Cool in the Classroom: How to Work Better With Japanese Teachers

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As the assistant language teacher, your role in the classroom is just that — an assistant.

It’s right there in your job title. However, sometimes that role gets forgotten. Your Japanese teacher of English may join in your lesson for the class greetings and then hand the reigns over to you for the rest of the class. This, unfortunately, is the situation many ALTs work in and has been for a while. The Japanese teacher’s mindset is that ALTs are native English speakers so they should be the one leading the class, or maybe they believe their English isn’t good enough. For whatever reason, you as the ALT may be finding it difficult to get your Japanese teacher involved in both the lesson planning and the actual lesson.

Today’s A Little Training for ALTs post will show you how to gradually incorporate your Japanese teacher within your lessons.

The first step to getting the teachers more involved is first acquiring the mindset that if you don’t help them change, when the change in the curriculum happens, they will not know what to do.

As we approach the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, there will be an increase in the amount of English taught in Japanese elementary and junior high schools. This means that Japanese teachers will have a greater workload and will need to teaching more English themselves. 

Step 1: Get in the right mindset

A few teachers may begin changing their style in preparation, but some teachers will still be stuck in their old ways. That’s where we the ALTs come in.

The first step in getting the teachers more involved is acquiring the mindset that if you don’t help them change, when the shift in the curriculum happens, they won’t know what to do. So, because you are in the class and you have experience teaching lessons and playing games, there is nobody better than you — the ALT — to prepare the teachers. 

Step 2: Do a little detective work

The next step is to figure out what kind of teachers you are working with.

In our previous post, we talked about different ways to build relationships with your students. Similarly, by nurturing a better relationship outside the classroom with the class’s Japanese teacher, you can figure out what problems they may have while in the classroom.

Maybe they will confide in you. Maybe they relate to you completely differently outside of class. Whatever the case may be, it’s your chance to figure out where the problem may lie with your Japanese teacher. Are they not confident? A bit too busy to participate? A little info and you will know what the problem is and — more importantly — how to fix it.

Step 3: Tread carefully

So, you’ve adjusted your mindset and figured out what the problems may be.

The third step is to tread carefully. For example, when you try a new game in a lesson and it goes well, you keep the game. If it doesn’t, well then you scrap it, fix it or examine it to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes, with our fellow Japanese teachers, we don’t have that luxury. People don’t like change — especially when they may have to do something they aren’t 100 percent comfortable. If you try to incorporate them too abruptly, then it may not work out and they may not cooperate. Or, if you don’t give them enough notice and the material is a bit difficult, then you can embarrass them and they may even dread teaching English. Tread lightly and plan accordingly.

Step 4: Start slow, but get the teacher involved

Start slow when beginning the process. The new curriculum change will be fully implemented by 2020, but depending on the region, schools may begin introducing aspects of the new curricula as soon as next year. So, this should be a gradual process.

For example, if your teacher always goes to the back of the room at the start of each class, let them do so, but find points in the lesson where you can involve them. If you are doing review for a lesson or a quick activity where the students raise their hand to answer a question.

Ask the Japanese teacher in a funny or smooth way as if it was planned (don’t forget to smile) which student should be chosen. By doing this, it’s already a huge step forward. By asking them to choose you are waking them up and making them a presence within the classroom. Once class begins, they step out and let you do your thing but by doing this you are bringing them back in. Keep doing this and watch their comfort zone grow. Once that happens, you can ask them things pertaining to the lesson.

… If your teacher always goes to the back of the room at the start of each class, let them do so, but find points in the lesson where you can involve them.

Ask them about what colors they like or what food they like. Just getting them more involved in the easy parts of a lesson can work wonders. After you’ve built a rapport and an understanding that they, too, are a part of the lesson, try asking their opinion on ideas they may have about a lesson or activity. Don’t call it a meeting. Meetings are seen as too long and they may be busy. Ask them in passing or if you see them in the teachers’ room. Just be prepared for their answer. Incorporating their answer into the classroom shows that you value their opinion.

There isn’t a clear process to get your teachers more involved. You could be more direct and talk to your head teacher or vice-principal to arrange weekly meetings preparation for the change in curriculum. You could let your JTE know directly the changes that will occur and what you as the ALT would like to do to help.

These are just some examples, but you know your schools and you know your teachers, so do what you feel is best and do the best that you can. At the end of the day we do this for the kids, so let’s ensure the best solution for them.

Happy teaching!

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RCS (Real Communication Solutions) provides assistant language teachers to public elementary, middle and high schools, as well as English cram schools, daycare centers, kindergartens and other businesses.

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