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ALTs and Their Utility Belts: 3 Practical Tools for the Classroom

Things will go wrong in an English class, but if you plan ahead for possible hiccups you will rarely be caught by surprise!

By 5 min read

We are ALTs, but let’s stop and use our imaginations for a moment. Let’s pretend that we have slightly different occupations, OK? Let’s all be Batman.

Batman? Sounds like fun, but why?

Because Batman has something that every ALT should also have.

A cape? A really cool, fast car?

No, a utility belt! Batman has an awesome yellow belt with a variety of pouches and cylindrical cartridges containing batarangs, batlines, parachutes and other tools integral to his fight for justice.

So… I need a batarang and a parachute?

Not necessarily. There are a few essential “tools,” though, that every ALT should carry with them at all times in our “fight for English education.”

1. Extras

First, there are the extras for the students.

We should always carry some extra pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers, notebook paper and everyday necessities of that sort. From experience, there’s always at least one student who isn’t properly prepared or equipped. As ALTs, we can plan ahead for times like this and bring extra general stationery supplies so that everyone can participate during our lessons.

I also make a lot of extra copies of handouts and worksheets. I think it’s best to be over-prepared (like Batman) than to realize part way through my lesson that I didn’t make enough copies. Often, especially with younger ones, the students will tear or spill on their handouts and worksheets and will need a second copy of them, anyway.

Then, there are extras for you and your team-teaching partner or Japanese teacher of English (JTE).

We should always carry extra magnets, chalk and red pens for checking student. When using technology during lessons, it’s also not a bad idea to bring extra copies of CDs or DVDs, as well as extra cables or extension cords. It’s not a good situation to be in when you turn down the lights, queue up the DVD player, get the students excited about watching a video — and then realize that the disc you brought is scratched and won’t play in the DVD player. Trust me. I’ve been in this situation. An extra copy of that dang DVD would’ve come in handy.

The bottom line is: if we plan ahead for possible hiccups, our lessons will flow more smoothly and be more successful. There will be more time spent studying English and  less time spent scrambling to try and teach it.

2. Rewards

Second, there are rewards.

English education may be its own reward but sometimes the students need to see proof. So I usually carry around stickers to reward volunteers, game winners or high achieving students. In Japan, stickers with cute characters are easy to come by at ¥100 shops. Or (pro tip, here) you can ask to use your school computer, download stickers online and print them out on label paper… DIY!

… a smile and a positive attitude are what separate the truly successful ALTs from the rest.

As much as the students love getting a Hello Kitty or Yokai Watch sticker, it’s really fun if you can bring stickers from your home country. Since I’m from the U.S., I have American football stickers that I give out. This not only makes the reward feel extra special, but it also increases student cultural awareness.

As adults, ¥100 stickers might seem insignificant but to the students, being recognized and receiving some sort of physical commendation for their efforts is exciting. I’ve found that rewards greatly increase class participation and the desire to succeed, which just generally makes for a more positive learning environment. It’s fun, too!

Many schools have their own rewards systems and you should always check in with the school and teachers before actually handing out any sort of prize (material rewards, that is — handing out a verbal “good job!” is always OK).

3. The most important tool

What could possibly be more important than a batarang? Our smiles!

As ALTs, it’s important to be prepared and professional at all times (this is really the basis of any job, from teachers to superheroes). Beyond that, though, a smile and a positive attitude are what separate the truly successful ALTs from the rest.

Remember that DVD mishap I mentioned? How did I get out of that situation?

With a smile and a positive attitude, I was able to make a creative lesson out of this bad circumstance. Upon realizing that we couldn’t watch the DVD, I acted out the contents of the DVD with a few brave student volunteers (who were given plenty of football stickers for their efforts!). It was goofy and silly and we acted like complete clowns (Jokers? Am I carrying this Batman thing too far?), but it was fun and creative and the students were learning English. By the end of the lesson, we were all smiling!

The moral of the story is: we should do our best to be prepared for anything. ALTs are not Batman, however, and therefore we are not superheroes. Problems will inevitably arise. But having a bright and sparkly smile and a positive attitude can get us out of most sticky situations. A batarang wouldn’t hurt, though…

What do you pack in your utility belt when you head off to teach English? Let us know in the comments below!

The writer of this piece is an ALT teaching in Japan with RCS.

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