Teaching has enough inherently difficult hurdles to jump over without having to add communication issues into the mix. Unfortunately, as team teachers one of the biggest problems that may arise is one that will happen before you even utter a single syllable in class, and that problem is: poor communication. How effectively you communicate with your JTEs will determine how well you can both do your jobs. As members of a team, it is important that you maintain open lines of communication with each other, and provide enough information on your situation and expectations. Feedback is key.
The foundation for a good working relationship is communication. To communicate effectively we must be able to understand each other. When you first meet your team-teacher, try to establish a friendly relationship; they probably will be just as afraid of you as you are of them. After you’ve gotten off on the right foot, here are some things you may want to share with each other:
- Individual goals: What are each of your ideas, thoughts, etc. for the TT class?
- Team-teaching goals: What can you agree on, plan together, and compromise for the TT class?
- Each person’s overall role and expectations for the TT class.
- Goals for students: What you want your students to get from the TT? What are the goals set by the school?
You will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of how the class/school is run, what your role and responsibilities are, and how you can work together to make class productive. Remember that you will probably have to be the one who is seeking this information out. Every JTE and HRT is different, and you should make an effort to get to know each other in order to play off each others’ strengths. Proactivity is key: establishing a good relationship and making clear each others’ expectations and goals will prepare you for teaching together.
Once you have established a good foundation with your TT you want to make sure the lines of communication stay open should any issues arise. Make sure to ask for:
・Cellphone number ・Email ・School’s number
If possible try to get copy of the teacher’s schedule so you know when you can reach them. Make sure to ask your supervisor what to do in the event that you are sick, etc. You want to make sure you understand the procedures well, so that you don’t start off your relationship with any social faux pas.
The need to know
Here are a few things you should ask about in the first few meetings with your team-teacher or whoever is in charge at your school/BOE:
- Class schedule: how many classes per week, who will you teach with, etc.
- Regular schedule changes-if possible, get a copy of the yearly calendar
- Content: what level, who will prepare what, who will lead, etc.
- Other useful information or tips about working at the school
Sometimes things just don’t work out and communication fails. Remember that sometimes it will be up to you to get the ball rolling. In these times, try not to get upset, or feel like the world is against you. Try to stay optimistic and proactive. Sometimes we have to take a step back and look at how we can change our actions to alleviate the situation.
Communication Tips for Troubled Times
Be proactive: Initiate the conversations. Don’t wait to be approached. Don’t hope things will fix themselves. Be polite and try different avenues of communication. If direct contact is not possible, try email or leaving a note. If you are away, try calling your team-teacher from another school. Being polite is important, but don’t let your point get lost in the nice words
If you’re not sure about something ask.
Use all available time to keep on the same page and give feedback. Talk to you TT before, during, or after class. Sometimes even a quick question can make a difference.
Make suggestions in a form of a question, e.g. “What if we…” “Do you think we could…” “What about if we…” “Have you noticed…” or make indirect suggestions or bring up issues by beating around the bush, for example, “I wonder if the boys would be more quiet it if we separated them,” or “So-and-so kun is always reading in class. I wonder why he’s always reading. Does he read in all his classes?”
Make a friend. Someone you can rely on to tell you about changes, events, cleaning days, etc.
Don’t under estimate the power of social niceties. When you are at an enkai go over and poor someone a drink. Be humble and approachable. By subscribing to the social norms you are showing your willingness to a get along in that culture. Also, don’t underestimate the power that omiyage can have on people. If you have trouble with a coworker, bring them a nice treat next time you go on vacation. They are socially obligated to at least ask about your trip, which can be your foot in the door.
Don’t just listen to what is being said, listen to how it is being said. Often times, Japanese suggestions or requests are coded into questions or seemingly irrelevant dialogue, e.g. “Oh, you have a nose ring.” Translation: You should avoid wearing your nose ring at school. “You must be very sleepy today.” Translation: Be sure to be here on time next time. “Aren’t you busy now?” Translation: Get off of Facebook.
Starting off on the right foot and maintaining active and positive communication with your JTEs can not only make your work easier, it can start relationships that extend beyond school. You may often find yourself outside your comfort zone, but pushing yourself to new limits is part of the reason you’re here, after all! An ALT’s job description is flexible enough that you will most certainly get out of it what you put in. As with any job there is a learning curve, but there is ample opportunity for fulfillment and growth.