Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things I'll Miss About Being an ALT / Things I won't miss about Being an ALT

4 Things I’ll miss about being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan

1-My Japanese is really terrible and I'm pretty shy, so I'm often too shy to strike up conversations with the other teachers at my schools.  However, they have been super friendly and when I make a tentative effort, they ignore my terrible Japanese, try to figure out what I'm saying and get to know me.  When I meet people outside of work, they often want to talk about differences between Japan and America.  Anyone who's lived in Japan any amount of time has answered "What surprised you about Japan?" or "Why are you in Japan?" about a million times.  Per year.  However, when I talk with the other teachers at my schools, we can talk about the school lunch, hobbies, our kids, and just have normal conversations about things we have in common rather than things that make us different. 

2-Sports Day – This is a fun day where the students run relay races, go through obstacle courses and learn sports/dance routines to perform.  They practice all week and it takes place on a Sunday so everyone's families can come watch and cheer. 

3-It's a great paying wage for the level of work required and stress level. My husband and I lived off of one paycheck and sent the other one home to pay off our student loans and we never wanted for anything.  (Well, I wanted a pet giraffe--still waiting on that.)   There's no work to take home, no extra work days, no overtime. In fact, most days, you have an hour or two free to read a book or study Japanese.  Sometimes, like end-of-semester testing or the week long lead-up to Sports day, you can have whole days with no classes and nothing to do.   I always kept myself busy reading books, studying Japanese, or writing my novel. 

4-The students can be a lot of fun.  They say funny things, they're goofy, they're excited when you come to class, most of them like English and they're interested in learning about the world.  That's the greatest thing about being an ALT. 

6  I Won’t miss about being an ALT!

1-Most of the teachers we work with have never been abroad and have no idea how to work with foreigners.  Even after 10 years of having ALTs in the classroom, they don’t know how to work together to plan lessons, they can’t speak English with you, and they don't know how to use you to enrich the students' English education experience.

2-Most of the teachers will occasionally teach incorrect English vocabulary and often (usually) teach incorrect pronunciation.  I’ve spent 20 minutes drawing diagrams on the board of how to correctly shape your mouth, demonstrating, having students repeat and finally getting the whole class to correctly pronounce English sounds, only to have the teacher say dismissively, “English is hard, so we just say it this way.”  Then they write the word, math on the board as masu and just have the students say it with Japanese pronunciation.

3-Peeing in winter....There isn’t any central heating/cooling in the schools.  The various rooms have heaters in them that you can turn on only during class times.  This means that all the rooms are freezing in winter for the first 10 minutes of class.  (They turn off the heaters in between classes and then open the windows.) It also means that in winter the bathrooms are freezing cold. There’s nothing worse than peeing in a freezing cold room on a freezing cold toilet with your bulky winter coat on.

4-Students don’t seem to understand that English is a language.  It’s no more mysterious or hilarious than that.   They shout “HELLO!” at you ten times in a row in the hallway.  They laugh when you ask their friend, “How are you?” They hear things like “Shut up!” or “Oh my God!” on their TV shows and shout them in class at the teacher. They laugh hilariously when you ask them to speak English like it's a big joke. 

5-School lunch- Often, your rice is cold and your milk is warm from sitting out for 30 minutes before you eat it.   There are all sorts of foods that I think are gross.   Raw cabbage with tiny inch-long dried fish.  Soup with slimy seaweed. Liver with gross sauce on it. Fish with their stomachs full of eggs.  Sometimes it can be good!  Curry and rice.  Tofu soup with veggies.  Grilled fillet of fish. Yogurt with fruit…..but when it’s bad, it’s bad and all you can do is be hungry till 4:30. Most Japanese teachers will just eat all their lunch weather they like it or not.  I didn't grow up for nothing though.  If I don’t like it, I don’t eat it.  I give everything the good old college try, but if it’s gross, I don’t eat it. This can be frustrating, especially when you’re pregnant.  People loved trying to boss me around and get me to eat all the food on my plate like I was 7 years old. “Liver is good for the baby!  You should eat it!”  I don’t care how good it is for the baby, I’m not eating it!  (They don’t take prenatal vitamins like we do in the states, so it is a bit more important for them to eat a balanced meal.  I tried to eat as healthy as I could, but it was nice knowing that my vitamins could take up the slack if I didn't get enough folic acid one day.)

6-I was spread very thin over two schools.  I was the only Assistant English Teacher for all three grades of two middle schools, meaning I had a total of 875 students.  I didn't get to know any of my students, they didn't get to know me, and I wasn't able to tailor lessons to their exact needs or see any of their progress.  The novelty of having a "foreigner" teacher was never able to wear away, so I was never there to be their English teacher, I was there to be a "foreigner."

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