Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ICT and the Cutting Edge in Japanese Public School English

by Jessie James Lucky

This is the third part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one - What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan and part two - Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.

Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.

Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 

In my last ‘kenshu’ we were exploring the use of ICT (information and communication technology) and did an English Lesson using it. As I discussed in my earlier posts, no other ALTs were invited to or participated in this training or the meetings that were related to it. Although all the Japanese teachers of every subject, including English, did.

I was the only foreigner invited, and probably only because I was in the actual lesson. As I said in my previous post, I was barely listed on the lesson plan and as you might expect awkwardly included in the post-lesson meeting Q&A. I did not participate in many of the pre-lesson meetings, although I was invited by my teacher to most of them. In some cases, we agreed it was better I wasn’t there for different reasons.

The town that I work for has elected to take an early lead in ICT implementation in Japanese public schools G1-9 (elementary and junior high school). We have tablets in every classroom, digital textbooks, touch screen projectors and network access in every classroom. We have added this technology just over the last few years. Our job was to include this technology in our lesson and it went fantastic in my opinion.

We have tablets in every classroom, digital textbooks, touch screen projectors and network access in every classroom.


It is my belief after participating in this kenshu that ICT will spread to G1-9 public schools all across Japan over the next 5 to 10 years. One of the biggest issues is not, in fact, acquiring the hardware or software. One of the biggest obstacles is training the teachers in its use and keeping them motivated to use it.

ICT is kinda like the ALT acronym, except that it doesn’t get bored if you forget it’s there, it just collects dust. ICT will be a great tool for ALTs too...but we are unlikely to be trained in it along with our Japanese counterparts. We are unlikely to be invited to their kenshu for ICT. If you are an ALT do yourself a favor and try to get invited.

One of the biggest issues is not, in fact, acquiring the hardware or software. One of the biggest obstacles is training the teachers in its use and keeping them motivated to use it.


Even if you are computer literate you will face some difficulties using ICT in your lessons if your Japanese counterpart is not competent or willing. In this case, your understanding of Japanese culture and ability to help your fellow teachers understand and utilize ICT will be of utmost importance.

Our schools use ICT support specialists. We found in our research that such specialists are of critical importance. It’s not enough to give the schools hardware and software, they need to know how to use them. It’s not enough to just train them, they need ongoing help and support.

We found in our research that such specialists are of critical importance. It’s not enough to give the schools hardware and software, they need to know how to use them.


The on-site staff that comes to the school at least once a week really ensures that teachers can and will continue to use the technology. These people probably won’t speak English, so if you want to use ICT it will be helpful to speak as much Japanese as possible so that you can communicate with these individuals to navigate the specific hardware and software available to you. At the very least a good relationship with your JTE who can work with the ICT specialists on your behalf and bridge the communication gap for you will be necessary. (Easier said than done, I know.)

Some things you can do with ICT if/when you get it in your school


This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a quick list of things I have done and am doing personally using the ICT that is available to me.

#1 Copy yourself


You no longer need to go to class just to pronounce things for people. You can record it and they can watch that.

Today’s tablets and cell phones almost universally come with mics and cameras. You can record anything, anywhere, any time.

File sizes, formats etc. are an issue. As time progresses these issues will be more easily overcome. ICT support specialists can also help.

#2 Record your students


Never have time to talk to each student individually or listen to all their presentations? This is where ICT can help.

The Japanese school day can be hectic and difficult to schedule one-on-one encounters with students and teachers. I’m having some students at schools I’m not at that day record their tests and speeches and I evaluate them later in my off-time.

It’s like written homework that they do on their time and you mark on yours, except its done with an audio-visual piece and focusing on listening/speaking skills.

#3 Have your students record and watch themselves


Many kids are much more interested in making a recording than standing in front of people. Kids that will shut down in front of the class will smile, laugh and put all their effort into a video, especially if their friend is holding the tablet for them while giving them cues.

I honestly found it amazing to watch. They really like recording themselves. They can also re-watch their own videos, watch their friends’ videos etc.

Like anything else, not all kids are the same. Some will be shy and not want to do it. Over time, they will get used to it. Novelty and dislike will both wear off and it will become a routine, but useful, tool for spoken language practice.

