Well, to start off with there’s the barebones description.
An ALT works with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) to plan and teach English lessons for junior high school students in Nagano Prefecture. That’s true, but that’s not quite what an ALT does.
An ALT is an assistant. We work closely with the Japanese staff at public junior high schools designing innovative, entertaining, and above all, educational lessons and communication activities for junior high school students. This assistance can range from deciding the game to play, what topic to discuss, or test questions, to whole lessons planned with the JTE or on your own. The assistant part continues on, we help the Japanese staff at events, have assigned duties in case of emergencies, receive foreign visitors from sister-cities, and even help write recommendation letters for students looking to study overseas.
An ALT is an instructor. Working with the JTE, we teach anywhere from 12 to 17 lessons a week with students of all levels. Sometimes working with more than one school, sometimes based only at one. These classes range from grammar lessons, to communication lessons, to special cultural classes on topics such as Halloween or other holidays, to heavier hitting topics like the US Civil Rights Movement. As instructors we help evaluate the students’ skills by administering communication tests each term, or by assigning and grading English journals that allow our students to express themselves in English.
An ALT is a mentor. ALTs work with the special afterschool English course, designing and implementing their own curriculum to foster their willingness to communicate. An ALT can be involved in the school activities from clubs and sports to the yearly festivals. ALTs are often the go to person for students who want to expand their English skills through homestays or aken tests. We also coach students who are competing in the yearly speech contest, working with the students to produce, practice, and perform their 5 minute speeches in English. It’s not just the students though, ALTs are often called on to help the Japanese teachers as well. Sometimes coaching in English, sometimes with the other skills ALTs bring, sometimes by helping new teachers adjust to their roles.
An ALT is an ambassador. We get to teach and share our culture with our students, the other teachers, and even the wider community. Being an ALT, especially one here for the long haul, allows you to get into and become a part of the community. As with other teachers, you are recognized outside of the school and awarded the title of ‘sensei’. Which can lead to being asked to get involved in community events and activities, the same as other teachers.
An ALT is an everyman. The line “and other duties as assigned” seems to cover everything from helping decorate the school, to lending a hand with snow shoveling, to being asked by the cafeteria staff to suggest food menus, to being a test subject for the tea ceremony club to practice on. Every day seems to bring something new and unexpected.
Being an ALT is more than just reading the textbook or repeating words. It’s being an assistant, an instructor, a mentor, an ambassador, and an everyman. In other words, a teacher.