ALTs – – what do you think of your jobs?

ALTs – – what do you think of your jobs?

I first started this blog out of frustration with my job as an ALT in Japan.  When I worked as a JET in Tohoku I helped organize monthly meetings for the ALTs in my town to rant and decompress (although officially the goal was to brainstorm teaching ideas, heh).  I felt extremely unsatisfied with ALT work and took absolutely everything that happened in the workplace personally.  I dunno.  I guess I just had the total wrong idea about what kinda work-life I’d have in Japan…  On my previous trips here, everyone had always been so nice and accommodating, but now I was in the workplace – everybody for themselves.

After JET, I came to Kyushu and started working as an ALT for a new company, and about when I started this blog I decided to change my outlook and try to make the best of my time here: to try not to take things personally; to accept that I would be excluded as a foreigner from certain things and to not let it bother me.  Fellow blogger Finorgan has pointed out to me that at this point I should refer to myself as ‘the Gaijin Formerly Known as Angry”.

My outlook has changed, and now I think I’ve got a pretty good job.

The teachers in my town are super nice and try to include me as much as they can, from the Culture Festivals and Sports Days to the Drinking Parties and Farewell Parties.  Although not many other ALTs would agree with me, my company is pretty good too (although I rarely go to HQ or even see my company co-workers).

Today I was asked to go a couple hours out of town on a special ‘business trip’ to teach a preschool class.  I took the train out, but the Japanese coordinator was kind enough to drive me back to HQ (halfway home) and we got to talking about our experiences living and working abroad.

She lived and worked in New Zealand and elsewhere in Oceania for a few years and loved it there, but ultimately decided to live and work in the country of her birth, Japan.  Even though she now works 6-7 day weeks and could easily take leave when she wanted in Oceania, she always just felt like a guest when abroad.  That’s pretty much how I feel here.  Well, not all the time, but there’s definitely a difference imposed on me as a foreigner here.

It makes me think back to grade school and all the kids who came in from abroad to live in Canada.  They musta all dealt with the same sense of displacement and culture shock.

So my job’s pretty good!  But I still have uneasy feelings of displacement in the workplace.  I dunno.  Maybe that’s just work!  Perhaps it’s nothing specific to the ALT job or even working abroad.


August 26th sleep-deprived edit:

I don’t need to make a new post for this, but I need to get all of this out before I get back to my normal classes this school year….for my own sanity…

Today I was called out to sub in for another ALT in a school that I’ve never been to.  On the train ride over all the scenarios where rolling though my head: “The teachers will either leave everything entirely to me, or they will take command of the classroom.”  Or it’ll be some awkward mix.  I do wish they’d take over.

It’s just so weird.  It’s like: these are trained professionals.  Their job is to raise children, teach them manners and respect and responsibility and about the world.  I’m not trained.  I sure as heck ain’t no professional.  But somehow everything is left up to me (the ALT, that is); the teachers often don’t go out of their way to try to find you before class to iron out the wrinkles in the lesson plan (although one teacher did and I was so happy for it!).

I think that the teachers work really, really hard and have a lot going on without having to worry about someone who doesn’t speak their language or understand their customs in their workplace.  So I can understand that some teachers will wing English class.  It’s like that mandatory class you take in university that you don’t really care about, so you only go when you feel like it and hardly study.  You kinda know a lot of the content anyway just from living life and watching TV.  I feel like that’s what the English class is to some teachers, and I can relate, so I can’t blame them.

But frack it’s so much easier when they take the time to work with you.  Well because a lot of ALTs aren’t very good to begin with (again, we are foreign to the language, culture, and we are NOT PROFESSIONALS) the respect required to get the teachers to work with you is something that must be earned.

And I mean, forget all that stuff.  Simply coz you don’t speak their language, everything automatically becomes difficult.  I mean, right?  What are you gunna do?


I am soooo sleepy.  No body read this!  lol.  Good night. ^^

12 thoughts on “ALTs – – what do you think of your jobs?

  1. I’m not teaching in Japan anymore but I say a big part of this is simply about being in the workforce – in Japan or back at home. Once the novelty of the new job wears off it can be like a jail sentence -particularly if you don’t like your job – you say you quite like the job now so that’s great! In any workplace you are stuck with all kinds of people who you may not particularly like, who may not ‘pull their weight’, nor work well in a team, or just who undermine everything you do, or just simply avoid or ignore you. Very few people have autonomy unless you run the company or are outrageously lucky. I’ve been back home working now for years and hardly meet anyone who likes their job no matter what they do. The day to day issues at work make my struggles back in Japan seem like ‘the good old days’.

