For brand new ALTs, spring marks the beginning of your journey as an ALT. It might even be the beginning of your time living in Japan. Either way, it’s a very exciting and potentially nervous time to say the least. And while I can’t cover everything about how to start your year off right, I do have one piece of valuable advice for that first day:
Be a machine.
Now, I don’t mean you should be an everyday business machine like a photocopier, or one of those machines from Terminator that can travel through time and specializes in murder. I mean a people-greeting machine.
You need to greet people at your schools like it’s your job, because in my opinion, it is.
You see, to your co-workers and future students, your arrival is actually big news. Everyone will know that the foreign teacher of English is making his or her first visit to their school that day. And everyone will want to check you out.
I highly recommend you make it very easy for them to get a look.
Your goal is to make a mini connection with as many people as possible. Say hello to students, and offer an “Ohayou Gozaimasu” to teachers. You may find that some students are plainly excited to meet you; I highly recommend you dole out high fives to those students. And if the principal seems excited to offer you a handshake, you should be just as eager to offer yours. Be a greeting machine.
You want to create encounters that take the imaginary teacher in their minds, and transition you into the real-life, professional, awesome teacher they’re going to spend time with in the coming months. It’s your job as a greeting machine to look for opportunities to perform those little actions as much as you can on that first day. Sure, you will already come in contact with many teachers and students naturally, but SEEK OUT MORE.
Instead of sitting at your desk after your class, go find the gym, library, and computer lab. Explore the school, not only to learn where these places are in your soon-to-be place of work, but to say hello to all the students you meet along the way.
Instead of eating lunch at your desk alone, tell the person in charge of you that you would really like to eat with the students. It’s way more fun than sitting in the usual silence of the teacher’s room anyway.
Putting yourself out there for people to meet and engage with is an investment. This will pay dividends in the form of students who are themselves more engaged during your future classes. That’s not to say that you can’t have engaged students without being an epic greeting machine. But the greetings can get you past the initial awkwardness, standoffishness, or over-excitement that will sometimes derail early classes.
So your job is simple. On your first day, in addition to all the normal advice you’ll hear on the internet about getting there early, wearing your best suit, and proper grooming, don’t forget my piece of advice as well.
Be a greeting machine! And have fun with it!