I've worked as an ALT in Japan for more than 5 years now. We aren't qualified teachers in Japan by any means, which means that we often don't get the hit by angry and dissatisfied parents at all compared to our Japanese English teachers. But as we are often sent to work by another company, that company will often ask the school and the teachers you work with for comments about us. So either way, whether it's directly or indirectly (more the latter as Japanese aren't really into the whole "direct confrontation" approach), we will hear a lot of comments about the work we do.
Unfortunately for the direct hires and eikaiwa teachers, you have more direct contact with parents, and it is likely you're get some complaints about your work. But which job doesn't have someone somewhere making comments about you anyway? Almost none.
Here's some comments/complaints I've heard given to us ALTs on the job:
1) Not Wearing Jeans
This isn't a complaint so much as it is a... comment. When I worked for a Dispatch Company, the school would evaluate their ALTs on behalf of the Board of Education. The evaluations are given back to the Dispatch Company. I remember when I caught a glimpse of the evaluation, one of the positive comments was that "it was good that I wasn't wearing jeans to work".
Appearances and clothing can be quite important on the job. Especially during your first few weeks at a school. But it's not unusual for ALTs to be a bit more lax with their clothing once they get more comfortable at the school. I suppose in the past, an ALT got a bit... too lax? Probably wore jeans to work all the time to warrant such a comment? I wish I knew.
2) Speaking Too Fast/Too Slow
I've received comments of both sides of the spectrum. In the beginning when I started my job, I wasn't used to using more 'graded language' (my time on the CELTA course is affecting my lingo lol). It was difficult for me to "dumb down" the English, so to speak. And a teacher gently commented that I should speak more slowly in the classroom.
Now that I've been here for some day, I often get the opposite comment. I teach more higher-level students, and students often want me to speak at more "natural" speeds. But as I'm more used to speaking slowly, it's so much harder to go at natural speaking speed in the classroom. That plus just having my English deteriorate over time, it's become quite a challenge!
3) Arguing With My JTE (Co-Teacher)
At a place I worked at, we often receive evaluations from students as feedback at the end of the year. One comment I remember getting from students wrote "stop arguing with (co-teacher) in the classroom!!".
For the record, I never argued with this teacher. In fact, we probably had the best relationship in the school due to this JTE's high English level. He/she was always down to do my activities, and we both always talked through some difficult English points in the classroom for the students to get more in depth learning. But those discussions was what caused the problem.
Since the students cannot understand what we were saying as we were talking each other through the languages, students took that as "disagreements" or "arguing". Since then, this co-teacher and I always used this comment as a running joke.
4) Not Speaking Enough Japanese
As an ALT, we are specifically told and been drilled into our heads by Dispatch Company to never use Japanese in the classroom. We are here to teach English, so even if it means that we need to be swinging our arms and using only gestures to communicate along with English, we had to. Honestly, I never really followed through with it completely. I try not to use it at all if necessary, because our JTEs can usually do it for us (if necessary). But some words in Japanese just don't translate well in English, and it's just much better to say in Japanese.
However, there was one low-level high school class where parents and students complaint that my JTE and I wasn't speaking enough Japanese in the English class. I was so confused. My JTE spoke mostly in Japanese. I don't speak any Japanese in the class, but my JTE always translated what I said back to Japanese. It never made sense to either of us. It never will.
5) Don't Express Your Opinion
I received a letter from an anonymous parent (as they all are these days) complaining about my social media handles (how this parent came to stalk my SNS, I have no idea). There was a lot to unpack in that letter, but essentially, she was unhappy that I wrote an opinion about Japan in public. The opinion was about COVID19. That schools shouldn't remain open. That I was scared.
This parent tried to twist my words and wrote on the letter that I was writing a bad opinion about MY WORKPLACE. That it was shameful for a teacher to express their opinion this way.
Unfortunately, I suppose social media is still seen as somewhat of an undesirable place. It's where young people get pried on. That the internet is not meant to be used by professionals, as its not a realm for professional-use. Those who do and do it publicly, they should remain professional at all times - especially in Japan?? I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I suppose writing opinions on the internet is seen as "not professional" for a teacher. And I think that's a real shame.
Teachers have enough stress throughout their day already. And to be told they cannot use the internet to express concern, discomfort and open up discussion is so backwards thinking. I really hope to see this improve someday.
Anyway, I asked a bunch of you what your strange complaints were, and there are some really interesting one out there. Click on the tweet to look at all the conversations:
Come join the conversation! I don't care if you teach in Thailand or Korea, ALT or no. As long as you teach ESL and you teach in Asia - I want to hear from you!! I just put "ALT in Japan" as that's who I am.
Thanks for reading. See you all next blog!!