For the ALT


  • Maintaining a Positive Attitude
  • About the JTE
  • Learning Basic Japanese
  • Learning Basic Japanese Cultural Etiquette
  • Japanese Office Vocabulary
  • ALT as Motivator
  • Responsibilities in the Classroom
  • Furthering your Education:  Distance Learning and Correspondence Courses
  • Life after JET



Upon arriving in Japan, many things will appear new to you as an ALT who has just arrived and started working over here. However, there are a number of important points to bear in mind.


Firstly, try to be as adaptable and versatile as possible in every area of your personal and professional dealings with other people. This will really help you to make friends with Japanese people and will inspire confidence and trust in them a lot quicker than if you merely close your mind off to anyone who is not English-speaking. It is said by many JETs that to really maximize your time in Japan, it is important to have a good balance between Japanese and English speaking friends.


Remember, you are an ambassador for your country. Many JTEs are very interested in foreign culture and nearly always willing to help you if you approach them in the right way and treat them with respect and courtesy.


With this in mind, try to learn some basic Japanese language and cultural etiquette as quickly as possible e.g. from the correct way to address someone to polite table manners etc.


This is essential. This similarly applies to team-teaching. Generally Westerners are culturally more extrovert than their Japanese neighbors. Sometimes, a loud, authoritarian teaching approach is not always a good one. Japanese people are shy and retiring culturally and JTEs may find it quite difficult adjusting to your cultural differences in the same way as you do to them. It may also be hard for them to initiate a time for you to both sit down and plan lessons- not solely due to linguistic barriers but mainly due to a genuine lack of time- you will note that Japanese Teachers are always very, very busy! Be proactive! Don't wait to be asked, rather, go and seek them out and ask them what you are both going to be doing for future lesson plans and what role each of you will play in the lesson. A proactive ALT gets more done and gets more out of their teaching and their time in Japan. ALTs are here to share their culture and experiences but they are also here to assist in the teaching of English. As an ALT, your professional priorities should be similar to the above. Be willing to negotiate and discuss your lesson ideas- flexibility is the key. You will find that if you give a little you will very often get a lot more back unexpectedly. Invitations to dinner, social outings - to name but a few.



Suggestions for the ALT


There are many ways to further both your personal and professional development whilst on the JET Programme both inside and outside the classroom. You can take advantage of cultural hobbies such as shuji (Japanese calligraphy), judo, aikido, karate(martial arts) or even ikebana (flower arranging) -many of which may be available through your school or Board of Education so please ask your Supervisor about these cultural activities. In addition you might like to further your education by doing a Japanese course or a higher degree to improve your employment prospects later on.


However, perhaps one of the most important things that an effective ALT can do whilst on the JET Programme, is to forge a strong relationship to his or her working environment. In short, it is important for the ALT to "fit in" with the rest of the staff. The ALT should feel like part of the school, not like a foreign visitor. Firstly, this is because effective team-teaching requires such a close relationship between the two teachers. Secondly, the main purpose of having a foreign teacher in a school is to promote intercultural ties between that native speaker and the students. However, if the ALT cannot relate to his or her Japanese work environment, how can he or she expect the students to effectively bond with them?


While this may seem like common sense, many ALTs, particularly "one-shots", might find this quite difficult. "One-shots" are typically in a given school for 2  4 weeks at any one time. Sadly, it often seems that just as they start to fit in or make friends in the teachers' room, they are whisked away to another school and forced to start all over again! It is therefore important for such ALT's to keep relationship-building in mind.


Creating Bonds


Every school and Board of Education office is unique. The ability of a new staff member to fit in to any given position is entirely different, depending on the nature of that office. "One-shots" in particular can attest to this, as they are required to consistently renew the experience of fitting into a new school every few weeks. In some schools, a new staff member may feel like "part of the family" within minutes of entering the teachers' room for the first time. In other schools, the same staff member, (particularly if he or she is an ALT with poor Japanese language ability) may spend three weeks in a school without ever once speaking to a non-JTE staff member. This disparity in the nature of working environments means that there are no absolutes in terms of one's ability to make friends within the workplace. 


There are, however, several things a new ALT can do which are pretty much guaranteed to have a strong, positive impact on other teachers in the school.


