quite far from the truth. There are two sides to being an ALT that I think are worth noting. One, the experience you get while being in Japanese schools and “teaching” students. And two, dealing with all the technicalities of working in a dispatch company.
What are your thoughts now?
In the end, an ALT is just that, an assistant language teacher — emphasis on assistant. The ALT is not the lead teacher. If assistance is needed, you will be there to assist. If no assistance is needed, and by that, I mean the JET doesn’t ask you to prepare anything because they have their own lessons they need to get done, then sadly you’ll have to take a seat. Depending on how you look at this, you might think “it’s so good to relax!” but on the other hand, you might also think about how unfulfilling it is to not be doing anything that matters. It’s a misconception they feed you—ALTs are teachers. If we’re teachers, then shouldn’t we be the ones in control? Sorry, we are not. And that’s what any person looking to be an ALT needs to understand before they decide on taking the job.