With April, and the new school year just around the corner, city boards of education and various recruitment agencies all across Japan are nearing the end of their recruitment cycles for spring 2015. However, as is the case every year there are still a number of last minute ALT positions up for grabs.
For most ALTs the interview itself is often a bizarre experience. Many of the questions can seem irrelevant and the methodology behind them is, at best, questionable. Yet, for most teachers, navigating the Q and A section of the interview is relatively easy. The trickiest part is the teaching itself. These days more and more companies want to actually see your teaching ability during the interview process. Time constraints however often mean that these “demo lessons” are reduced to little more than 5 minutes at most.
Considering that a typical public school English class lasts 45-50 minutes and is usually taught alongside a Japanese teacher who may or may not speak English, how can we recreate our teaching style accurately in only 5 minutes, on our own?
Today, I will draw on my 10 years of experience in the industry to try and offer the best advice I can. The list is by no means exhaustive but hopefully it will give you some inspiration. Here are my top 5 tips for nailing that demo lesson.
1. Positivity goes a long way.
This may sound very clichéd, but a big smile, and a bubbly personality can make a big difference. It is important to remember that recruiters of ALTs may not necessarily always be looking for the best teachers, rather they are looking for the people who will best fit in their classrooms. As such the personality of the ALT applicant can play a huge part.
As such the personality of the ALT applicant can play a huge part.
Be warm, be outgoing and be sincere in the way you speak during your lesson. Sometimes the premise you are presented with may seem ridiculous. “Imagine you are in a room with 40 boisterous elementary school kids”. This isn’t always easy when the reality is in fact not 40 young kids, but 4 or 5 middle-aged somewhat stern looking board of education bureaucrats. Again positivity and a willingness to “go with the flow” are essential elements here.
Also, be mindful of how you speak. A voice that is slow, clear, and with an easily audible, though not overbearing, volume will certainly leave a good impression. It’s also important to consider how your accent may sound in this regard. Most Japanese recruiters prefer a voice that is as neutral as possible. Coming from Glasgow, this certainly wasn’t easy for me in the beginning, but if you take the time to carefully consider each word, and keep your English as simple as possible, you will soon find yourself being understood far better.
2. Dress to impress.
This may sound really simple, but it is a minor detail all too often overlooked by candidates. Men should always wear a suit, preferably black, with a white shirt, and a conservative tie (no Disney characters please). Women have a little more leeway in this regard, but perhaps a ladies business suit with a plain white top is the best way to go. Wearing a full suit may not always be practical, especially if you are interviewing during the Japanese summer time, but it is an essential way to show interviewers that you take the job seriously.
Also, be mindful of the fact that Japanese are often more sensitive to smells and odours than in other countries. Wearing too much deodorant, perfume or cologne can often be just as offensive as not wearing enough. Beware of wearing any fragrance that is too pungent.
Planning is crucial.
This is possibly the most important part of the demo lesson. In most cases you will be given an outline of the language point or vocabulary you are expected to teach in the demonstration at least a few days ahead of the interview. Do not try to “wing it”. Plan plenty of time ahead. Sketch out a minute by minute plan of how you will teach the lesson.
Do not try to “wing it”. Plan plenty of time ahead.
Remember that your plan must include each of the following steps. 1) Introduce the language: make sure students know what they are going to learn today. 2) Set a logical context: Show a real situation where this language can be used. 3) Present and practice the language. 4) Do an activity to check comprehension.
Also, always allow some time at the end to check comprehension and answer any questions the students may have. If you can prepare your own materials beforehand, such as flashcards or games, then please do so. Again, this will show the recruiters that you are serious about the job and that you have given your preparation a lot of thought.
Some teachers like to use realia (real life objects) in their lessons. Whilst this can be fun in a full class, for a 5 minute demo lesson I would advise against it. Cultural differences, or a lack of awareness may mean the recruiters don’t fully understand what you are talking about and explaining it would take too long.
Don’t talk too much.
Many training manuals on English teaching have vastly different ideas about the right level of TTT (Teacher Talk Time) in a lesson. However, in the 5 minute demo, it is very important that you give the students time to practice, as such I would strongly recommend that you do not talk for any more than 50% of the lesson.
At least half of the time should be spent allowing the students to practice and then do an activity. Make sure you also give clear feedback and correction where necessary. Often, one recruiter will take on the role of the slow, or mischievous student, to see how you react. How you handle this particular student could go a long way to determining if you get hired or not.
Do not use any Japanese during the demo.
Since we hope to work in a school in Japan, it is only natural that we may wish to show the recruiters that we have taken some time to learn the language. However, the demo lesson is NOT the time to do this. In some cases using Japanese during the demonstration lesson is considered an immediate fail.
In most cases, you will be asked to give a short self- introduction either directly before or after the demo lesson. This is when you can show off your linguistic talents. If, like me, you haven’t yet reached the level where you can confidently speak Japanese on the fly, you may wish to script this out beforehand.
These are just a few ways to improve your chances at an interview. Perhaps you may have better ideas. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
To all those interviewing this year I wish you good luck and happy hunting.