Friday, April 20, 2012

What they think I do

Has anyone seen that meme? You know the one: What society thinks I do, What my mom thinks I do, What my friends think I do, etc? Well, I allude to my job pretty often on here, but  it occurs to me, that I don't really talk about what I do. So here goes. This is the first of two parts: today, I'll be talking about the teaching.


I came to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme -JET. JET is a government-organised programme. It recruits foreigners through Japanese embassies around the world to come here as ALTs, CIRs and SEAs. CIRs are Coordinators for International Relations. They work in International departments of city offices. SEAs are Sports Exchange Advisors. They're accomplished in a Sport and come to Japan as coaches.

My job title is Assistant Language Teacher (ALT).There are a lot of reasons for the word "Assistant" in the title. In Japan, the word "teacher" is a funny thing. "Sensei" is used as a term of respect, and the kanji technically say "ahead of student," but the term has a connotation of having sat an exam. In my country (backbush) area, the word Sensei gets thrown around like it's a ventriloquist's voice. But in some places people get nitpicky. Technically, if you haven't sat the Japanese exam, you're not a "sensei," your a "kyoushi" (instructor). Additionally, I've heard you're technically not allowed to be left alone with a class if you haven't passed your teacher's exam.


The word Assistant also reflects the format that the job most often takes: team teaching. In my particular junior high school (JHS), team teaching isn't restricted to foreign languages. Maths and Japanese and Science will often be team taught. Outside of foreign languages, team-teaching is basically one teacher standing at the front teaching, and the other teacher acting as support, helping students who need a little extra time, etc. In the case of foreign languages, it generally means that the Japanese Teacher of English/Language (JTE/L) teaches grammar and the ALT is generally responsible for pronunciation, and the occasional game.

In my first 3 years, I worked with two JTEs, one of whom had me do warm up games almost every game, and for the rest of class, I did support, or pronunciation, depending on what the lesson was concentrating on. I usually went to every class he had. The other JTE didn't take me to class as much. She had a really good grasp of English and pronunciation, and she did most of it herself.

They transfer teachers here every year, and last April I was shaken when they switched both of my JTEs at the same time. I almost cried. Seriously. But it turned out to be a blessing. As they were both new to me, and the school, there was no "precedence" for anything, so we wrote a whole new script. This past year, instead of going to all the classes with my main JTE, I go to about half of them. But instead of a 5 minute warm up game, I often have a 20 minute game or the whole session to myself. It's probably a little less time withthe kids, but I'm probably causing a bigger affect with English learning.


Elementary school is a grab bag. At my main school, "the big school," I have never team-taught. Not  even when I first came and only knew enough Japanese to ask where the toilet was. (You'd be surprised how well you can communicate without the use of actual language. Mime is a brilliant invention!) The teachers are always in the classroom with me, but I guess they got spoiled by the ALT before me. He did all his classes by himself, too. Even when they started using a "textbook" (there really isn't much text in it), and the guidebook was ENTIRELY in Japanese, I still had to do it on my own. That guidebook is half the reason I'm semi-literate. lol. At tiny school (less than 30 kids, yes, the whole school), the 5/6 joint class teacher sometimes takes the lead, and sometimes she asks me to.

The actual class content, is mostly vocab based around a topic, and games. The objective is not grammatical correctness, but concept and to open the kids' minds to the foreign world and learning English (and/or other foreign languages) in the future. At elementary school I spend a surprising amount of time cutting up paper and card, drawing anime characters, making Bingo sheets... Just today, I wrote(/drew) "Hello" in 9 languages, including 5 which don't use Roman script. Don't ask me when I'll need to write I'll ever need to write Hello in Cyrillic, or Devanagari or Hangul, but having written each about 10 times, I now know how to! ( Need to find a reason to put this is my resume.)

Actually, now that I'm mainly responsible for innovative ways of getting the kids to use English in JHS as well, I spend an inordinate amount of time there drawing scenes for the kids to hide rabbits in, and compiling reports about Valentine's Day around the world.


"Teaching" kindergarden is some of the most fun I have at work. Essentially, we (all 3 town ALTs together) teach the kids a vocab set, like colours or animals, invent a game for us to play, and essentially just spend the entire time running around. It's FAB! Oh, and in Japan, there's a Hello Song. I don't know where it came from, but it seems to be coast to coast, and all English learners seem to know it. We got bored and remixed that Sound of Music song into The Goodbye Song, actions and all. The kiddles and teachers all think it's like a legit song, not something we half-stole from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Sound of Music - So Long...  Farewell

That's all the stuff that I'm scheduled for by the Board of Education of my town - my employers. Come back next week to find out what I actually do. (Of course I do all this stuff, as well. Obvsie Bovsie.)

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