Easing into the School Year

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Whether you’re a brand new ALT starting your school year in August or a re-contracting ALT starting anew in April, you should treat the down time you have as an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming term and cultivate relationships with your new colleagues.

Network with the new teachers

At this point, if you have not introduced yourself to the all of the teachers at your school, you should do that. Especially if the teachers are either administration or teachers with whom you will be directly working.

Non-JTEs will speak at least some English, but they may be reluctant to do so and they’ll likely appreciate it if you make the effort in Japanese.

はじめまして (hajimemashite): Nice to meet you!

_____と言います (______to iimasu): My name is _________.

ALTです。 (ei eru ti desu): I’m the ALT.

週___回この学校に来ます。(Shuu   (number of days)   kai kono gakkou ni kimasu): I come to this school ____ times per week.

よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegaishimasu): I look forward to working with you!

You may be asked questions about your background, including history, country of origin, where you live, etc. Don’t give it all away at once–leave some room for later conversations! Give contact info to your JTEs or other teachers you plan to work closely with. You might consider making business cards, but really a post-it note teachers can put on their desk will suffice.

Enkai’s (drinking parties)

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It’s important to attend the farewell enkai/drinking party (the last chance you may have to see teachers you’ve worked with all year!) as well as the welcome enkai for new staff. For newcomers, you may be asked to attend the Sports Day or Culture Festival enkai’s. You can not only show that you are NOT an island off on your own, but that you are a nice person. You can also get a feel for what they are like – and how they drink! You will be surprised at just how different some teachers\staff members will be outside of work hours!

Don’t be afraid to bring in little gifts to break up the tension when an enkai is nowhere in sight. It’s certainly not your responsibility, but if you like to bake or go on a trip somewhere you can show that you were thinking of your fellow teachers.

Think Ahead!

If you have more than one school, this is the time to coordinate your schedules. Some ALTs have more freedom in scheduling than others. Use the master calendars provided (if you don’t have one then ask for one), and make sure you know the major events for the year. Things like daikyu and school festivals will be important to coordinate between schools.

If you operate under a curriculum that you’re responsible for, the beginning of the year is the time to do it. Some schools plan it, some schools don’t. At the very least, get an idea for what you’ll be teaching when, keeping in mind what might be going on in English classes you’re not responsible for.

If you are working from a previous curriculum, consider what worked well and what didn’t. (Too hard, too boring, too useless, whatever). In general there are two types of curricula:

Short Term

Also called “1-year”. Good for ALTs who might not be around much longer.

Positives:

  • Easier to plan.
  • Reinforces knowledge.

Negatives:

  • Boring for the kids. Especially if it covers material they had last year.
  • Limited in Scope. You can only teach so many topics.
  • Doesn’t account for varying interests of different ages.
  • Might be hard for the ALT to adapt between grades.

Basically, you teach the same topics across the grades, reworking them slightly to make them easier or more difficult for different grades. This is good because it requires a minimum of lesson material preparation. It’s incredibly repetitive, which might make your job less fun, and the kids will be turned off if they feel they already learned this. Another big minus is that it limits the topics you can teach in a given year and that the kids learn.

Long Term

Also called “vertically integrated” or “multi-year”. Good for ALTs who will think they will be at the same schools for a good while.

Positives

  • Interesting for you and for the kids because it doesn’t repeat very much.
  • Wide in scope: you can teach many subjects.
  • Works well for schools with lots of siblings: older sibs can teach their younger brother/sister English, too!
  • Considers the students’ ages and levels.
  • Easier for the ALT to keep track of who was taught what: lessons don’t have to be modified as much.

Negatives

  • May not offer enough review.
  • More involved planning and preparation since (in a given year) you don’t repeat.
  • Can get disrupted–if you schools change or your school changes how teach English. But pays off the following year(s).

Each grade (or maybe two grades) are taught the same topics. That way, the learn certain things at certain points in their elementary school tenures. It also allows you to work on more complex or abstract topics or projects for the older students and use simpler concepts (“hello/goodbye!”) for younger students. MEXT emphasizes the differences in kids’ development, which is in line with this style of curriculum.

The biggest problem is that if another ALT takes over or your schools change or if the school decides to use their own curriculum or discontinue English education for certain grades, those kids are left out in the cold. However, this is holistically a better option than simply teaching the same thing to each grade.

Work Ahead

It may be difficult to work far ahead, but consider making lesson plans in advance. Preparing materials can take some time, and the longer you have to think about a lesson the better you can make it. If you are using lessons you made in the past, you can think about how to improve them.

Aside from lesson planning, consider other projects: planning/making English boards, planning a skit, making a mailbox for your kids to write you with, designing fake money or “sticker passports”, writing small quizzes or talks for announcement time, etc.

Refresh

The other teachers do this in the days before they move the desks in the staffroom: get rid of unwanted items that have accumulated at your desk: old papers, books you don’t need, post-its, memos, old schedules – give everything a dusting.

If you want to reorganize your desk layout (by making a hutch for your laptop, adding a small bookshelf, etc) this is a good time to do it. If you are unhappy that your LAN cable is wonky, now’s the time to swipe a new one!

New ALTs will likely move into a desk space that is populated with years and years of ALT junk. Don’t be afraid to do some heavy cleaning and make the space your own.

Don’t Forget About Japanese

You’ll have a lot of down time, so don’t neglect your Japanese studies! If you’re looking at taking the JLPT, you have a few months to prepare for the July test, and more than half a year for the December test. Japanese study can also be a good conversation starter in the staff room.

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Fun Stuff

Now that you have the master calendar for the year, you can also figure out when you’re able to travel or go home. This allows you to not get into a rush to get all of your travel plans in at once, to request nenkyuu (leave) earlier, and to book flights while they are still cheap. At the very least, get an idea of when you want to take off and how much you will have saved up between vacations.

The Bottom Line

Use the time available at the beginning of the school year to invest heavily in both your work and personal life. This is the time for a fresh start, so make it count! If you prepare well enough in advance, you can avoid problems in the future.

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