Working for The JET Program – A Typical Day

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.

ALT for the JET Program Teaching

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.

Teacher with Students Hands Raised.jpgJunior 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.

Bored at Work JET ProgramFree 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.

Japan Elementary School First DayElementary School

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.

Japanese High School StudentHigh School

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.

Japan Night Class Elderly WomanNight Class

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!

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.

6 thoughts on “Working for The JET Program – A Typical Day”

  1. Hi, I was wondering, what is the actual in class activities that the ATL’s would be doing? I am applying for the JET programme at the moment, and would like to have some idea of what ‘work’ actually means. No one seems to be able to tell me what it is that JET ALT’s do, beyond ‘assisting the teacher’!

    • Hey Stephen,

      “Work” is very subjective when it comes to the JET Program. Everyone on the program will tell you that it’s “ESID,” which means “every situation is different.” I hated being told that phrase every time I asked a question related to JET. The unfortunate part is that it’s true. Your day at work is determined by your school placement, the staff you work with, and your ability. Let me go over this a little bit.

      If are placed into an elementary school, which is highly likely since they are making English compulsory for 5th and 6th graders, you’ll probably be running the show. This means it is very possible that you will have to create, plan, and teach the entire class on your own. There will usually be a teacher in the class with you, but they are mostly there for decoration. They are just there to deal with any kids misbehaving or things like that….truth be told though, many of them don’t even do that. A lot of them sit in the back doing their own work, completely ignoring what’s going on. However, this is not all teachers. Some teachers are really great, and will help you run the class. If you get really lucky, you’ll have a teacher that will actually team teach with you. Some teachers will even plan and prepare everything, so all you have to do is show up and teach with them. In my experience (I’ve probably taught with around 200 elementary school teachers all over Japan) around 80% of teachers will do nothing/minimal supervision for class. 10% will actually help you or join in the activities. The last 10% are the superstars. They will teach the class, or even lead the class and plan everything with you. Working with these teachers are a pleasure. These teachers are usually 5th or 6th grade teachers, since they already have to teach English to the students even when the ALT isn’t there. But the rule of thumb is prepare to teach the class on your own. That way, you won’t be blind-sighted when you show up to class and they ask you teach it. Definitely prepare a 45 min self-introduction lesson for your first day.

      If you get placed in junior high school, you’ll most likely be team teaching, and on rare occasion, be asked to teach the class yourself (although this is against the rules I think). Team teaching in jhs ranges from you just standing there and repeating words and phrases, to you planning the class. More often that not, the teacher will ask you to pronounce and practice English words/phrases with the children, and then ask you to think of some activity or game that relates to the material they are studying.

      High school alts pretty much do what jhs alts do…team teach. But I know many high school alts who also teach their own classes. So I would be prepared for this if you are placed in a high school. You’ll probably also get more involved with the students. It’s common for the alts to help students with English interviews or speeches.

      You could also teach adult night classes. If you do, then more often than not, it is 100% your class. You plan, prepare, and conduct the class on your own.

      This may all sound nerve-racking…and it is in the very beginning. However, after a couple of months, you’ll feel right at home, even if you never had teaching experience before. After a year, you’ll feel very comfortable with the job.

      Hope this helps. Good luck with the application man!

  2. Do ALTs get to help out with student clubs? Do they get to help with sports? Are there more opportunities to be involved with students?

    • Hi there!
      As much as I hate the “ESID” (every situation is different) phrase that is used a millions times when describing the JET program, it’s true. But I have worked at quite a few elementary schools, junior high schools, special schools, and high school events during my time as an ALT. Every school I’ve been to would have loved their ALT to help out with student clubs. Most schools love it when you get involved and get to know the student outside of class (as in clubs and school activities, not dating them or going to karaoke together haha).

      I would say almost any student club at your school would love to have you get involved. The important question is how much do you want to get involved? If you just want to join in a student club to chat with the students and help out with their activities, then I would say no school would have a problem with that. But if you wanted to take on a more serious role, such as becoming a member (going to EVERY practice they have, even on the weekends), or even a coach, that will depend on the teacher who is in charge of that club, and probably your vice principal/principal will have a say in it too. Some teachers like being in charge, so they don’t want ALT’s taking on a leadership role and possibly interfering with their set schedules.

      However, I know quite a few ALT’s who became a coach for one of the sports clubs at their schools. Just remember though…unless you really love being a coach, or really love a certain activity, I would advise against taking on a leadership role. That’s because it will take up A LOT of your time. You’ll have to go to their practices (depending on the club, they may have practice every day after school and even on weekends), their games/events, and might even be held responsible for their actions in and out of class.

      But definitely go and check out the clubs at your school. If you want to join, go for it. When you first go to a club, I would tell them that you’ll drop in every now and then when you have time. This way, they won’t expect you to come every day. But if you want to go every day, that shouldn’t be a problem.

