Who should I ask? Getting information in the teachers’ room.

Article by: Emily

As an ALT, your supervisor is your first point of contact for a lot of questions at school. However, sometimes your supervisor may be occupied with their other work, or may not be the person who has the information you need. Here are some profiles of people at school you can ask for help when your supervisor is busy, or just doesn’t know the answer.

Next-Door Neighbor Sensei
The teachers sitting near you, whether they’re right next to you or at desks nearby, can be good people to ask quick questions about things like the school schedule and events. Try asking the teachers near you about what happened during the morning meeting, or where everyone’s going then they leave the teachers’ room. Your “neighbor teachers” may not speak English, but you can get pretty far with some simple Japanese, a smile, and occasional shared snacks!
Tech Wiz Sensei
It’s good to find out which teacher is in charge of technology at your school, for times when your computer’s not working, or you really want to figure out if there’s a way to use PowerPoint in class. Technology teacher(s) are often marked with 情報(jyouhou) kanji on the teachers’ room seating chart You may also notice that other teachers always come to them when the printers and copiers get cranky.
Homeroom Sensei
The homeroom teachers of classes you teach can be good sources of information if you have particular students who are acting up or are hard to reach in class. They usually have more information about students’ family situations and performance in other classes, and they may be able to help you speak to the student if things get too hard to handle on your own.
Kyomu and Kyoto-sensei
Your school’s head teacher(教務の先生 kyoumu no sensei) and Vice Principal(教頭先生 Kyoto-sensei) can be helpful if you have questions about logistical matters like business trip paperwork,taking nenkyuu, or filling out the attendance book. While they are also very busy, they field questions of this kind from Japanese teachers as well, so they probably won’t be thrown off by your question. Just make sure that you also speak to your supervisor AND team teachers directly about business trips and nenkyuu, even if you’ve already filled out the paperwork with kyoto-sensei!
Other English Teachers
Other English teachers at your school, especially those close to you in age or gender, can be good people to help with delicate cultural or personal questions once you get to know them. As English teachers, they’re the most likely to know relevant information about your job as an ALT. Some may have been supervisors in the past or at other schools, so they may know answers to questions about ALT protocol if your supervisor doesn’t. They may also be able to help you talk to any of the people above if you’re struggling with the language barrier.
Literally Anyone
For better or worse, when you’re in a foreign country, every local knows more than you do. Even if the person you talk to first doesn’t have the answer, they can probably help you get one step closer to someone who does. It’s better to take the long road to the answer than to sit in silence wondering about things, so ask around! You never know what you might find out.

Who do you ask for help when you have a question at your school? Post your suggestions in the comments below or on the facebook thread!

Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #020


When having conversations with your students (or even your JTEs), how often do you correct any perceived mistakes in their speech, without them asking for it? I know it depends so can you provide examples of situations or specific students? For example, grammar mistakes or word choice. In-class or outside class. Long or short conversations. High or low level students. Etc.


Answered by: Emily

It can be hard to know how to give feedback on students’ or teachers’ use of English, especially if they haven’t asked you for it directly. Feedback is essential to learning a foreign language, but so is output. Continue reading

Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #019


My JTE friend is complaining to me about another ALT they work with. I want to help. What should I do?


Answered by: Emily

It’s too bad that you’re getting stuck in the middle of a conflict between another JTE and ALT. It sounds like the JTE came to you as a friend, so it’s understandable that you want to help, but getting in the middle of another ALT and JTE’s relationship is likely to cause more harm than good. Continue reading

Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #018


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?



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. Continue reading

Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #017


I want to find a Japanese conversation partner around my age (20s), but it seems like the best places to meet locals near me are at bars. I don’t like drinking and don’t really socialize well in that atmosphere. Where are some other places I could try to meet Japanese people around my age?


Answered by: Emily

It can be hard meet people your own age in a foreign country, especially if you’re located in a rural area, but rest assured that you don’t need to visit bars to make Japanese friends if you’re not comfortable with that. Here are some other places to look for conversation partners and Japanese friends

–  Your City Hall or Continuing Education Center – Many City Halls and Continuing Education Centers keep lists of local clubs and special interest groups. Joining a local club in your area of interest (a chorus, basketball circle, etc) can be a good way to meet people who share your interests. Many towns also hold a Japanese class. Such classes can be a way to meet Japanese learners from many different countries and backgrounds, and practice speaking with someone who also wants to improve their Japanese.