#4 Use Powerpoint and other multi-media presentation software


You can get all dirty writing with markers and chalk. You’ll also bore the kids with a very two-dimensional visual experience (unless you can draw well with chalk, but it’s time consuming). You can use ICT to create and present colorful, engaging audio-visual slides, songs, videos etc. to go with whatever you are teaching.

ICT presentations take time to make, but once you’ve made them, they are faster and easier to use than chalk or just standing and using your voice box alone. In the long run, they are easier and require less of your effort and time to create a higher quality lesson.

#5 Present student work


As the hardware becomes available students can use their own tablets and/or you can use a projector to show the students their peers’ work. You can also use this to show your own work when going over the answers to tests and quizzes or to give examples of more creative writing tasks.

You just need a projector or screen large enough for everyone to see and the tech to take a picture of the students’ writing/tablets for them to write directly into. If you have a tablet and the kids don’t, you could use your tablet to take and send the picture to the device which is feeding into the projector.

#6 Drilling software


There is a wide plethora of free and at-cost software for drilling English. My school purchased some and the kids use it. There are also free sites online. You can find links to some of them here on this website in the following link ---

#7 Digital textbooks


You can use materials to present to the class which correlate directly with their textbooks if the school acquires the digital rights. It is also possible, if the students have tablets, for them to look at the textbooks for themselves and go through some of the activities including audio-elements that are not possible with the paper text.

#8 Quiz games


You can create a quiz game using tablets where the students write their answers and they are projected on the board in a game-show format. You can even do wagers etc. Jeopardy style. The kids love it, its fun, and you can focus on written English, grammar, culture, listening etc. as you see fit. It’s adjustable for all levels.

This is the third part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one - What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan and part two - Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan by Jessie James Lucky

by Jessie James Lucky

This is the second part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one: What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.

Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.

Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 

My employer told me to submit an essay, written in English, which was related to a nonsensical topic they gave me, written in broken English. Each year it changed slightly, but it was something along the lines of ‘How to effectively use the ALT in English lessons to teach X teaching goal’.

I often wrote that the best thing they could do is quit their job, go abroad to learn English/TEFL and let me teach in their stead. I even started submitting the same essay each year, maybe only changing a few passages to make it a little more blunt/silly/funny depending on my mood that year. No one noticed, why would they? The essays may have caused some controversy if any of the Japanese had (or could have) read it.

I often wrote that the best thing they could do is quit their job, go abroad to learn English/TEFL and let me teach in their stead.

As instructed, I brought enough copies of my essay for everyone in attendance to receive one, as did all the other ALTs and JTEs. I received a copy of everyone's essay and they mine. Several days worth of reading (if you bothered, I often did, foolishly) on the same nonsensical topic from ALTs who by-in-large had no training in linguistics or education and had only been in Japan a short while.

The Japanese teachers wrote more on more topics, all in Japanese. Their materials usually were not given to the ALTs unless we asked for them, but why would you? (Why did I?) The topic was always, in truth, how to pass off English classes if you didn’t actually speak English by using someone who did. No professionals or experienced teacher trainers were ever brought in to teach or lecture.

There would be small brainstorming sessions done in groups with JTEs and ALTs and there was always some confusion about how much would be done in English and how much would be done in Japanese. The biggest issue for me was that few to none of the JTEs attending were competent language educators and most of the ALTs were untrained and very inexperienced so there wasn't a lot to learn or gain from the experience. It was a lot of confused people sharing their confusion. At least the prefecture could say that they had given their JTEs training by conducting the fiasco. And that really was the goal of it.

It was a lot of confused people sharing their confusion.

I stopped attending these meetings. I started attending the meetings the ALTs weren’t invited to when I could. The information at these other meetings and discussions were still often suspect and I ended up not attending many of them also. I was, however, able to identify which kenshu actually had new information. Most of this information was about policy changes and other things that weren’t necessarily useful for professional development but meant a whole lot to changes in the job, like increased class hours per week and curriculum changes.

