JET Program Advice – How to Be a Great ALT

7 Essential Tips on How to Be a Great ALT – JET Program

Be chill and go with the flow meditation1.  Be Super Chill and Go with the Flow

This is the key to being happy at your workplace.  There will be many times where you won’t know what’s going on.  There will also be times where you’ll be asked to do a class or some other event right before it happens.  Or maybe you need to talk to a teacher who is never at their desk and you can’t find them.

If you freak out or get stressed easily, you will have a hard time working in the Japanese workplace.  So study meditation, do yoga, or smoke some weed (illegal in Japan, use at your own risk).  Just be sure you can find a way to adapt and not get stressed or worry every time something doesn’t go your way.


Have your Partners Back JET2.  Have Your Partner ‘s Back and Don’t Be A Super JET

Being chill is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT if you work with another ALT.  Some of the bigger schools have more than one ALT.

I know when you get to Japan, you are filled with excitement, anxiousness, enthusiasm.  You really want to do a good job and be an awesome ALT.  That is great.  You should do a good job because you could change a student’s life just by being their friend.

However, try not to be a “super JET” who jumps at the chance to do EVERYTHING. Things like going around to every teacher and asking them if they need any help (even though they aren’t doing anything), joining every club activity, staying late after school every day to hang out, etc.

I’m not saying it’s bad to join clubs or stay after your working hours.  Quite the contrary.  The staff would probably love you for it.  What I am saying is DON’T GO COMPLETELY OUT OF YOURWAY to make yourself look like a star OUTSIDE OF CLASS.  No one likes a goody two-shoes…especially other ALT’s.  You don’t want to make the JET you work with look like a lazy ass (even though they might be).  It is quite possible that they will ask the other ALT to start doing more too.  If that happens, the ALT you work with will probably want to donkey punch you to the chest.

I’m not saying be lazy either.  You were hired to teach English and build relationships with the kids.  Become a super ALT by making English fun for the kids, not by impressing teachers by baking them a cake and serving them coffee.


Japan Club Activities3.  Don’t Rush into Joining Club Activities

Speaking of club activities…

Many of you who have a passion for sports, academics, or brass band will probably have a chance to join a club at your school.  While each school is different, most schools have sports clubs, a science club, a brass band club, etc.

Joining a club will make you a lot closer to your students.


A word of advice.  Unless you really love the club you are in and can dedicate a lot of time to it, don’t jump in head first.  If you start going to your school’s soccer club every day, they will start to EXPECT YOU TO GO EVERYDAY.  If you miss a day, they will probably all ask you where you were, and to please come again.

The reasons why this sucks are:

  • Most of these clubs finish after you scheduled work hours, so you will be working more than an 8 hour day.
  • They usually have practice on the weekends, sometimes the whole day, even on Sunday.
  • They have competitions on the weekends, or even on National holidays, which they will want you to go to.
  • If you stay with JET for more than 1 year, the club members will want you to join again next year.
  • Once you are considered a member, you have social pressure to continue and not drop out.

This can take up a LOT of your free time.

But if you really want to join, I say go for it.  Just be sure to tell the students and coaches that you just want to check it out at first.  If you want to join them more often, say that you can only come every now and then, so they don’t expect you go be there every day.

I know many JETS who have become coaches of a club at their school.  While they spend a lot more time at school, they also have gotten closer to the students in their club.  However, if you want to enjoy other activities in Japan (or just want to chill after work like me) then take caution when joining a club at school.


Teacher Conflict4.  Problems with Teachers – Be like Gandhi

If you have a problem with a teacher, be open-minded and give them a chance.

I would say that the majority of JETs don’t have any problems with the teachers they work it. You will probably love the teachers you work with, or at the very least, have no problems working with them.

However, sometimes you can run into some small problems.  There are usually things like not being able to talk to the teacher (because they are so busy), your role in the classroom, not being informed of important events, etc.  These small problems can be solved purely by taking advice given at #1 of this list (be chill, go with the flow).

But in the rare occasion that you do run into a teacher who you bump heads with, just make sure you are bigger and stronger than they are.  That way if they piss you off, you know you can kick their ass…just joking.

If you do have a problem with a teacher, be the mature one at first.  Open your mind and see if you can try to do things the way the teacher wants it, even if it seems crazy.  Be like Ghandi and try to find the peaceful solution instead of getting angry.  These teachers know the students well, so they might have some valuable information for you.  Give it a try.  You might learn something that will make you a better teacher.