–  Local University Bulletin Boards – Local Universities like Tsukuba University bulletin boards where many people, including non-students, post fliers and requests for conversation partners. You can look at the boards to see who else is looking for a partner, or post your own flyer, specifying that you’d like to speak with someone of the same age or gender. It may be a bit of a hike if you’re located in a small town, but can be a good resource if you’re willing to make the trip.

– Your Workplace –  It can sometimes be difficult to approach coworkers during the workday, but if you’re willing to reach out and make plans outside of school time your social circle can widen. Take advantage of testing periods at school to invite teachers outside the English department to lunch. You can also take the initiative and invite a few coworkers along to a local summer festival, concert or cultural event.

– Homestay Programs – the Ibaraki International Association coordinates a homestay program every year in September, which can be a good chance to meet a local family and make new friends. Email Ludo at cir.ludovic@gmail.com for more information.

You also might want to take a look at Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #007 for some related advice!


Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #016


I would like a letter of recommendation for future employers. What is the best way to go about this?


Answered by: Cassi

Since you’ve spent at least a year here, it makes sense that your future employers would want a letter explaining your work in Japan. Recommendation letters are not a common component of job applications in Japan, so you’ll need to explain clearly to your Continue reading

Joso Flood Personal Recount

As you are likely aware, parts of western Ibaraki, particularly the city of Joso, were greatly affected by the heavy rain and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Etau in September. Many people lost their homes, and are still living in evacuation centres and temporary housing. Three people lost their lives.

Japan is a country that sees its fair share of natural disasters, from earthquakes and tsunamis to typhoons and floods. It’s important to be prepared as these can strike at any time. Do you know where your nearest evacuation centre is? Do you have insurance against fires and earthquakes for your personal belongings? Do you have an emergency kit? Do you know who to call on the phone tree?

Armand Cuevas, a first year ALT living in Joso City, wrote about his experiences during the flood on his blog. You can read his personal recount here.

Ask Ibaraki JET PAs #014


Some of my team teachers always insist I plan lessons. I feel they do
not contribute to the lesson and after each lesson criticize the
activity. What can I do to prevent this from happening in the future?


Answered by: Emily

It seems like the problem you’ve mentioned is actually two separate
but related problems. One is that your JTEs don’t contribute to the
lessons. The other is that they criticize your activities after the
lesson. Continue reading

Debating with Mr. Paxton

Debating with Mr.Paxton

Article and Interview by: Randy Guevara

Last year I had the opportunity to work on the Ibaraki Debate Committee. It was a rewarding experience that broadened my perspective as my role of ALT. Guiding students to have intellectual discussions in a second language is quite fulfilling and the involvement expanded my knowledge of HEnDA (All Japanese High School Debate Association) topics like Japan’s rice tariffs and nuclear energy plans. Based on my experience, I want bring light to the popular club activity.

There are several high schools in Ibaraki designated as “Debate Challenge” schools. At these schools, students and teachers use debate as a tool to learn English. Over the past few years, the following schools have attended debate workshops, practice matches, and tournaments: Takezono, Mito 1st, Namiki Secondary, Hitachi Ota 1st, Hitachi 1st, Midorioka, Shimotsuma 1st, Koga 3rd, Tsuchuira 3rd, Ryugasaki 1st, Mito 2nd, and Shimodate 1st. Exactly which schools can shift year-to-year based on student interest, but it is fair to say there is a community building.

A large reason Ibaraki has the HS debate culture it does is because of the efforts from Mr. Paxton of Takezono High School. He, along with many English teachers on the committee, organize workshops and tournaments throughout the year to provide a forum for the students to practice their skills.

I gathered a few questions from current ALTS and asked them to Mr. Paxton. Here are his responses:

1.    How did you become so passionate about debate?

My passion for debate began when I was in middle school (Year 8). I continued debating throughout secondary and tertiary education. In university, I coached and judged debate at various levels. I first fell in love with debate during match preparation when my teammates and I felt the excitement of preparing arguments and data, and subsequently considering how to articulate the information we had. At the time, I also had a misguided, youthful belief that truth could be found through logical examination of issues. As such, I loved the idea that debaters could be logical “protectors” fighting for truth.