I participated in kenkyu-jugyo. For me, this has been the most beneficial. It has allowed me to engage my co-teachers about methodology and class planning without constraints of time or desire. Since we are presenting a lesson with a specific goal or focus there is every effort made to do the best job possible. I was fortunate to work with a very passionate teacher who was selected multiple times for very large projects and very progressive teaching goals. In each case, I was proud of the lessons we were able to create and deliver together.

I participated in kenkyu-jugyo. For me, this has been the most beneficial.

Although, as I discussed above, I have major concerns about the effectiveness and relevance of the overall Japanese kenshu system, I feel that the experiences have helped me to develop, and if anything, understand the system I work within better.

The teacher I worked with has never fallen short of thanking and recognizing me for my part in his work, although I have never been selected or even contacted by anyone but him to participate and I have only really been recognized by him as a professional in the lessons. I gave up on being ‘seen’ by Japanese educators long ago. Sometimes you can only really have a peer relationship with the Japanese educators you work directly with, and that is good enough for me. One wall at a time, one person at a time.

This is the second part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one: What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan. Part three about technology in the classroom will be coming in a few weeks.


-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Friday, April 20, 2018

What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan by Jessie James Lucky

by Jessie James Lucky

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as a technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.

Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.

Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 

Hello there! I would like to share with you some things I’ve learned about ICT in Japan, but first I’d like to go over some realities as to why many ALTs might miss this kind of information.

What is kenshu? (研修)


For those who don’t already know, kenshu is the Japanese teachers’ primary method of professional development.

There are other terms, and transliterations into English that could be used and different kinds of events and activities that take place besides just 'kenshu' but I will use it here as a blanket term. Another term which is relevant is the 'kenkyu jugyo' (研究授業) or research class, usually translated as demonstration class. It is when you prepare a special lesson to test or highlight specific teaching methods, points or resources etc. and other teachers come to watch. Kenkyu jugyo and kenshu tend to go hand in hand and I include the jugyo as a part of the bigger picture- the kenshu, meaning professional development.

Lectures and conferences are not that popular for Japanese G1-12 public school educators, although they do exist. Those lectures and conferences that do take place tend to focus on other aspects or issues in education like human rights, bullying, community involvement etc. There are not a lot of subject-specific lectures or conferences for Japanese G1-12 public school teachers that are well attended. Most Japanese teachers’ professional development for their primary subject takes place at mandatory kenshu. Lectures may take place at kenshu that are subject specific, but usually, there are speeches by other teachers who may have attended some other kenshu that may have had an expert lecturer. Each municipality sets the rules and decides how much of this takes place each year, but it is safe to assume that every Japanese English public school teacher will be subjected to several mandatory hours, if not days, of kenshu every year. It may not be apparent by looking at the way they teach sometimes but Japanese junior high school English teachers are receiving ongoing mandatory skill development.


Each municipality sets the rules and decides how much of this takes place each year, but it is safe to assume that every Japanese English public school teacher will be subjected to several mandatory hours, if not days, of kenshu every year.

Beyond mandatory kenshu, there are opportunities for Japanese English teachers to participate in things like JALT, to take English lessons, to travel, attend lectures, take TESL certification courses, study for and take standardized English tests etc. But very, very few do. Even those who might want to often cannot because they are so busy with their regular job responsibilities.

ALTs don’t participate in most kenshu, why not?


The answer to this question, in my view, starts with the question; what is an ALT? The Japanese G1-12 public school English education has struggled with this question, and that is putting it nicely. ALTs were first included/brought in as a remedy for some of the issues in their system, namely lack of spoken language accuracy and fluency, everything but meta-linguistic memorization (also inaccurate but they were/are good at it). We were brought in as a band-aid. The ALT has become something more than that in some places. In other places, there are entire municipalities that no longer use or hire ALTs. Some no longer see the band-aid as necessary or effective. If you haven’t heard this before, brace yourself- ALTs aren’t meant to be teachers. We usually are not staffed in the same way the Japanese teachers we work with are. We are not usually seen as professional human resources. We are for the most part seen as teaching TOOLS. The primary verb used in association with what we do and provide is ‘fureai’. ‘Fureai’ is the word you would use to describe what happens with animals at a petting zoo. It is very different than the relationship between teacher and student in Japan. They might use ‘fureai’ to describe encounters with guests from a field outside of teaching, like police or firemen etc. interacting with students. The verb implies a difference and unfamiliarity between the two interacting parties but does not directly imply any intentional sharing of knowledge, teaching ability or leadership. No quality but difference is required for ‘fureai’ to happen.