This of course doesn’t always happen.  I’ll be honest and say that some teachers are wrong and crazy.  If you try their suggestion and it fails, politely, but confidently give your teacher some suggestions.  Try to work on this problem together than have fun with it by seeing it as a challenge to overcome.

If you have a teacher who is totally stubborn or even hates you, try to be professional.  Do a good job in class, but if you don’t want anyt9ng to do with them outside of class, so be it. If it gets really bad and they don’t listen to a word you say, let your CIR or caretaker know.  They can help you find a solution.


Dont Ask Questions5.  Don’t Ask Questions You Don’t Want to Know the Answer To

I’m gonna play devil’s advocate and tell you something that your bosses doesn’t want to hear.

Let’s say you’re scheduled to work until 4:20pm every day.  You go to elementary school twice a week, where they make you do a lot of classes.  You finish at 3:15pm and have nothing to do but wait.  Sure, the correct thing to do is to wait until 4:20.  But you have nothing to do, and worse yet, no one tells you what to do or if it’s okay to leave.

Here’s what I say…. pack up your things and just go.

Your immediate supervisor at any school you go to is usually the vice principal.  Sometimes, they have no idea what time you are scheduled to work until.  Or they are just too busy to even care.  So instead of just sitting at your desk wiggling your thumbs, just leave.  Set the precedent.  If they get used to you leaving at 3:15, guess what?  They will come to expect you to leave at 3:15 because they think that is normal.

Of course, if you have a predecessor, ask them what time they came to work and left.  If you have a main school, it will be harder to do this since you see them more often.  But if you have a school you go to once a week, they probably see you as a guest rather than an employee, so they are usually more laid back with you.

I did have an elementary school vice principal tell me that I should leave at 4:20pm.  I went to that school once a week.  What did I do?  Left right after my last class at 2:45 pm anyway.  Every week.  I was never questioned about it

Now this is not to be an asshole or a rebel.  My elementary schools made me teach 6 classes (the whole day) by myself.  Sometimes the teacher wouldn’t even be there or slept in the back of the class.  So I figured since I was doing everything, I should be able to leave early.  All of the other ALT’s in my town did the same.

I made the mistake of asking one of my vice principals when I could go home one time.  Even though I could tell he wanted to let me go home, he hesitated and asked “well….what time do you have to be here until?”  I just shot myself in the foot.  If I just packed up my things and left, he would have been totally cool with that.

Of course, if you love your school and they treat you well, you don’t need, or want to leave early.  But if you have to “bend” the rules a little, you can always say that you’re new, and clam ignorance ;P  Use that excuse wisely, because you can only use it once.


Having Simple Conversations with Your Students6.  Don’t Expect to Have Deep Conversations with Your Kids in English

If you have never worked with Japanese students (elementary to high school) you might think that you can have a normal conversation in English with them.  You probably can’t.  At the elementary school level, the older kids (5th and 6th graders) might be able to understand questions like, “how are you?”  Or, “do you like_____?”  That’s about it.

In junior high they might know a little more, but you have to make your questions really, really simple.

Instead of asking, “what kind of music do you like?”  You should ask them, “do you like music?  What music do you like?  Do you like Japanese music?”

Yes, it is very simple English.  But most of your students in elementary and junior high school can only understand questions of this level.  Also use gestures and make it simple for the students to understand.


Greeting the Students7.  Greet the Students

It’s okay to not do any club activities with the students or go to events they have on the weekends.  However, at the very least, you should greet the students.  When the students come to school in the morning and leave in the afternoon, teachers usually greet the students by the front gate.

I would always wait outside by the front gate in the afternoon when they left.  I would say “see you” or “goodbye” to every student or group of students that passed by.  In the beginning, you’ll probably be ignored by some students.  It could be because they are shy, don’t know what to say back, or just trying to be too cool for school.  Whatever the case, give it time.  Keep greeting them every day and eventually most of the students will greet you back.  This is a very simple, but excellent way to make your students get used to you and like you.

Just remember to have fun in and out of class.  If you are having fun, your kids will have fun too!



Photo of author

Dallen Nakamura

Dallen was born and raised in Hawaii and never had a passport until he was 24. His first trip outside of the US was to Japan. He loved it so much that when he got back home, he immediately quit his job and moved to Japan without a plan. While he loves the people and culture of Japan, his true love is food. He is convinced that Japan has the best food in the world and is slowly eating his way around the world to prove it.

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