Things I Learned in My First ALT Job in Japan

August 2019 marked my half decade here in Japan.

About 5 years ago this time, I was at my first ever Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) job in Japan. It's interesting to think about how much I've grown as a teacher - I might still not be a great teacher, but I know that I have improved.

Thinking back, I came into the job with a lot of assumptions.

If you haven't guessed, I was a weeaboo. I watched a lot of anime and Japanese TV... and you know, it's easy to fall into that trap of being a Japan expert when you're really not.

School Schedules

For some reason, I assumed (wrongly) that the flow of the school day would be very similar to that of our schools back home. You know, that time you have for recess? Nope. None of that. You do get 10 minutes in between every class, but that's it. I was quite surprised.

School Facilities

When my company told me I had to fax my time sheets in after every month, I couldn't believe it. Fax machines? They still have them??

Yep. In fact, there was always one sitting somewhere in the staff room. And people still frequently use it. My deskmate at my first job was the office admin, and one of her task was to empty the incoming fax spam.

And good ol' cassette tapes. My teachers and I would record our students' listening tests on them at the end of the semester. It's still not a foreign concept to the youngsters here.

Washrooms - squat toilets! Most of the staff bathrooms I've been to are blessed with western toilets nowadays, but it's still commonplace for many student toilets to have only squat toilets.

Lastly, lack of air conditioning. The only place you will find AC in a typical school is the staff room. Sometimes the multi-purpose room is blessed with one. And maybe even the library. But yes, students are expected to use spot heaters in the winter and well, in the summer......

A lot of rooms are moving towards renovating out squat toilets, but the fact of the matter is that there is very little budget for schools to do renovations like these. So don't be surprised to see these at your schools too!

Level of English

English is a difficult language. It's even harder to try to learn (and retain) it when you aren't exposed to it on the daily basis and have to be force to use it, like living in a foreign country.

Unfortunately, a lot of Japanese teachers that I taught with was not blessed to learn English this way, thus why some teachers' speaking skills in English is rather poor.

In my first ALT job, all but three teachers have had experience living abroad and only one lived abroad for more than 1 year and she wasn't even the school's English teacher - she taught Maths!! She was a Japanese returnee - she had married and raised her family abroad, but returned with her family to take care personal issues. Since my Japanese was still quite poor at the time, she took on the task to really show me the ropes of a Japanese school. I'm still really thankful to have her take me under her wing, because I think she knew better than anyone what it was like to work abroad.

Be patient with the teachers you work with. Write down everything. What they can't do speaking, they can do extremely well when reading!!

Friendship & Tolerance

Moving abroad to a new country is exactly like going to University/College. To put it bluntly, this is like University 2.0.

Just like in University, there will be a lot of friendships made out of convenience. "Friends" you temporary call friends because they happen to speak your language or happen to live in the same town as you. If these people are not normally the type of people you'd consider best friends with back home, then these people aren't your best friends here either.

A lot of drama later, I learned it the hard way. Don't settle for friends. Learn to tolerate those people your work with and be friendly, but not everyone is your friend. Not everyone has to be friends with you either.

I know I sounded like I was complaining, but really, I'm not. A lot of these things shocked me, but it's good practice material for being tolerant and open-minded. Learn about it, embrace it and see what you can do to improve the reality of your situation.

What are some things you learned when you first came to Japan??

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