If you haven’t heard this before, brace yourself- ALTs aren’t meant to be teachers.

In short, we are there for students to experience interacting with us, nothing more. Our unique claim to fame is providing authentic native-speaker sounds. The way only a lion can roar, the way only an elephant can trumpet out its nose, so too can only the native-speaker make those ‘yo-sugite-wakaranai’ (too good to understand) English sounds. That is right, for many Japanese, the English sounds you make are seen as unobtainable for Japanese teachers of English, often even at the University level. Requiring us in classes assumes their native (as in native to Japan) teachers can’t do it.

So our role is having a quality that Japanese believe they cannot achieve. What kind of kenshu do you require to do what you can already do? So what, if any, professional development would apply to a teaching tool known as ‘the ALT’? None.

You don’t speak Japanese. They don’t speak English. (assumptions, yes)


Another reason ALTs are not traditionally included in the same kenshu as native Japanese teachers are is that since you aren’t Japanese, it was assumed you can’t speak or learn to speak Japanese. Areas that are more exposed to foreigners have moved on past this for the most part, but especially in less-exposed areas, it is common to meet people amazed with foreigners who speak Japanese. Following this, there isn’t much effort or intent on the part of Japanese to teach their language to foreign residents.

As much as administrators assume the foreign teachers can’t speak Japanese they assume (when they probably shouldn’t even accept) that their Japanese English teachers can’t speak English.

In most countries, any kind of meeting or training for English teachers would probably be possible to conduct in English. This should easily bridge the gap between English teachers whose first language is not the same. Unfortunately, in public schools in Japan, getting qualifications and credentials to work as an English teacher does not require much mastery of the actual English language. As much as administrators assume the foreign teachers can’t speak Japanese they assume (when they probably shouldn’t even accept) that their Japanese English teachers can’t speak English. Thus, the kenshu is provided almost exclusively in Japanese so that English teachers who don’t actually know English can participate. The ALTs, who they assume can’t use Japanese, are thus excluded...from English teaching kenshu. Some Japanese English teachers will complain if kenshu is done in English. Some Japanese teachers of English are capable of and interested in participating in English language kenshu etc. but they are not the norm. Some Japanese teachers are less interested in challenging themselves in English than their own students are.

What exactly are they doing at kenshu where they can’t speak English?


It all boils down to the Japanese belief that bilingualism isn’t possible for most people. When talking with Japanese educators about the shortcomings of their mandatory English education, I often hear the same thing. It sounds like an excuse at first, but I don’t think that it is. They will state that their goal is not a high level of English or fluency, but that their goal is to make the students familiar with English and to give them a ‘base’. They will say that only those motivated and capable need to be fluent, which sounds reasonable enough. Part hard work, part natural talent. They don’t realize/believe that everyone can learn multiple languages to fluency through effort and exposure alone. This includes people employed as English teachers. Some non-native speakers of English, who are not Japanese, are also devalued in Japan as language educators because of this core belief that their English is somehow flawed.

Japanese teachers’ competence and professional advancement are mostly based on the opinions of their seniors almost to the exclusion of actual results.

Because of this belief, there isn’t a lot of pressure (but it has been increasing lately) on the JTEs to be competent English speakers. There isn’t much pressure for them to bring their students to fluency or competence either. As obsessed with Japanese educators are with test-scores, the students’ test scores are not a primary rubric when evaluating the teachers themselves. Japanese teachers’ competence and professional advancement are mostly based on the opinions of their seniors almost to the exclusion of actual results. Kenshu can be seen as more of a task than an opportunity. Great kenshu lessons and impressive results don’t go unnoticed though. Many of their seniors will look at actual results when making evaluations. Making good small talk, doing things in a way the current boss arbitrarily likes, getting on the bosses good side etc. are also of equal import. Assuming the teacher is particularly concerned with advancement. Many teachers are overwhelmed with their work and just happy to get through each day. Taking on extra work, yakuwari (jobs/roles at the school) is another way to advance...which is unlikely to improve core-subject performance. Some teachers are more focused on other aspects of their work and don’t see English as a priority for them or their students, even though they are English teachers.

