“Why did you become an ALT?” This is a somewhat common question my students ask me, and it has a bit of a long and complicated answer. Of course, in the moment I just give a small answer because we don’t have time for the long version, but I wanted to write about how I feel about being an ALT and what I love about it. It definitely has pros and cons, but overall I enjoy being an ALT. Not all ALTs come here with a passion for teaching. Some people choose to participate in the JET Program or apply for other ALT jobs simply because they want to live in Japan. While I haven’t noticed this in Japan ALT communities, this is a controversial topic in the teaching English in Korea online community. Many people, justifiably so, think it’s unethical for just anyone to teach English in Korea. Maybe I’ll write about my thoughts on that in a different entry, but I do think it’s strange when I see ALTs online talking about their job and even their students with clear disdain. This job was just a means to an end for them, and they don’t care about the students. For me, my time in the classroom is the highlight of my experience here.
Like I said before, the job has its pros and cons. There are things I don’t exactly love about being an ALT, and I realize every ALT has a different experience depending on what schools they work for. Despite some of the cons, I generally enjoy being an ALT and I know when I leave Japan I will miss my students and my job the most. Before I get into specifics about the things I love about being an ALT, the usual disclaimer applies: Every situation is different. I have a somewhat unique position since I work at a combined junior and senior high school, so I only have one school. I would say most ALTs have more than one, and some have quite a few they rotate between. Because I am always at the same school, I have my own desk and I see the same people day to day. It gives me a sense of security and familiarity that other ALTs don’t get, and since the students see me around day to day, they have the opportunity to interact with me more often. It’s possible I wouldn’t be as happy being an ALT if I had to juggle multiple schools, so I consider myself lucky I got this placement.
As an ALT at my school, I have the privilege of teaching all grade levels. The age range of my students is 12-18 years old. This allows me to experience a wide range of English ability and has given me the chance to develop more as a teacher. It’s a unique experience I will not have again in my teaching career. It can be challenging to switch between the different grade levels, especially going from junior high to senior high classes. I have to change my approach and even my speech to accommodate their skill level. Even though it’s a challenge, it keeps things interesting and gives me a wider range of experience. I also have gained a better understanding of the Japanese school system by observing the differences between junior high and high school education.
My favorite part of being an ALT is definitely the students. When I can interact with them I am at my happiest. Japanese people, particularly adults, can be shy to interact with foreigners. My students are shy sometimes too, but I find they are much more open minded and willing to talk to me. I know it’s hard to attempt conversation in a foreign language, so I appreciate every conversation I have with them, no matter how short or even if we have trouble understanding each other. The fact that they feel comfortable approaching me is the highest compliment. As a teacher, I believe it is just as important for us to learn from our students as it is for them to learn from us. That’s one reason why teaching appeals to me so much. It’s an opportunity for me to continue learning throughout my life and make a positive impact on the younger generation. I’ve learned so much from my students here in Japan and their enthusiasm and curiosity inspires me every day.