If you got accepted to the JET Program as an ALT, congratulations! All of your hard work and patience has paid off.Now you’re probably excited and anxious to find out all about your school, and what working for the JET Program will be like. Here’s a general guideline about what you’ll be doing on a typical day at work.
I’m sure you have already heard the phrase, “every situation is different.” This is probably the most common answer given whenever a new JET asks questions about their new job or living situation. I absolutely hated hearing this. It was a half-assed answer that didn’t help at all. The unfortunate thing is that it’s true. I have taught in many different areas in Japan, taught at different types of schools, and have had a chance to visit many JET’s in the area they were placed in. Every situation is truly different.
However, there are some commonalities. Combining my experience with other ALTs on the JET Program here is what you probably can expect at a
typical day of work.
Junior High School
You will probably have to be at work anywhere from 7:45 – 8:30am. Most ALTs that I know have to be at school by 8:30am. Some teachers and staff should be by the entrance of the school to greet the students.
Around 8:30-9:00am, most of the teachers and staff will have a daily morning meeting in the staff room. The vice principal is usually the one who starts and conducts the meeting. Be sure to follow the actions of your fellow teachers. If they all stand up and say, “ohayo-gozaimasu (good morning),” be sure you do the same. If you don’t know any Japanese, I recommend that you learn these basic phrases before you go to Japan.
After the meeting, classes begin. There are usually 5-6 class periods a day. Sometimes there might be less due to special events / emergencies. There are usually 4 classes before lunch, and 1-2 after lunch. Usually the classes are 50 minutes each. If there is a special event going on, the classes might be cut down to 45min.
Number of Classes per day
I would say a good number of classes per day is 3-4, but 5 is not uncommon. If you teach 6 classes a day, that is WAY too much in my opinion. I have done this many times, but it wasn’t an everyday thing. If you have 6 classes a day, every day, I would bring it up with your supervisor.
However, what is generally the case with most ALTs is that you have very little classes and A LOT of free time. On one hand, this is awesome because you can prep for classes. On the other hand, if you have nothing to do, time goes by very slowly. You’ll get tired and sleepy and it will feel like you aren’t achieve jack shit with your new job.
Free Time at Work
Depending on your school, you might be able to get away with brining your laptop to work. This is getting to be rare, because many schools are getting new computers for all of their teachers.
Many ALT’s spend a lot of their time playing with their smartphones. Some people sleep. I have done both on a daily basis. However, your school might not be cool with you playing on your phone all day or sleeping. At the very least, you should be able to study Japanese (not by reading manga) or even read a book. If someone tells you that you can’t do that, tell them you can. I believe it says in the JET general handbook that you should make an effort to learn Japanese. Just be sure to have all of your work finished first.
If you do run into conflicts with teachers, don’t go crazy and start yelling and telling them off. Be relaxed and chill. Be nice and carefully point out that it’s written in your contract.
If you get into a personal conflict with a teacher, try to be the adult. If you don’t agree with something they said or do, try to keep an open mind about it. There are lots of cultural and teaching differences that you may not agree with, but isn’t necessarily wrong. For more info about handling conflicts with teachers, see tip #4 in the “7 Essential Tips on How to Be a Great ALT” page.
After classes are done, some of the students will go home. Others will stay to clean the school. If your school doesn’t ask you to help them clean, it’s probably a good idea to do it sometimes if it’s your main school. If you have a special school or elementary schools that you visit once a week, you are less likely to be required to clean the school since they see you as a visitor gracing them with your presence. lol
After that, some students go to their club activities and go home (or to cram school) when they are finished.
The schedule is pretty much the same as junior high. You’ll get to work at around 7:45-8:30am. There are usually 5-6 classes per day, but it’s usually shorter that junior high. Maybe 40-45 minutes per class.
The big difference here is that you’ll probably have to do more of the class on your own. In fact, you might have to do the class 100% on your own. There are many ALT’s being placed in elementary schools now. This is because elementary schools in Japan are just starting to make English classes a part of their regular curriculum.
If you have never taught kids before, and/or don’t know much Japanese, this can be a real challenge at first. But it does get easier the more you do it. I would say that after 3-4 times, even ALTs with no experience gets used to it.
If the teachers don’t even talk to you about class and ask you to teach a specific grammar point/words, don’t worry. I feel that if the teachers don’t ask you to do something specific, you can do anything you want.
I usually make class fun instead of educational. I’ll play a game that is easy to teach and I know the kids would love. I have played dodgeball, duck-duck-goose, and tons of cards games before. Of course, I incorporate English in to these games, but these games generally don’t need any preparation and are perfect for when you have free reign on what you can do in class.
You’ll probably eat lunch with the kids. They also have cleaning time but usually no club activities. So most of the kids go home after school ends.
This is the biggest wild card of them all. Some ALT’s I know had lots of work, and even left late everyday to finish. Others had virtually no work at all.
Whatever the case may be, high school students should have a higher level of English. Because of this, you might be in charge of teaching classes by yourself.
Some JETs have night classes. This could involve special schools, or a class open to the public at the local community center. If you teach one of these classes, you probably will plan, prepare, and teach the class on your own, or possibly with another JET. Since you probably will have 100% creative control, you can do anything you want.
Since many community center classes have older members (grandmas and grandpas), they really love getting together. They love learning new things, especially new culture and things that are hands on. If you have access to a kitchen and don’t spending a few bucks, they would be thrilled if you taught them how to cook a dish from your culture. If you are an American, I’ve done things as simple as S’mores.
Okay that’s it in a nutshell! Of course there are many other events or different school schedules depending on where you are placed. But this is a general guideline to give you an idea of what to expect when you start working in Japan as an ALT.
If you’re preparing to move to Japan, be sure to check out the JET Program Packing Guide so you’ll know what to bring and what to leave behind.
If you have any questions or comments, drop them below and I’ll get back to you. Cheers!