The ALTs role in all this? My advice is to learn Japanese language and culture. Your job is to make sounds and then, like everyone else, just get along. With wisdom to it, the Japanese place a lot of value in getting along.

What training and kenshu IS done for ALTs?


It varies widely across Japan. There is no standard. In most areas, as much as half of the mandatory kenshu (delivered on a yearly schedule) for JTEs will include training for ALTs. For the most part, the ALTs’ tasks and training will be conducted separate from that of the Japanese teachers, for reasons explained above (language barrier). It varies by prefecture and program (like JET or dispatch companies). They usually receive a week or two of training with other ALTs when they first come to Japan, although some will only receive a day or two, even if they've never worked in Japan before. There will then be two to three 'meetings' or 'kenshu' a year with other ALTs and they may or may not participate in one or two of the Japanese teachers' kenshu for their local area. The dispatch company 'meetings' can often focus more on life in Japan and administrative issues, all of which are important and helpful but not necessarily 'professional development' for a would-be language teacher.

For the most part, the ALTs’ tasks and training will be conducted separate from that of the Japanese teachers, for reasons explained above (language barrier).

Often the ALTs will join 'kenkyu jugyo' but their role in planning, post-lesson discussion and kenshu will be limited or non-existent. The JTE usually authors the lesson and the ALT will not even attend any of the meetings about the lesson before or after with the other teachers and BOE officials involved. Even if the ALT helps author the lesson they will not be given credit or named in the official lesson plan and documents submitted as anything other than the lesson's ALT which is about as important as being the textbook or one of the chairs the students sat on.

What has my experience been with kenshu?

That does it for the basics of kenshu. I’ll share with you my own experiences with kenshu over the last 14 years in part two.

This is the first part of a three-part series. Be on the lookout for the second part, "Kenshu For Me: My First Few Years in Japan" on May 2nd and the third post about technology in the classroom later in May.

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 


For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Challenges of ALT Training by David L. Hayter


by David L. Hayter

Bio: David L. Hayter is a Lead ALT in Mie, Japan. Before coming to Japan in 2014, he worked in various positions throughout the Southern California area gaining experience in industries ranging from customer service and corporate retail management to market research and private security.

During his time as a student at CSU Long Beach, he studied history, international studies, and Japanese. He was an active member and leader in the CSULB Shotokan Karate Club and oversaw the operations of the student government's radio, television, and print publication while serving as a trustee on the ASI Media Board.

As a lead ALT, he has taught all levels from kindergarten through the ninth grade. Besides teaching junior high school English classes, his other responsibilities include designing and delivering training programs for newly hired ALTs, providing them with continued support, and assisting in the planning and presenting of in-service workshops for JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) in elementary and junior high school.

Outside of work, he is an avid cook, gets beat up on Overwatch, trains hard, helps run the ALTTO Blog as the Community Media Manager and writes for his own blog, Yokkaichi Connections.


Imagine, if you will, the perfect ALT training environment.


Multiple ALTs can regularly meet in a common workspace to share ideas and materials. Classrooms equipped with state of the art teaching equipment are readily available. JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) and students come to those classrooms eager to try out new teaching and learning methods. Teaching consultants and coaches watch these lessons and offer feedback based on their years of experience.


This perfect environment does exist, somewhere, in the Twilight Zone.


It would be nice, wouldn't it? As ALTs, we often are provided with minimal training. At the same time, we are also expected to produce some fantastic results.

In this post, I'll outline:

  1. The challenges we have in our training.
  2. What you can do to overcome them.


The Challenges

At my current employer, we are fortunate enough to have a month of training in August for new and re-contracting ALTs. Veteran ALTs teach our new ALTs the basics of doing their first self-intro lesson, general lesson planning, and some information about how to live and work in Japan. Although this training is more than what others get and has been improving over the years, it still has a long way to go.

Here are some of the issues we face:

1. No clear organization


No matter what organization you're a part of, they all follow the same principals. The key to running any organization successfully is to have clearly defined roles, clear communication, and accountability.

