Quick Tips for Your First Day as an ALT in Japan, Part 2

Each public school in Japan has its own unique routines with students and expectations of teachers. If you’re new to teaching in a Japanese school, learning these idiosyncrasies on the first day can make the rest of the term a breeze.

By 5 min read

So, you’ve managed to get through the first half of your day as an assistant language teacher, but you’re not done yet. Time to roll up your sleeves and finish the day strong.

Since Japanese schools can often be more particular in their routines than your home country — and because you might not always get clear and simple directions — for part eight of A Little Training for ALTs, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on what you can expect from your break to the final bell on your first as an ALT in Japan

Lunchtime is fun time

For many ALTs, lunch time is considered the best part of the day. Not only is it a chance to sit down and relax with your students, but it is also an opportunity for cultural exchange. If you didn’t have time to make a lunch, school lunches are a great and inexpensive way to experience the cuisine of Japan.

A typical meal might include: agepan (deep-fried bread), natto (fermented soybeans), tonjiru (pork miso soup), and horenso no ohitashi (spinach) are just a few of the many things that you may get to try while at your school.

In general, each school may have its own way of doing things, so pay careful attention to find out what that the particular routines and activities are. A school may have a schedule for what class you will be joining for lunch. At some schools, you may not have to rely on it, because a student or two will most likely lead you up to their classroom.

Make sure before you are led or leave the teacher’s room you bring your ohashi, or chopsticks. When you arrive in the classroom, please make sure to greet the teacher and then the class. They might still be preparing lunch, so try to not get in the way. You will eventually be shown to where you will be sitting during lunch with the other students. Greet the students you will be sitting with and be as friendly as you can be. Each school will begin lunch with an itadakimasu (expression of gratitude before meals) and then finish it with a gochisou sama desu (“thanks for the meal”).

Make sure you know the rules of the room. Many classes play janken (rock, paper, scissors) for extra food. After lunch, some schools don’t go out directly for recess, but instead, take the time to clean the school.

Squeaky clean

One thing that you will notice is the absence or custodial workers in the school. In most cases, Japanese public schools prefer to leave the duty of cleaning to the students. Cleaning time can occur either before or after recess. In Japanese life, the main goal is for students to develop a sense of responsibility through performing required tasks. By cleaning up after themselves, students have the chance to cultivate an environment of respect for their school and cooperation by working together.

Schools tend to look positively on ALTs who are willing to interact with the kids in fun games and activities.

Students generally have a designated area to clean. You may or may not be asked to join. Even if you’re not asked, help out anyway. Cleaning allows you to make yourself useful and feel like a part of the school through your own contributions. This time can also provide an opportunity to bond with your kids. While it is not necessary for students to scrub the school from top to bottom, what’s most important is for students to understand the value in taking the initiative to accomplish something on their own. After cleaning, kids are given time to go out and enjoy themselves for a brief recess.

Time to play

Recess is the most thrilling part of the day for the kids. Freezing cold or blistering heat, you will see your students running all over happy to get up and out and stretch their legs after being inside in classes. As an ALT, recess is yet another way to build a connection with the children. Schools tend to look positively on ALTs who are willing to interact with the kids in fun games and activities. It would be a good idea to have a change of clothes and tennis shoes to run around in. So get out there, and enjoy yourself!

Finish up strong

In the afternoon, there are a few lessons remaining. Don’t forget to check the time schedule to remind yourself of the start and finish times of classes, as sometimes class times will change or be modified. Before class starts, take the time to get your materials ready. If you need to make any additional copies of handouts, try your best to beat the other teachers to the copier before everyone starts rushing to make their copies before the chime rings. If there are no classes on your schedule for the afternoon, use this as a chance to explore the school.

Before you leave for the day

Once your day has come to a close, just as you greeted everyone first thing in the morning, it’s imperative that you say goodbye to everyone as you leave. The most important people to greet are the head staff, i.e. the principal, vice-principal and assistant vice-principal. At least one of these individuals needs to know that you are leaving to prevent any confusion in regard to where you are.

On your way out, be sure to say goodbye to the teachers remaining in the teacher’s room and those you pass by. In Japanese, they say, “Osaki ni shitsureshimasu” (“Sorry for leaving before you”). Don’t forget to say goodbye to your students, as well. Remember to get any documents signed or stamped before you leave such as a monthly report. You can ask the vice-principal for their hanko (personal seal) by saying, “Hanko wo kudasai” (“Your stamp, please”). Take the time to tidy up your desk. A messy desk will reflect badly on you and in addition, other incoming staff may use it. So, do your best to keep things organized and cleared up.

Now that you have made it through your first day, you can take a deep breath in and exhale out. As the days pass, you will begin to feel yourself becoming more and more confident in your work as an ALT. Good luck!

If you have any tips for first-time ALTs or have a question about being an ALT in Japan yourself, please leave them in the comments!

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  • Darren Van Veelen says:

    No wonder the the ALT industry is in the state it is in. It’s so wonderful and rosy when the writer of this article is a recruiter; and an ill reputed one at best. Typical of any business in Japan: do what we want and how we want and you’ll fit in with what we are; no exceptions! Heaven forbid there be any transparency or truth in regards to conditions of contract, payment of transport, abuse of labor/contract, etc.



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