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Quick Tips for Your First Day as an ALT in Japan

Don't forget those indoor shoes! An ALT's first steps into their new school are some of the most important. Here's how to make a great first impression.

By 5 min read

You’ve got your suit ready, your lunch packed and your route all mapped out: You’re ready to start your new job in Japan as an assistant language teacher (ALT). The first day at your school is a chance to ensure you make a great first impression. In Part 7 of A Little Training for ALTs, let’s prepare for the major parts of your first day so you can walk through those school gates smiling because you’ll be confident and ready to roll.

The first steps

After planning your route carefully and arriving 10-15 minutes early, you should be at your new school. Nerves are inevitable, but you’re not alone. An entire school of teachers and students are just as anxious to meet you, as well.

Many new ALTs overlook this, but your first steps into a school are of utter importance. Why you may ask? Because in Japan, some places require you to take your shoes off in a designated area. As a new ALT — as well as guest — you must follow suit to make a good first impression.

Before your first day, you should have been introduced to your schools and received a basic layout of where things like your shoe locker, the bathroom and the teachers’ room are located. So please remember to go to the designated areas for teachers, because the students have their own section, and in most cases, they usually stick to their own sides.

During training your company should have told you to bring your own indoor shoes to school. Take off your outdoor shoes before stepping on the indoor carpet or mat. Place them in your designated locker. Then place your indoor shoes on the indoor carpet and put them on.

Navigate the teachers’ office

When you open the door to the teacher room, take a deep breath and in a loud, but not disrupting manner, greet the room with an, “Ohayo gozaimasu (good morning)!” The “good morning” is important because it shows your confidence level and it can even boost your own morale. Use it to your advantage and allow it to start you on a strong path for the rest of your first day.

After your first “good morning” greeting, make sure you take the time for more personal “good mornings” to the VIPs at school. That would be the principal, vice-principal, secretary and head teacher, who usually sit at one side of the room. We recommend always entering the teachers’ room from the door nearest to them. It’s important for them to know that you’ve arrived in the morning. One of them will be reporting to your company if you are late or if they didn’t see you.

After you greet the VIPs, head to your desk while greeting some teachers that might not have heard you or been preoccupied. Once you’ve reached your desk, the plunge is over — now you have to watch out for the double take.

The morning meeting and self-introduction

After getting to your desk, acquaint yourself with your surroundings. See if the previous ALT left any notes or materials. You may not have enough time to properly search now, but you will later. In most schools, there will be a morning meeting.

If your Japanese is rudimentary, don’t worry. Try to pay attention as much as you can even though you may not be able to understand most of it. The morning meetings usually consist of the vice-principal and sometimes the principal stating the day’s events followed by teachers who run certain clubs and their plans. It’s a good idea to have someone explain to you if the day’s schedule will affect any classes you have that day.

At one point the vice principal will say your name, and that’s your cue to do an introduction.

If your Japanese level is good, the morning meetings are a good way to find out about the inner workings of a school, as well as any fun events that may be coming up. So, try to take in as much as you can. At one point the vice principal will say your name, and that’s your cue to do an introduction.

During training, you were told that on your first day you would have to properly greet everyone and give a short intro. In the articles before this we provided you with some easy Japanese phrases that could be used in such an introduction. Be brief. Your name, where you’re from and two to three hobbies should be fine at this point.  The teachers are excited to meet you as well, but please keep in mind that they are also busy in the morning preparing for their own lessons and the day ahead. That’s it for now — all that’s left is reconnaissance.

Dive right in

The meeting is over and your first class will soon begin. The head teacher or the teacher you will be working with in the classroom will provide you with a schedule for the week. This will show you which classes you will be attending for the week ahead and when.

As for your first lesson, our previous installment went into detail about how to prepare, as well as what steps to ensure that your first time in the classroom goes well. Use the time between classes to review and prepare for your next or later lessons. Also, use this time to see exactly what materials you have to work with. Some schools have more materials than others, so it’s good to know what you have. Look around your desk or ask the English teacher for any materials that may be available.

After you know what you have, get to know your school during your free time. Walk around the building and acknowledge your students. You’ll all be together for the next school year, so use the time wisely. These first steps into your school and classroom mark the start of your life as an official ALT. Congratulations!

Are you an ALT with some advice to give the newbies? Let us know in the comments!

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