Keys to organizational success
  • Clearly defined roles
  • Clear communication
  • Accountability


As numerous sources have pointed out, the roles of ALTs are not clearly defined (although you can find some of the roles you may fill here). This means that we have to train ALTs for virtually any situation.

Communication between JTEs and ALTs varies depending on the individual. The JTEs are often busy with other duties so communicating with ALTs sometimes doesn't rank too high among other priorities.

Accountability is another problem. Think about some of the classes you've taught or work you've done at other jobs. If you performed well, was there a reward? If you failed to hit your mark, was there a penalty? There really aren't many incentives to do better other than personal satisfaction so it can be tough to bring about change in our work environments.

2. We don't have dedicated trainers

We provide our new ALTs the best training we can. However, none of us were specifically trained in how to train other ALTs. We just try to remember what others have done before us and adjust it as best as we can.

One thing I learned from working other jobs and my own research is that most good training involves three steps: observation, education, and then following-up with the employees to track progress.

Keys to training success
  • Observe
  • Educate
  • Follow-up


If any of these are lacking, then the training process is incomplete. We need to observe how people work, educate them about the standard we'd like to meet, and then follow-up to ensure progress is being made. Without having someone dedicated to this task, it doesn't really happen.

3. Lack of facilities

In our training period, it can be difficult to get access to rooms for training and meetings. Other departments and community organizations book the same rooms that we use for training.

We have mock classes in small meeting rooms, but these don't really prepare our ALTs for what it's like to teach in a classroom.

We also talk about teaching in our office, but we share this space with other civil servants. If our conversations get too animated, we'll bug our neighbors!

4. No chance to practice with Japanese students and teachers

The classroom is just one part of the equation. The other part is working with the students and teachers.

Successful training environments recreate the real working situation as much as possible.

In our training, we often have one person present an activity while another ALT acts as a JTE and the rest of us act like students. It's better than nothing, but nothing like the real thing. Successful training environments recreate the real working situation as much as possible.

The Possible Solutions

This wouldn't be much of a blog if I just listed a bunch of problems and didn't give you any info on solutions, right? If you try to do the following things, you can get ahead and stay ahead in the ALT world.

1. Commit to improving yourself despite your challenges

It can be easy to throw your hands up and say, "So what?" No matter your experience or skill level, everyone can improve their work. Your JTEs and students will really appreciate your efforts. You can also help others develop their own skills. There are only benefits to gain from committing to your own professional development.

2. Organize what you can, as much as you can

This can be tricky, but fix what you can and skip over what you can't. We are often given a lot of responsibility without any actual authority (something Jon Taffer likes to call a stupidvisor). Don't spend your time trying to change things that are probably never going to change.


  • Define your roles as best as you can. This might mean meeting individually with your JTEs. Think about what work needs to be done before the class, during the class, and after the class. Decide who is going to do what, when it will be done, and how you're going to do it.


Decide who is going to do what, when it will be done, and how you're going to do it.


  • Keep the lines of communication open. Be honest (but nice) about how the whole process went. Is there anything you can improve on? What is it? How about your JTE? What went well? How can you keep it? These are questions you should ask yourself constantly. It can also help to engage in some small talk before, after, or between classes. Focus on building a good working relationship with your JTEs. Your life will be a lot easier!



  • Hold yourself accountable. Someone else might not do this, so you're going to have to do it for yourself. If you fail to fulfill your role, identify what contributed to that and how you can avoid it in the future.


3. Be your own mentor

If you constantly reflect on how you're performing, you'll start to become your own mentor.

If you can mentor yourself, you can mentor others!

A mentor is someone who watches how you work, listens to your problems, and gives you some advice on how to advance your career. They should be equal parts cheerleader and drill sergeant.

By constantly looking for ways to improve, you'll not only do better in your current position but will also be better prepared for your next career step. If you can mentor yourself, you can mentor others!

4. Reach out to others

Training on your own is no fun. Reach out to other ALTs and/or JTEs to see how they work and learn about some of the solutions to problems they've come up with. You can learn a lot by talking to others. Some good places to do this are online forums or the ALTTO Facebook group. If you have the time, you could record yourself teaching and show it to others.