· Japanese Office Vocabulary. If you've been teaching in Japan for more than 2 weeks, you've no doubt recognized a variety of set expressions that are used in the office every day. Virtually every ALT orientation manual makes references to this, and we, here at "Communicative English", feel compelled to follow suit. So here is a list of CRITICAL Japanese Expressions: 


o O ha yoo Go zai ma su -  "Good Morning"

o Shi tsu rei shi masu - "Excuse me for entering" (use

before entering another office)

o Shi tsu rei shi ma shita - "Excuse me for having entered

(use just before you leave another

office room)


o Kon nichi wa - "Hello"


o Osaki ni shi tsu rei shi masu * "Excuse me for leaving earlier

than you"

(You can use this in place of "Goodbye" when leaving for the day)


* For some reason, Japanese faculty members are always REALLY impressed when you use this one!)


o Oya su mi na sai - "Goodnight"


You've probably seen lists similar to this one a hundred times since coming to Japan. However, using this vocabulary has such a profound effect on the office that it is definitely worth mentioning again. 


· Make friends with non-JTE staff members. Even if they don't speak a word of English and your Japanese isn't so great, there is still a great opportunity for communicating. Try and make friends with the people whose desks are adjacent to yours. Bring in pictures of your home town, or currency from your home country. Point and use other gestures.


· Study Japanese. This is another way to make friends with the people near you. Teachers of any subject are invariably interested in helping you learn a few words or phrases, or new kanji characters. Most of the time, you don't even have to ask. If they see you with a Japanese text book open in front of you, people from all over the room will come over and try to teach you new things. Furthermore, this is a prime example of how to strengthen those intercultural ties mentioned above. People at your school will see that you want to learn from them so they will naturally be more interested in learning from you. 


· Be seen by the students!


o Get involved in:

§ Clubs

§ Sports

§ School Festivals


o Talk to students in the hallways between classes


o Try to sit in during art and music classes. This will be fun for you, as you don't need a strong command of Japanese to enjoy these subjects. It will also be great for the students and other teachers to see you taking an active role in their school community!


ALT as a Motivator


Another major reason for having native speakers of a foreign language in the classroom is to provide students with the motivation to learn a new language. This is achieved primarily by your mere presence in the classroom. However, there are many things you can do to increase the motivation of your students to learn. 


· Make English real to the students. Your students may view English as a purely academic subject. A compulsory subject with no practical, real-world application. Show them that English is fun and practical!

o Converse with students


o E-mail. You can set up an e-mail account just for students to write to you. This way, they can practice real-world communicative English outside of the classroom. It becomes something they want to learn and use on their own. (This is a particularly good idea for "one-shot" ALT's who only see students for 2  4 weeks at a time, and therefore don't normally feel they have much impact on their students' motivation.)


· Rewards. Rewards can be in the form of verbal praise for correctly  spoken English, or in the physical form of stickers or small trinkets from your home country. 



Responsibilities in the Classroom


  • Textbook and Lesson Planning. This should go without saying, but it really helps to have a good understanding of the textbook and the lesson plan. Ideally, the ALT should be collaboratively involved in creating the lesson plan; however this is not always possible. In any event, the ALT should definitely know what is happening in the classroom. The lesson should not present any surprises for the ALT. It is important for the ALT and the JTE to present an image of solidarity and support throughout every lesson. 


· Activities and Resources. The JTE often looks upon the ALT as a source of miscellaneous activities for the students. It is therefore a good idea to keep some resources of your own to hand. There are numerous collections of activities available-please see the Teaching Resources and Links section of this site.  


Furthering Your Education: Distance learning and Correspondence Courses


While you are working in Japan, why not further your qualifications and improve your employability at the same time.  One of the easiest ways to do this is by distance learning. There are a multitude of courses available that can be studied over a period of one to five years.


Of course, please check with your Supervisor beforehand if you think that such extra study might infringe upon your general working/teaching schedule.


Here is a list of some useful websites about TEFL courses and qualifications.



There are many universities, colleges of further education and specialist language schools offering both distance learning courses online and via post. 


 For information on graduate TEFL degrees and some courses specifically geared towards people working in Japan.


Will provide you with a wealth of information on TEFL short courses i.e. CELTA/ DELTA )


Life after JET


Like all good things, your time on the JET Programme will eventually come to an end.  Whether it happens at the end of one year, two or three, you may be wondering what you will be doing next year and what job opportunities will be available to you? How can you use the skills and experiences gained during your time in Japan, as a JET, to further your career development, etc.?


Every year, CLAIR holds a special seminar, usually in January or February, for those JETs who are due to leave Japan within the coming year. This seminar is designed to provide JETs with as much career development advice as possible in order to facilitate an easy reintegration back into ones home country.  Some topics discussed in the past include: career search skills, CV/resume writing skills, Interview skills, and other topics relating to various careers. 

2006 Returning JET conference handouts and presentations


In addition The Japan Exchange and Teaching Alumni Association (JETAA) has a wealth of information and links for both specific post-JET career opportunities (there is a searchable job bank with employment in various countries) and other useful topics relating to the JET Programme.