      Depending on your school, there might be English speech contests, or English events that your students might enter. So that would be a good way to get involved with them. If not, students usually have a short break after 2nd period and then a longer break after lunch. You can go out and play with them outside or talk and get to know students who hang out in classrooms during their break.

  3. This might be a late comment but I’m a High School ALT in a single school placed in Shikoku. During our mid-year conference we had a complaint from JTE’s that ALT’s were spending too much time ‘surfing the internet’ (google, emails, wikipedia; no social media complaints)
    However there are 3 ALT’s in my school, all of us teach about 16 classes a week with little to no prep and little grading.

    What do they truly expect us to do in our free time? I put a kindle reader on my computer and started reading recently when I’m done with everything and often leave my gmail open on my computer.
    I plan for my classes weeks in advanced, down to printing all assignments so I’m usually left with nothing to do. I’m leaving Japan this year so I’m going through the phase of not wanting to study Japanese anymore. I often ask for work to do from random teachers and JTE’s around the office usually don’t get anything. I’m also quite organized so the entire year is already planned, printed nicely, labeled, and shoved in a binder for my successor.
    I feel sometimes that they still disapprove that I sit and read; but if I don’t do that I will literally be staring at a wall fighting off sleep. What do they want us to do?

    • Hi fellow ALT,

      Thank you for your comment. I have a feeling many ALT’s encounter this problem. I was an ALT for 6 years all over Japan, and I know exactly how you feel.

      In the beginning, I was just like you. I planned and prepared all of my lessons in advanced, and finished all of my work quickly. So I had LOTS of free time. I wondering if those complaints from JTEs’ were direct specifically towards your school, or to all ALTs in general? Has anyone directly said anything to you about not using the computer during your free time? It may feel like they disapprove sometimes, but they are just curious, or just don’t understand what you are doing. Or maybe a previous JET used to fool around playing computer games all day, so they have a bad taste in their mouth. Some teachers are just dicks. I hate to say it, but every situation is different as an ALT in Japan.

      As for me, I know that sometimes it felt like teachers didn’t want me using the computer. I wasn’t on social media or playing games. I read articles on Wikipedia or searched things on Google. In my opinion, doing “educational” things like that should be allowed. I figure if it was really a problem, someone would mention it. But as you know, many teachers don’t like confrontation. So what I did instead was check my performance evaluation. Every semester, the principal fills out a performance evaluation about you. You’re not supposed to see it. But in some cases, if you ask your BOE/contracting organization, they will let you see it. Or they might be able to talk to you about it. I never had even a bad comment about how I spent my free time at work.

      Here are a few things that most teachers/BOE approve of doing during your free periods: studying Japanese, sitting in on other classes, interacting with the students, speaking to staff that have free time, helping teachers with their work, cleaning. Not very fun activities. I think most schools are okay with reading books as long as it’s not manga. Pretty much anything that involves the students or makes you look like you are being productive is cool.

      However, most ALTs (me included) wants to fool around on the computer, text/Facebook on our phones, or watch YouTube videos. Most schools are NOT cool with this (unless you got a super chill school). But I used to do this all the time. I became a master of how to “look busy” while secretly doing all of the above. I always had an English related website or Word document open in the background when I was on the computer. Whenever a teacher came near, I would subtly switch it to that screen. I would also take a lot of my materials and literally build a fortress on my desk, blocking me from my vice principal and other teachers so I could text while no one could see. Yes, super elementary school tactics, but it worked for me. Or you might be able to find a place at school that no one uses and go there instead of the staff room.

      You even asked teachers if they need help, so you sounds like you’re doing an awesome job. But you are going to leave this year, so to be honest, I wouldn’t care about what other teachers think. As long as you get all of your work done and have good classes, I would read all the books I want in my free time.

      However, if you are want to make teachers happy or if you are a new ALT, here is how you make teachers never complain about what you do in your free time..become a super ALT. Now hear me out here. If you’re not super genki, have trouble relating to the kids, or just don’t like doing the work, don’t worry. You just need to be a super ALT for a few weeks or months. As a super ALT, you should be friendly with all the staff, but give them space to do their work. You should be interacting with the students during the breaks, and greeting them in the morning and/or when they leave school. Above all, you should work on having a good rapport with your JTE in class. They should feel super happy when they know you are coming to their class. You bring the energy and fun to the classes, while making it super easy for them to teach. You give the teacher good ideas and prepare awesome activities. I did all of this and even cleaned the school during my free time. If you do this, you probably won’t have much free time. But I’m lazy so I actually loved having free time at work. Well, after a few months, everyone thought I was such an amazing worker, that even when I sat at my desk all day looking on my smartphone everyone thought I was busy doing real work.

      What do the other ALTs in your school think?


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