5. Never stop learning

Training is an on-going process. If you're not moving forward, you're getting left behind. In the ALTTO Facebook group, Sam Eek Sha said, "If you are a serious, passionate learner, then every day is a chance to train."

"If you are a serious, passionate learner, then every day is a chance to train." -Sam Eek Sha

There are always new teaching methods and materials being developed (did I mention you can get top-notch, free training at ALT Training Online?). If you are a continual student, you'll always be on the lookout for new ways of doing things for the benefit of your students and JTEs. It's a win/win!

That's it!

So what did you think about our training? How was your training? Do you agree with my solutions? Leave a comment below!

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 


For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An Elementary School ALT - Thoughts and Feelings by Martin Moran

by Martin Moran

Bio: Martin Moran is an ALT from London, UK. He taught English to foreign exchange students in London before coming to Japan in 2011. He has since been teaching in elementary schools in Niigata City and from this year has begun teaching in both elementary and junior high schools.

Seven years ago I stepped off the bus and turned up to school for my first day as an ALT at an elementary school in Japan. ‘Don’t be late’ was the only advice I had received. I was so nervous about being late that I ended up getting there a whole hour early. I spent the time sat on a bench in a little park close by wondering what the day ahead might have in store for me. I was terrified! I had been in Japan only a week, could hardly speak any Japanese, was mostly ignorant towards Japanese culture and hadn’t been in an elementary school since I was twelve. Now I’m ever so slightly older and wiser and I’d like to tell someone else sat on that bench a few things I’ve come to think and feel over the years resulting in lessons learned and realisations made.

You are not the only one. You may be the only foreigner in the school but you won’t be the only person foreign to the school. At the start of the school year, due to Japan’s policy of periodic personnel shuffling, about a quarter of the teachers will be new to the school. A few of them may be fresh out of university and taking on their own class for the first time. Your vice principal may be running a school for the first time. Spare some thought! And every child will have a new HRT (home room teacher) which if you can remember yourself from your childhood takes a bit of getting used to. Basically, everyone is dealing with their own settling in issues. No one has any time or interest in scrutinising every little thing you do. You are not joining a play halfway through, you will be there writing the script from the start so you don’t have to burst in the door jazz hands blazing. Just shuffle in with the others and find your feet at your own pace.

Teach in a classroom. Sounds obvious? Well, in many of the schools I have worked in they have this idea of ‘English should be fun, so let’s have English lessons in a playroom!’ Now, if I have a chance of voicing my opinion, I always say I think that having the lessons in a classroom is better. It’s both more comfortable and productive. In a playroom children unsurprisingly tend to want to run around and play. The clue is in the name. And have you ever tried writing on something on the floor? It’s not comfortable or flattering! In their own classroom children are comfortable, relaxed and have any necessary tools at hand. Tell your schools that desks and chairs can be fun too! The playroom will still be there and can be used for selective lessons which suit such an environment. I’ll be using it this week for my 6th grade classes to practice their skits as there will be plenty of room for each group to move around and will allow for their acting skills to flourish.

Make your own way to the classroom. Another often held idea is that you should be picked up from the teachers’ room and escorted to the classroom by two students, one on each side so you don’t escape. This is a huge waste of time. In my experience this has reduced the length of the lesson from anything from five minutes to forty minutes. Lessons are only forty-five minutes long! Now, I always tell my schools that I think it’s better if I make my own way to the classroom. If the teacher teaching the class before you has a thing for overrunning, there’s nothing like you making faces at the kids through the window to make them wrap things up pronto! I never want to sit in the teachers’ room again watching the clock tick over and putting lines through activities in my lesson plan. You’re a big boy/girl now, you can make it there on your own.

Call people by their name. Students and teachers alike, addressing people by their actual name is a great way to show warmth and build relationships. Of course you will come up against the great barrier of undecipherable kanji code. You can ask your supervisor for a copy of the ‘map’ of the teachers’ room and ask them to write the names in romaji so you can read them. Keep it on your desk for a quick reference when you want to ask someone something or just have a chat. As for the students, they can make English name tags to wear around their neck or fastened on their usual name tag. You can make a lesson out of making them and ask their HRT if they can wear them every time they have your class. You’ll even start remembering some of them when you see them in the corridor. You can see their little faces light up as they hear their name. Think about how much nicer it’s going to be for you to be called by your name and not ‘the ALT’, or even worse, ‘the foreigner’...

