Apr 10, 2019

March is Scary for ALTs!

March is always the scariest time of the year when you are working as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, because you never get told early whether you will stay at the same school for the coming year or not!

In Japan, working as an ALT usually means you are on 1-year contract, especially for those ALTs working for dispatch companies rather than those who are hired directly by the board of education.

The 1-year contract often means that you may or may not be moved around by the end of the school year. From my experience, unless you have done something bad at the school, they would like you to stay because of how familiar you have been with that school. But things can change.

Sometimes the ALT distribution changes. One school may have less classes in the coming year so they have less teaching hours there. This may affect the ALT working there as they might spend some time at another school instead.  Or another ALT might come in and teach at your school while you are moved somewhere else.

Another thing I have heard of is that some cities actually want to actively rotate the ALTs around their schools every 2-3 years so the students get to meet more foreigners. I see the educational value in that but from the perspective of the ALT, it really sucks. Let me explain.

Many of us come to Japan with nothing, and companies place us in a house not far from our schools. With that then comes our neighbor, our community. We build connections with the school, the students, and even their parents when we go around town. For me, my first school was my everything in Japan. So imagine how heartbroken I was when I was told to have to move after 3 years. I taught all the students. I taught kids and their siblings. I knew them all, and I had to say goodbye.

The worst part is that we don’t get a say, and we never know until very late March, no matter how sincerely we ask our company for information. They tell us that they don’t know, when I strongly believe that they do.

March is Scary for ALTs! photo

I understand that Japanese teachers go through the same thing. They are often told of their new positions at new schools during the last week of school at their current school. They too have to travel far to their schools and I sympathize with them.

One difference between them and us ALTs though is that many ALT contracts with dispatch companies end before the school year is over. We might be done with work a week before school is out, which means by the time we get told that we are changing schools, we are no longer in school, and none of us get a chance to say farewell to our co-workers and most importantly, our students!

Our schools sometimes want to have a proper farewell for us, likely in front of all the students we teach (aka the entire school), but because we don't know whether we are leaving, we can't.

The principals would ask me directly about next year, as they were gathering information about their team of teachers for next year. I was always the one who had to say, “Sorry, I hope I will be here next year, but I really don't know…” right up until the last day of work. “See you next year, hopefully!”

When kids ask us too, we would tell them “…maybe? We will find out!” Some of us ALTs would return next year with our arms in the air, while some others would be sobbing at home after a phone call and then prepare to move apartment and enter new schools a couple of weeks later without a chance to say farewell to the old schools.

March is always a scary month.