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What to Expect as an ALT in Japan

Here are the basics on what you can expect when you come to work in Japan as an ALT.

By 4 min read

Japan is an alluring country to people from all over the world, chances are if you’re reading GaijinPot actively you’re either living in Japan or looking to live in Japan. The reality is unless you’re fluent in Japanese the best method to achieve this goal is to either participate in a study abroad program or if you’re thinking of staying long term, work as an ALT.

The ALT job description can be broad depending on what organization you’re looking to be contracted with, however, there are some aspects of the job that are universal. So here are a few aspects of ALT life that you should become familiar with before coming to Japan.

Be prepared for your life to change

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The key to adjusting quickly is to learn more about the culture, language and finding hobbies.

It sounds obvious to state that moving to a different country will change your life, but your life will change in almost every way, and that can be a jarring process, particularly if you’re an ALT.

This issue is more pronounced in the countryside or small city placements. However, even without the extreme isolation of small-town life, adapting to a new environment, culture and language can exacerbate pre-existing issues with your mental state. When it comes to adjusting to this aspect of ALT life is to prepare yourself mentally for the worst, get comfortable in your accommodation quickly so that it can be a safe space, and start looking for new hobbies that keep you social every week.

While you may get your dream placement and find adjusting to life here easy, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

The work

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Be aware of your job scope to ensure you and your co-teachers recognize your place in the classroom.

An ALTs work responsibilities will vary from school to school depending on thousands of pre-existing factors. Some of these include:

  • How much work your predecessor did
  • The English abilities of your Home Room Teachers
  • The expectations of your Vice-Principal
  • What level of school you’re teaching at
  • What your contract stipulates

As an ALT, however, my contract specified my duties fairly explicitly. I participate in four classes a day one week and five classes a day the next week always in tandem with a homeroom teacher.

Homeroom teachers do all lesson planning, lead the lessons and ensure the kids understand the activities I lead to create a more cohesive learning environment.

Occasionally a homeroom teacher will ask me to prepare activities for classes, however, I’m not contractually obliged to do any lesson planning. It’s made clear in our contract that we can take a more active role in leading classes and planning if we’d like but must always be teaching with a homeroom teacher present.

That being said, there are many horror stories out there of ALTs being overworked, so always make sure you understand your contract and ensure you and your teachers recognize your place in the classroom.

The pay

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Budgeting is a must.

The average pay for an ALT is between ¥220,000 and ¥280,000 a month depending on the location. While this may seem like a decent salary, rent in Tokyo will take up a large portion of your salary, making budgeting a must. On the other hand, living in the countryside you’ll be able to save money easily, but this can come with issues as opportunities for entertainment and travel drop significantly.

Transport becomes more expensive the further away from the main cities you get. It’s best to have a plan in mind for your time here to prioritize experiences that you value and budget for them accordingly.

Use your desk warming time

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For ALTs looking to learn Japanese, most schools will let you study while you’re not teaching classes.

Desk warming is a commonly used phrase in the ALT community where, depending on your responsibilities at your school, you may have a few hours every day sitting in your English room or staff room with nothing to do.

This is another opportunity to evaluate what you want to get out of your time as an ALT. ALTs with a background in teaching look to pad their education portfolios with lesson plans for the weeks ahead. For ALTs looking to learn Japanese, most schools will let you study while you’re not teaching classes.

It’s important to remember that while you’re not technically part of the teaching staff (ALTs are classified as support staff and civil servants), you can participate in activities and help with odd jobs around the school. This can ingratiate you with the teachers and the students alike.

Local newsletters look to help aspiring photographers build their portfolios, or you can look for other freelance work in Japan.

So that’s what you can expect when you work in Japan as an ALT.

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