Let go of the reins. Don’t try and control everything. Being someone who likes being in control and leaving nothing to chance, this took me a long time to accept. I would always try to force my lessons in a way I had imagined they would go or in a way it had gone with another class. Remember you are dealing with a room full of independent, self-aware beings whose moods can change minute to minute. A lot like yourself perhaps. When you walk into their classroom you don’t know what has been rocking their world that day. Maybe someone has been shouting at them for the last hour! Don’t just force them through the meat grinder of your one-fits-all lesson plan. Guide them through the lesson instead of pushing them through it. Look at them. Listen to them. Oh the inquisitive little things! You may end up going off on some weird and wonderful tangents. Nothing wrong with that in my book. My new book.

Reject the red mist. Do you remember any stupid things you thought, said and did when you were their age? Keep that in mind when one of them says or does something that grinds your goat. Act the age you are now and give them a break. Try to find non-aggressive solutions to conflicts.

Raising your voice will only raise your blood pressure. Don’t get into a war of vocal attrition with a room full of kids. You will lose! Find another way of getting their attention.

Fight your pride, not the HRT. Sometimes it’s difficult having two teachers conduct the lesson because you both will have your own style of teaching. An easy way of dealing with this is for one teacher to seize control and conduct the lesson entirely. That’s why in the majority of team teaching lessons the ALT is either the sole teacher or the ALT is simply the human tape recorder drilling vocabulary on cue. But neither of these are examples of team teaching in the ideal sense. Don’t try to exclude a HRT who is trying to get involved in the lesson. This is what I used to do. Back to my control issues. I used to actively cut the HRT out from the lesson by not involving them in the planning stage and/or speaking over them if they tried to get involved during the lesson. What an ass I was! I was happiest when they would just concentrate on crowd control and leave the teaching to me. The students and myself were missing out on another professional’s input because I thought I knew best. Equally, if you are faced with a HRT who doesn’t appear to want to get involved in the lesson, encourage them to do so. Ask them questions in the lesson, get the students to ask them questions, ask them to do demonstrations with you. Don’t let them get away with just sitting at the back of the classroom marking science tests. We should be team teaching. Whether you or they like it or not! You may think you know best but they probably think they do too. Thrash it out. This will mean that your lessons will differ greatly depending on your relationship with the HRT. That’s fine, we’re learning to let go.

It’s not how you fall it’s how you bounce back up. You will have bad lessons. And it will hurt. Try not to dwell on them or take them home with you. Remember, it’s not all about you! A lesson is a shared experience and everyone in that room sees and feels it in a different way. Analyse it, make a mental note of any mistakes you think you may have made and move on. We go again.

Be yourself. I spent a lot of time when I started out trying to be what I thought they expected an ALT to be like. I played games I didn’t want to play and sang songs I didn’t want to sing. Have you noticed that if you force yourself to smile too much, your face begins to hurt? In the same way that you shouldn’t make students do things they don’t want to do, don’t make yourself do things you don’t want to do. I personally have an aversion to dressing up in fancy dress for some reason. But I wore a Santa outfit for a Christmas lesson at the request of the HRT. When asked another time to do that I said no because I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. But I suggested instead that I bring my guitar and I’ll play Christmas songs for the kids to sing, now there’s something we can all enjoy! If you try to be someone you’re not, your awkwardness will fill the void. Instead, let your true personality shine through. The world will follow.

Having made that last point, as you are not me your thoughts and feeling are going to be completely different. Feel free to take on board or reject any or all of my advice at will. Try things, make mistakes, find your truth and then write your own guest blog for ALT training Online! Thank you for reading mine until the end, I’ll look forward to reading yours. You are about to be drawn into a wonderful whirlwind of noise and tension, laughter and tears. You will learn things about people and yourself that will shape your life. Load up on slow release carbs, put on something you don’t mind getting covered in chalk and strap yourself in. You’re in for one hell of a ride. And whatever you do, don’t be late.


-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at: alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 


For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html