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  • Tuesday, May 31, 2016

    My 5 Biggest Complaints With Being an ALT

    That's my cat, Taters. :3

    So you want to be an English teacher in Japan... Good for you! It's definitely a rewarding job (though I wouldn't say it's a career) and it's a great experience. No matter how much I complain about it, I know I'm going to look back on these days fondly. However, it's not all rainbows and cupcakes and sparkles. There are definitely a lot of things that are fundamentally wrong with the system, but I'm not even going to get into that right now... I'm going to talk about my biggest complaints when it comes to teaching.


    1. Schedule changes

    This isn't as much of a problem with my school now as it was with my previous school. For my school, I'd be given a monthly schedule with the classes I'd be attending every day of the month. It was nice to see my entire month laid out like that, but because everything was planned out a month in advanced, it left a lot of opportunities for things to be changed... And they most definitely were. I'm not sure if it's like this for every Junior High, but mine would switch subject periods all the time for reasons unknown to me. (Though sometimes I found out, like when teachers were absent and other teachers had to cover for them.)

    I'd have to say that my schedule would get changed 1-2 times a week. Now, I'm a flexible person, so this isn't something that would bother me IF they told me in advanced. I'm not even talking a week in advance, or even a day in advance. Heck, I appreciated it when they told me a period or two in advance. Unfortunately, a majority of my schedule changes ended up with me finding out by going to the class I was assigned to, and either finding an empty classroom or someone telling me that they switched English out with another subject. This happened to me so often, and it was so frustrating. Not only did it waste my time, but it was very disheartening to know that I was forgotten about so often because no one bothered to share information with me.

    2. Inconsistencies between schools
    If you work at more than one school, you're bound to see inconsistancies. That's obvious. Now, I work in a completely different area from where I started, and I see a bunch of differences between the regions. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about differences between schools under the same Board of Education, or schools in the same neighborhood.

    Obviously, a school is a very organic environment, and what gives it its character is the people more than the building or location. But the resources between schools can sometimes be so different. Some schools, despite being in the same BoE, demand things be done a certain way, while others have a completely different style of doing things. (This contributes to the classic "ESID" phrase.) The lack of standardization between English programs in schools leads to big problems in JHS or HS for the students if they aren't at the same general level. Some schools start their English program from 2nd grade, while others start from 5th grade, and you better believe you can see the difference in the level of English and the comfortability of the students.

    3. Not being treated like proper staff
    This isn't so much a problem with the schools, so much as it's a problem with the Japanese way of thinking. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept of foreigners never being able to fit into the Japanese way, no matter how hard you try because you don't look a certain way or you don't act a certain way. You may have Japanese friends or whatever, but you'll never be truly accepted by society.

    It's very similar in schools. Despite you being a teacher and being hired for that job (with a proper work visa and everything!) there's still going to be a difference between you as a teacher and another native teacher in your school. Of course your fellow teachers are going to try to accommodate and make you feel at home and comfortable, but you'll never be treated as a teacher. (Which is actually a good thing in a way, because have you seen their work schedules?!)

    4. Dealing with the BoE and its rules
    If it's not the PTA, it's the BoE, let me tell you... My old schools' BoE was especially rough. There were so many rules put in place, and most of the time we never heard the reason why. Of course, this started the ALT rumor mill, but more often than not, you never found out the "real story".

    For example, my BoE had a few rules in place: no computers or technology in the schools; no eating with students; no eating school lunch, just to name a few. (The rumor for no computers was because an ALT accidentially hooked up his personal computer to a projector and showed his students a naked picture of himself... The rumor for no school lunch was because an ALT was getting away with eating without paying... The rumor for no eating with the students was something about an allergic reaction, but I'm not too sure.) Either way, the rules you need to navigate through are pretty frustrating.

    5. The free time
    I saved this for last, because it's both a blessing and a curse. Generally, you teach 3-4 classes a day on average. Sometimes it's all 6 periods and sometimes there are days where you don't teach at all. Sounds pretty good, right? Getting paid for being a teacher even though you're not teaching anyone? That's what I thought at least... And it was great for the first month or so.

    Then it just got really boring, especially because my previous BoE didn't allow any kind of technology. I bought so many books and I'm proud (?) to say that I've read every Jane Austen book thanks to all that free time. Some people fill the time studying Japanese, some people sleep... Either way, there's a lot of free time and it helps if you have a plan about how to fill it. Your company will probably tell you to "look busy" at all times, but that's easier said than done...

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