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Adapting to Your School

For some people, teaching English in Japan is their first time as a teacher. Others are established teachers in their home countries who come to Japan for a new experience. If you are a teacher in your home country, you have a huge advantage due to your experience and familiarity with classroom management and teaching theory.

There can be challenges, however, in adapting to Japanese school life and balancing English instruction between native and non-native staff.

One of the first challenges teachers face that we often hear about is a lack of power in the classroom. Particularly for those who take an ALT position, it can be jarring to go from having control over your class to being monitored and regulated like a student teacher or worse, treated as an English-spouting tape recorder - yes it still happens in 2022!

Even if you are solo teaching, there can be limits on what you are allowed to do. We have also had teachers reporting being frustrated with the amount of observation and “babysitting” that goes on at their schools - having other teachers go back and question their grading practices or questioning student progress.

If this is the case in your school, there are some strategies for dealing with it. First, realise that in most cases the lack of responsibility or overly-enthusiastic supervision is not a reflection on your performance or ability in particular. It may be a habit the school has gotten into to deal with a revolving stream of teachers and will change as you continue at the school. In the event it doesn’t change however, it can be helpful to meet with your co-teachers and try and resolve the issue.

If your problem is that you are an ALT who is only being used as a tape recorder, try and go to the teacher in charge with some lesson/activity ideas in hand. Approach them delicately and do not sound accusing. The soudan (相談・consultation) should focus on getting the students more involved and making the classes 'better'.

You can even start small, asking to be in charge of warm-up/cool-down activities or suggest alternating between drill-based lesson weeks and activity-based lesson weeks.

Think about things from the Japanese teachers’ point of view. Are they afraid students won’t understand the activities? Afraid of using English organically because they are embarrassed? Or do they just not want to waste time that could be used prepping for exams? If you can figure out what is concerning them, you can be prepared to address these issues and gain more responsibility.

If you are a solo teacher who is tired of being constantly judged for your teaching methods, it can be more difficult. In almost all cases this will improve with time, and in the meanwhile you can gain respect at your school by explaining things clearly when questioned, actively listening to colleagues’ suggestions, and demonstrating your teaching abilities.

For our teachers, EduCareer provides consulting and support if problems continue, or if you feel you need someone else to discuss the issue with your school.

Best of luck for this academic year!

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