Jun 13, 2016

It's More Than Just Teaching

It's More Than Just Teaching photo

I view the role of an ALT more than just being an English teacher. I think it's a much bigger responsibility than most people think it is. I've made mention before of my dislike of people who don't take the ALT job seriously. But, I write this with the hopes that it would help inform the uninformed. Because something that I see from time to time is people commenting about how they would act as an ALT. How they would react to misbehaving students. And more often than not it's ALL wrong! 

First things first. If you are an ALT you aren't an actual licensed teacher in the Japanese public school system. So, the things you can and can't do greatly differ from the things a licensed teacher can do. Students acting up? Want yell at them? Good luck with that. Want to discipline a misbehaving student? Good luck keeping your job. Seriously. You are not a licensed teacher. Legally you are not allowed to do a lot of things. I don't care what lines you think are being crossed or what rules are being broken. Discipline is not your job! You aren't even legally allowed to be teaching a class without a licensed teacher present. 

Secondly, and most importantly I want to focus on your interactions with your students. More than likely you will see your students everyday, be influential in their learning, social development, mental development, possibly help out in their club activities etc. You are going to be a huge influence in their  
lives. That is if you choose to be. (Which I hope you do!) Your job is now much bigger than just holding up flashcards with pictures of cats on them. To be fair you will probably do that quite a few times.  

Your students need positive role models in their lives. Hopefully you can be that for them. Now listen, no one is expecting you to be perfect. We all screw up and miss the mark from time to time. That can't be changed. But what you can do is try and realize that some of your students might not have any positive influences in their lives. Most of the time you aren't going to know what's going on in your students lives after they leave school and go home. In this respect, Japan isn't any different than any other country. People like to keep their private lives...private. And troubles at home are unfortunately a universal problem.  

You might however have students open up to you if you make your self available. Sometimes it's not easy. Let me tell you right now, after nearly 15 years (as a private teacher and ALT) I'm not used to it. I have left school in tears and heartbroken. I have gone home praying for students because I just don't know what else to do. While I find teaching easy, it's never easy hearing stories of broken homes, abuse**, and pain.  

Ultimately, this is going to require you to be available to your student. At times that will just mean being there to listen. Sometimes that's all a student will need. They just need someone to talk to and you fit into this weird role of friend/not a parent/not quite a teacher role. It's actually very cool. You have an awesome chance to just be there for your students. Sometimes it's not easy. I've heard some heart breaking stories over the years. But, I've also seen students open up, and be willing to talk about something that is troubling them. That is a huge first step in working through a problem. Especially if you are working with teenagers...man...so much drama! 

Thirdly, there is literally no reason for you to be a strict or mean teacher. Your students don't need another person yelling at them. Keep in mind, you are going to have students that don't want to pay attention to your lessons. They will ignore instructions, not answer, or do their work. That's something that happens to everyone. You will have unmotivated students from time to time. Again, it's your job as a teacher to motivate them. Not yell at them or be a drill sergeant. There just isn't room for that kind of attitude. 

Leave the discipline for the licensed teachers and focus on finding ways to motivate your students. Don't worry about the students that don't want to participate in class. In all reality you can't and won't reach every student. But you should be making the effort to do so. There shouldn't be any acceptable loses when it comes to teaching.  

Finally, the rapport you build with your students is crucial. You need to learn what interests them and what motivates them. What is the best way to motivate students? Unfortunately what I do with my students isn't going to work for you. You're students will have their own set of characteristics and interests. You should be working to find out what those things are and run with them! Try to find out what music they like, what sport/club they are in, or what their favorite TV program is. It's really that simple. Being an ALT is more than just teaching. Hopefully, you can be the type of person students trust and want to listen to.    

I'm not a parent. I don't claim to know how students act 24/7. But my years as a youth pastor, mentor, and teacher have taught me a lot of things about students. At the end of the day, just like everyone else, they want to be loved, respected, and listened to. Being an ALT after class boils down to essentially that. Be there for your students. Be the type of person that years from now they will look back and remember you for being there...not for yelling at them in class over something stupid.   

**It should be noted that you should always report abuse. While you can't prevent it from happening if you see or hear anything you have a responsibility to report it!

This was also the topic of one of my Friday videos. Please check that out as well!



Andrew Higgins has been living in Japan full-time since 2012. He is a junior high school ALT, softball coach, lover of okonomiyaki (Osaka style), and all things Girls und Panzer. He makes YouTube videos about living in Japan. You can follow his adventures at facebook.com/HigginsInJapan


  • helloalissa

    on Jun 13

    Yes, sometimes it's hard to ignore the disrespectful students and teach to the ones who are engaged in learning, sigh. As sad as it is, it's helpful to remember there are probably issues at home to understand why students act out at school. Unfortunately, seeing the same students every day isn't very common with a lot of ALT contracts, which expect ALTs to go to several different schools every month. This makes it a lot harder to get to know students. If you have just one school, consider yourself lucky. It's hard for a lot of ALTs to take their jobs seriously, but I think your article will help. Thanks!

  • Higgins

    on Jun 13

    @helloalissa You are totally right! I forgot to mention that most teachers have multiple schools. Which I think is stupid and subject of a separate article. I don't see how teachers are supposed to be effective when they are stretched so thing. Then you do have the the teachers that just don't care. I really hope that people will take their job seriously here. Thanks for the comment!

  • TCWest

    on Jun 21

    A friend of mine from Britain who was in Japan once slapped a smart a*s Japanese student after he watched him pour Coke on the floor where a Japanese female teacher was mopping the floor. Scared the living s**t out of him....

  • Higgins

    on Jun 21

    @TCWest Yeah...that seems like the appropriate response to the situation.