Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #018

Question:

This is going to sound like a humble-brag but it’s a serious question.

I’m hitting a stride in my teaching, to the point where students cheer when they see I’m leading class and shout things like “I love you!”. They often ask my teachers, “Is today (ALT name)’s class?/今日は(ALT name)じゃないの?”. It’s to the point where the JTEs say to me things like:

“My students are never that excited in my class…”

“Wow, they never do X in my class like in your class (X being things like use their dictionaries, etc)”

“My students are always looking forward to your class! Not so much mine…”

“The students were better than usual in your class!”

It sounds a good thing for me as the ALT, but I think it’s extremely problematic. I’m only in the classroom maybe a few times a month, while the JTE is in the classroom a majority of the time. I also understand that it is partly because ALTs don’t come as often, so there is a novelty factor as well. Regardless, this doesn’t feel sustainable and, along with helping students with English, we should also be supporting the JTEs who are the main teachers, and not making them look bad or boring. There’s no discernible ill-will/jealousy between me and my JTEs either, but I definitely don’t feel like amazing support either. At the same time, I don’t want to “make my classes worse” either. What do you and everybody else think?

 

Answer:

Answered by: Emily

Don’t worry that it sounds like a humble brag. It’s great that you’re hitting a stride with teaching and the students enjoy your lessons, and even better that your JTEs are happy with the students’ work. There’s an extent to which the ALT/JTE system produces problems like the one you’re describing, and that’s not your fault. As you said, the JTEs see the students almost every day, prepare them for tests, etc. Without generalizing too much, they may also feel pressure to adhere to a specific lesson format, which may limit the students’ opportunities to participate in the lesson and practice active skills. In that system, ALT lessons often serve a purpose that is different, but important. You shouldn’t feel pressured to change the Japanese educational system, nor to throw out strategies that are working for you.

It also sounds like you’ve showed your JTEs some new educational techniques, which is a kind of grassroots internationalization. Although it may be uncomfortable for them right now, exposure to different teaching styles is a useful thing for any teacher. If even one of your JTEs is able to incorporate one of your tools into their own lesson sometime in the future, you’ll have left them something valuable. (After all, often the activities we come up with as ALTs are similar to ones we’ve experienced as students. It’s hard to imagine how an activity works until you’ve seen it, and you’re giving your JTEs chance to do that.)

All that said, your question about how to be effective support for your JTEs is an important one, and something that many ALTs struggle with. Figuring out how to work together presents a whole other set challenges, separate from the “ALT Learning Curve” of creating activities and being in the classroom. While we are sharing (and, for many of us, maybe understanding for the first time) the educational tools we grew up with, part of our job here is also to understand the Japanese educational system as best we can, and to use the our “ALT Tools” to support the JTEs’ actual goals for the students.

Ideally, one of the goals of team-teaching is to erase the “my lesson – your lesson” dynamic – to have the ALT and the JTE contribute equally to a lesson that both achieves the JTE’s educational goals and incorporates the ALT’s skills and creativity.  In reality, variations in available planning time, communication barriers, etc, create a broad range of situations with respect to team teaching balance. The question then becomes how each team member can make a valuable contribution to planning and teaching the lesson, even at the extreme ends of the “TT Balance” spectrum:

Say you’re T1, an ALT Rockstar, and students and teachers love everything you do. Even then, what contribution can a JTE make that will improve or enhance the class? If you’re T2, what’s the minimum contribution you need to make in order to know your presence is necessary? What kinds of contributions do you prefer to make? Prefer not to make? Why? What about your JTEs? These are a million questions with a million answers, but understanding what your team members prefer to contribute and can contribute well is an important part of being a “supportive” teammate, and a supportive ALT. What do people think about these things?

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