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The Many Sides of The Teaching Job in Japan

The Many Sides of The Teaching Job in Japan | ITTT | TEFL Blog

What do you think of when I say the word “teacher”? When I think of this word, I think of the “teacher when I was a child. The person who talked and I listened. The person who gave me instructions and I followed. I think in today’s environment this word has changed. What does the word “teacher” mean today? We’ll look at what the roles of a teacher are in today’s ESL world in Japan, where I’ve taught for over 14 years.

We use many synonyms for the term “teacher”. In elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools in Japan we use the term “ALT” (assistant language teacher) or “AET” (assistant English teacher). In business courses, we use the word “instructor”. In English schools, of course, we use the term we all know of as “teacher”.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jason H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Types of Teachers in Japan

Let's take a look at the “ALT” or “AET”. This is probably the most common type of English teacher in Japan. The vague role of the ALT/AET is to assist with English lessons in each level of education, elementary school, junior high, and high school. But, the real role of the ALT/AET is that of an ambassador of English in his or her school. The person that also helps and motivates teachers in creating and implementing their lessons.

Preparing for the lesson. In Japan, the course textbook is necessary as decided by Japan”s educational authority, MECSST (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology). For elementary school, an ALT/ELT usually prepares the lesson with feedback from the HRTs (homeroom teachers). Each chapter is broken up into 4 lessons which are taught by the ALT/ELT and HRT or just the HRT. When preparing a lesson, we think about Engage, Study, and Activate. The Engage portion of the lesson is usually started off with a song, video clip, picture or story. Next, during the Study portion of the lesson, we need to prepare either digital flash cards or flash cards that can be displayed on the whiteboard. Flashcards are popular in Japan to make sure students know what is going on. The second part of the Study, the ALT?AET should create some kind of game or worksheet for students to either use in pairs or groups. And then the Activate portion, where the ALT/AET should create some kind of role play, worksheet, or project where students can use the target language or theme clearly. For junior high and senior high, the lesson preparation falls more upon the HRT. It’s up to the ALT/AET to understand his or her role in the lesson and to try to follow the lesson.

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Before for the lesson. The ALT/AET should arrive early in the morning to check the day’s schedule. Then, in the teacher’s room, visit each grade that will be taught that day and go over the day's lesson plan and agenda. In elementary schools, make sure each HRT (homeroom teacher) knows their role and are confident with what they will be doing in English. Also, make sure they are certain of the days' target. You wouldn’t want the HRT feeding students wrong information. This is also a time where you can motivate the teacher, so they get excited about the lesson. In junior high and senior high schools, visit each teacher individually as they may have different teaching strategies. Make sure you as the ALT/AET know your role for each HRT’s lesson. This can be confusing, but it's important to know the differences between each HRT’s teaching style.

It’s game time. Time for the lesson. In elementary school, it's up to the ALT/AET to display the appropriate energy for each grade. In first grade, the ALT/AET will need to be more animated, whereas in 6th grade the ALT/AET will need to be entertaining but not as animated. The role of the ALT/AET is to display the Engage, Study, and Activate portions of the lesson including the HRT. It’s up to the ALT/AET to follow the time of each portion and that students are actually taking in the information. In Japan, English is actually a graded subject, so students will need to retain the information for tests. It’s up to the ALT/AET to make sure students are learning, not just having a good time. In junior high and senior high, the role of the teacher in the classroom varies from school to school, and HRT to HRT. The primary role is to speak clearly and be involved as much as possible. In this aspect, the ALT/AET is truly an assistant.

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The role of an ALT/AET varies in each level of education, but their role of an ambassador of English in their institutions remains the same.

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