Aug 1, 2019
Photo credit umezy12
How many ALTs are there?
Of the 2.73 million foreign residents in Japan, how many of us work in English education as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and English language teachers (ELTs)? According to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET), there were about 5000 participating ALTs in 2018. That’s about 25% of the all ALTs. The remainder are either employed by dispatch companies (Interac has a large share with 2500 ALTs) or direct hired by school boards. All told, the there are just over 18,000 ALTs working in the schools.
Recently, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is increasing the hours of instruction in elementary school, but as outlined by the General Union, there are few concrete plans for integrating more ALTs into the schools. It’s hard to say how MEXT intends to fulfill the plan with the apparent increase in demand for ALTs. Watch and see.
I’ve done it all, as a JET participant, dispatch ALT, and city ALT. But the position I have now is in yet another segment of the English education pie – I work in the English department of a private high school.
Diverse private high schools
In Japan, less than 10% of Japan’s 10,484 junior high schools are private. Of the nearly 5000 high schools, about 27% are private. Just like public schools, the private ones follow the national curriculum. Yet they are diverse, as private schools have various philosophies and specialties. There are religious and secular schools, schools that are strong in arts and sports.
Some schools have intensive English programs. In Tokyo, there are schools designated as Super English Learning High Schools (SELHI) where students receive advanced instruction in English communication, reading and writing. Others have programs for so-called returnees, learners who have received education in English abroad.
Working in a private high school
In Japan, there are three-year junior and senior high schools, and combined six-year high schools. I work at a six-year high school attached to a university. The length of the school week varies, with two Saturday sessions each month. The non-Japanese staff teach both junior and senior English lessons. While ALTs in public schools primarily work alongside Japanese teachers, private school English teachers are both team- and solo teachers. Depending on the curriculum, your syllabus may have test preparation, vocabulary development, communication skills or writing.
The workload can vary depending on the administration's expectations. ALTs or English language teachers may participate in entrance testing, demonstration lessons, and school promotions. Workload and working days vary. My school asks me to teach writing, which comes with a marking load a few times a term.
As a regular employee, ALTs and English language teachers are on salary and receive bonuses. For the most part, national holidays are days off, and paid leave accrues the same as any regular employment.
A lot of dispatch companies dodge enrolling ALTs in employee’s insurance, shakai hoken, and the foreign employee may end up on the national pension system. Private schools enroll their employees in Shigaku Kyosai, Private School Mutual Aid. Benefits include housing loans, cash payment on marriage, and reduced rates on services and accommodation.
Besides these benefits, some private school ALTs may not be required to attend between terms. I'm not required to be at school for six weeks of the summer break.
How to get the job
Some schools directly advertise, while others depend on placement/dispatch companies. Some teachers start out as dispatch, and are invited into direct employment. Another way in is networking with teachers and neighbors who may know about openings. Often, schools rely on their current or leaving teachers to recommend reliable job candidates. It also helps to have a subject specialty, teaching license, a master’s degree or a TESOL diploma or certificate. Schools also prefer teachers who speak and read Japanese so getting your JLPT N2 or N1 increases your chances, too.
Patience is a virtue
It took me a while to get a private school position with a manageable schedule, stimulating programs, and close to home. If private school teaching is your goal, build up your skills, and keep networking and applying.