    In Japan as a gaikokujin it’s so much harder because you don’t get to rely on the support of family & friends at the end of the day (as a circuit breaker) and the negative stuff gets magnified & feels much worse because it’s the centre of your life. Often the work/personal life boundaries are blurred in Japan because you are alone and end up socialising with or relying on work colleagues for friendship.
    I used to give English lessons to Japanese high school teachers in Japan (from the newly graduated to retirement age) and 99% of them were so self-conscious and embarrassed by their poor English ability it was so awkward for them to open up & tell me that they were ‘qualified English teachers’. Had you considered that some of the Japanese teachers may be avoiding contact to simply discuss a lesson plan because they are just downright embarrassed about their English? There’s a huge level of pride at stake here for them. Also they don’t get a choice about having the ALT either ( there’s that pride again.)
    I think you have to take responsibility yourself. (I hope I don’t come across as sounding harsh but I think this will help.)
    You are in the workplace now so you need to act professionally too. You need to develop procedures ( may I say it’s a sign of poor management by your company/organisation that it has not implemented formal processes and strategies for the exact situation you talk about & leave the Japanese staff & ALTs floundering like this. No workplace anywhere these days expects employees to ‘wing it’ when the business reputation is at stake. Most businesses even have ‘scripts’ for their staff to use.)
    Therefore you need to take it upon yourself to develop a structured plan or series of steps that you will take whenever working with someone new, it starts with the initial, pre-class meeting (I hate the weasel word ‘proactive’ but that’s what you need to be) Type it up & print a copy, (this makes it formal) & seek out the other teacher & hand them a copy. You can implement this as a part of your routine. For example. it could be something as ‘Initial Meeting’ 15 mins 1) outline of suggested lesson plan. – with a couple of bullet points showing the plan. (This could be the start of a discussion of the plan or the other teacher may just accept your lead.) You could also develop a process for follow up meetings & class plans – have it on paper, it needs to be structured and professional – it can be something really simple. Even if this class plan is not used on the day at least you know you have begun some constructive dialogue/professional relationship with the other person. It’s a workplace you need professional processes & structure in place.
    Hope it helps.

    1. What an awesomely long response! Thnx much kindly for your attention and thoughts!

      I agree with what you say. I think developing a system of working with the teachers in a professional manner is a great idea. I’ve been working on one, in fact. It does help whole sums of bunches.

      I kinda had the hunch that I’d find myself back home again someday reminiscing about the old days in Japan. Well, I guess I just gotta put a positive face on about things! You are right for sure that it’s not easy being in a foreign country with out your friend and family lines of support. All the usual rules of positive thinking or positive approaches or bits of advice from home can be completely thrown off in a foreign country anyway, right?

      Anyway, I’ll keep it up! I’m determined to get ahead of any game, including this one. Thanks a lot, Betty~ ^_^

  2. I am my own boss now but when I wasn’t it was loads harder – and I speak Japanese. Because I aren’t a ‘qualified on paper’ teacher they wouldn’t let me teach alone – there was always a Japanese teacher with me. One man was a wimpy f***er and did nothing when the high school baseball boys (who like really care about English) would get out of control and start asking about the size of my tits or the length of my husband’s bits. I’d rather he wasn’t in the room – then I’d have told the boys how to bloody behave. Of course the boy that threw a chair across the room got sent outside for two minutes…. hmmmm, yes. I like being my own boss :)

  3. I run my own gig and loathe most back packing ALT’s but I gotta drop a comment so….don’t hurt your selves during your vacations ALT’s…like paper cuts and lesson planning injuries (yeah…that’ll be the day) ;)

  4. At home I worked in the IT industry, where unfortunately you have no choice but to butt heads almost daily with all sorts of “experts” who want to show how big their IT balls are. I like that in my job as an ALT, I’m the expert, but by the same token, it can be a pain standing on the edge of the class sometimes, thinking, “I’d have made this so more interesting than you”. I learned almost instantly though, to accept the limits of my influence, and as a result, I’m hardly ever stressed out by my job, unlike my last one. I’ve given more detail on this in my latest entry

    As for the displacement issue; yeah, I knew pretty quickly my long term future wouldn’t be here, for the reasons you mention.

  5. I’ve only ever holidayed in Japan, so my view of the country is still rose-tinted.

    Some years ago I worked for a multi-national corporation and at times the experience was very displacing, to say the least. At the time I managed to capture my feelings in this photo

    Thankfully, I’ve learned to appreciate that work has an inherent value above and beyond what transpires in the workplace.

    1. Well said, well said – – I like to hope that I am coming to that point myself~ Ganbaru yo~~ :)

      Wow, that’s a tell-tale photo. I could not say anything that would be more succinct than that.

      Poor ol’ bug. :(

  6. Inspiring post. I’m like you. There was a time I lost passion in my work. I was miserable. Then I moved to a different hospital with awesome co-workers and a very understanding manager. Somehow I found my passion again and realized that it’s more that just a job. It is an instrument to help others. to ease their pain. To help them get well. Have a blessed day. Thank you.


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