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Advice for the Transition Between Schools for ALTs (in Japan)

It's been one month since I left my last job now, and I have to say it's quite a journey once again to have to readjust to essentially a new job. I had been with my last workplace for 5 years now and I'd honestly forgotten how the transition was like. My 5 years was with one school, since I was a direct hire at the school. And having to remember what the transition was like sort of brings back old memories to when I was doing transitions almost yearly.

If you're a new ALT to Asia, it's possible that this is your first ever job in the "real world" so to speak. So maybe you've never had to change jobs. I'd say any job transition is pretty similar anywhere in the world, but there are some details that you probably never thought of - or don't normally have to deal with in a non-teaching setting.

So I just want to chat about this here on a blog. And if there's anything here that helps someone, or something that happened to you as an ALT during one of your transitions between schools - let us know in the comments below!!

Your Predecessor's "Legacy"

You probably already know this, but you are probably not the first ALT they've had at the school (unless it's a newly built one or they've never taken an ALT at their school before, which would be rarely these days). So of course, when you arrive at your school, you know there must have been someone else there before you who had made an impression on the staff and the students there.

If the impression of your previous ALT senpai was a BAD one, then you have less of a problem on your hands. If no one liked that ALT in the first place, they were probably thanking some gods above that they have a new person. And hopefully you're a much better fit.

But if your predecessor was a REALLY GOOD person and everyone loved that ALT, then your takeover may be a bit more stressful for you.

When I was working in one of my locations in South Osaka, I was taking over a school my friend had left behind. This isn't my first school in the city, but it was my first time at that school - his old one. My friend was leaving the country and the Board of Education had reorganized some of the placements that year. I knew he was an amazing ALT and from what I heard, a lot of students really loved his presence. He really tried to get to know his students, even the "bad ones" - so he really made a HUGE impression on the school.

I knew walking in there, I would be consistently compared to his efforts. And they did at first. The vice principal, who seemed to be in charge of taking care of the incoming ALT because she spoke some English, would in the beginning say things like - "Oh, but XXX-san did this last year..."

It was innocent enough. I didn't feel any malice from her comparison at the time. She was aware that I was close friends with XXX-san and probably just mentioned him without really realizing what she was actually saying. But I did end up reminding her gently that I know XXX-san in person (he was a good friend of mine after all), and yes I know he was really good at this and that, but I am a very different person than XXX-san - so you should expect that I probably cannot do things the way he did. I reassured the vice principal that I will still of course try my best to reach and maintain goals and expectations of an ALT, but I am not going to run around and play with the kids during every short break (not really the athletic type, but I love my arts & music!).

Thankfully the vice principal got the hint, apologized for making me feel that way and started to accept that they weren't gonna get a "XXX-san 2.0" at their school. At the end of my time there, she really got used to my way of running things and was actually sad to know I wasn't going to stay.

So point is, you will absolutely be compared with during at least your first few months there at your new school. The comparison period will increase the longer your predecessor had been at the school, because truth is, they have had 5 years together to get to your pred and only maybe one or two with you.

They know your pred way better than you.

But it doesn't mean you can't make your mark. Every person and every ALT is different, and once you've given the staff and the students your time, they will also come to accept you (if you're a decent person, which I've sure you are).

Your task isn't to outshine your pred. Being an ALT isn't transforming yourself into a stereotypical foreigner who has more energy than a monkey. If that's not who you are, then you don't have to be that person. It doesn't mean you should sit in the dark corner of the room every day; just find a balance that fits you. And just to keep in mind that the people at your school are going to be a bit distant after the initial honeymoon period. Then once you figure that out, you need to pave your own road at the school. They will accept you for who you are!! :)

Different Grade Levels

Moving from teaching elementary to junior high to high school all require different energy levels and knowledge in the English language.

While I did say you don't need to outshine your pred and try to be more energetic than energizer bunny, you do need to prepare yourself to have a "ON switch" for class for elementary school students who feed on and react better to someone who is a bit more energetic. It certain makes the job easier to be silly, and getting the kids laughing during class than walking into class with a rain cloud over your head.

The difficult part about elementary school is that their English level is probably non-existent, and you cannot rely on your treasure troves of jokes you used on high schoolers on them. Not that high schoolers in Japan have a better understanding of English, lol... but there are more kids who would definitely get a bit of a wordier joke than a 6-year-old kid.

On the flip side, in high school, you would have to prepare yourself to correct a lot of grammar and translation work from the students. Maybe lots free writing at some point depending on your school.

You'd also have access to join after school club activities in junior high (JHS) and senior high (SHS), which don't exist in elementary school (ES). At least not in the same way. Most elementary schools have an after school daycare, which I often loved to visit and preferred over JHS & SHS club activities. At the time when I taught public ES, English lessons were only available to 5th and 6th graders - and going to the after school daycare meant I was able to interact with the lower grades as well. Since the lower graders rarely saw you, they also saw it as a treat to have you around, which made it sort of special.

These are just some examples. I'm sure there's plenty more!

If you've transitioned between schools this last March & April, what was your experience like?

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