2.    What should Ibaraki ALTs know about high school debate?

The first things ALTs need to realize are 1) debate is one of the best ways to master a first or second language, and 2) debate is a difficult skill that is not natural to all people. The mistake that I often hear from people when they first encounter debate is that they say, “I love arguing with people. I will love teaching debate.” Conflating the words “arguing” and “debating” is a common mistake. This is why debate has a negative connotation for some people. They believe that debate is fighting or arguing with an opposition team. In fact, debate is about argumentation, criticism & analysis, and communication skills. It is not a game of boasting, chest-thumping, or unsubstantiated rhetoric. In short, I would advise ALTs to throw away their presumptions about debate and, if your school has experienced debate teachers, learn from the quality debate instructors we have here in Ibaraki. If your school’s English teachers are not experienced in debate or lack confidence, I recommend that you teach yourself debate for the reasons that I outline in Question 5.

3. At what English level should a student be to enjoy participating in debate workshops and tournaments?

This is a difficult question because no two students are the same. A high-level English student may have a negative experience of debate because even though he has the ability to communicate, he did not apply himself to the activity. If he does not feel that he gains anything and loses the matches, he will not “enjoy” the experience. On the other hand, a student with low-level English ability may find that she “enjoys” debate matches because even though she feels intimidated and frustrated through some parts of the process, she feels an immense sense of skill attainment, benefit, and “enjoyment.”

Whether students can “enjoy” debate depends on two key factors: 1) a student’s character, and 2) (most importantly) a teacher’s ability to create a positive space in which a student can acquire skills regardless of their level.

There are many elementary schools in Japan that introduce simple English debate about “dogs and cats” and other easy topics, so I think that any student can enjoy debate.

I also strongly recommend schools and ALTs to get involved in debate tournaments and competitive debate because the best way to learn how to teach debate in the classroom is to coach debate at a club or tournament level.

4. How would you describe your teaching approach to debate?

I would describe my approach as passionate but mostly I would say that it is student-centered. Debaters cannot debate received wisdom. They must generate argument and research themselves. This is one of the most exciting aspects of debate.

5. What do you think are the benefits of teaching debate?

This is the most dangerous question to ask me because my answer is liable to cover several pages. Of course, debate gives research skills, team skills, skills in civic democracy, leadership skills, confidence, and logical skills. However, I want to focus on what I see as the three most important benefits of debate.

The first is that the activity is real. It is authentic. It is not a collection of arbitrary sentences designed to teach a grammar point. This factor combined with the student-centered nature of the activity means that students become motivated to study in a way that can be seen in very few educational activities. If you want your students to fall in love with “learning,” debate is one of the quickest and efficient ways to achieve that goal.

Secondly, the time restriction of English debate matches forces students to think in English. Thinking about the target language in the mother language is one of the most significant barriers to second language acquisition. A student will never gain true proficiency until they begin to conceptualize in the target language. Because debate is a game, students do not consciously realize that they make this important transition. That is why using a language game like debate is so effective in improving language skills.

The third benefit is for teachers. In the information age, we find ourselves becoming more and more limited or specialized in our knowledge. Debate, and in particular the policy debate format popular in Ibaraki, forces teachers to research topic areas that they are likely not familiar with. This is one of the parts of debate that I love. Every time a debate topic changes, I get to study deeply in a new field of research. What’s more, I get to share this adventure with my students.

6. What obstacles have you encountered teaching debate?

The greatest obstacle that I encounter is negativity. That negativity can manifest itself in the negativity of Japanese teachers, the negativity of students, or the negativity of ALTs who do not fully appreciate the benefits that students can get or who feel overwhelmed by teaching a new discipline. My advice would be to sympathize with the negativity of some people in our community while simultaneously smashing that negativity with proactive leadership and positivity.

If any teachers have any questions about teaching debate, or would like any further reading about debate or a specific debate topic, please email me anytime at anthony_paxton@hotmail.com