What makes a great ALT?
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Connect.
Kalista Pattison (Oita)
Have you ever wanted to take a look into the mind of a JTE? What do they really want us to be doing in the classroom? What about outside the classroom? I asked JTEs all across Japan questions such as these and compiled the answers here! So whether you’re a seasoned ALT or you’ve just stepped off the plane in Tokyo, here are a few general tips and tricks for being the best ALT ever.
In the classroom, do you have any advice for how an ALT can best assist you?
ALTs should give students many opportunities to hear English conversations between the ALT and JTE. When doing this, ALTs should remember to use target phrases or new words as often as possible. While students are working on exercises or pair work, ALTs can walk around the class with the JTE and see if they are doing well. Sometimes, low level students have difficulty doing this kind of work by themselves, so both ALTs and JTEs should give them some hints or examples to make it easier for the students to understand.
It’s important to create a fun, positive atmosphere so students can feel more comfortable in class. Students like it when ALTs show interest in Japanese culture, even things like anime or ramen. Above all, if the JTE and ALT are getting along with each other and are passionate about teaching, any student can enjoy their lessons and feel motivated.
In team teaching classes, I think ALTs should have the initiative, and JTEs should just assist them.
An ALT should try to be a good role model for students.
ALTs should pay attention to and adjust their speaking speed depending on the students’ understanding.
I want to work with an ALT who can make a good atmosphere by singing and dancing with me, someone who is cheerful and active.
If I forget to do something in class or the ALT has any suggestions during class, I want them to always speak up and tell me.
Outside of the classroom, do you have any advice for what an ALT should be doing?
ALTs should participate in club activities and school events in order to build good relationships with students. Students will become more open-minded towards ALTs and will try to talk to ALTs willingly.
I would like ALTs to set up a place for students to come and communicate with them in English.
They should try talking to other teachers not only about work related topics but also daily things.
ALTs should go to classrooms during lunch break to talk with students, join club activities from time to time, and also join other classes like calligraphy, P.E., and music. Both the students and Japanese teachers will be happy if an ALT joins these activities. Many of them feel less confident in speaking English and don’t know what to talk about or how to communicate with ALTs (even though they actually want to!), so if they see ALTs doing these activities, it would give them the opportunity to get to know them.
Are there any notable experiences you’ve had with an ALT who has surpassed your expectations?
I wasn’t a regular teacher and had to leave school in the middle of the semester, so I wanted to sing an English song in the final class as a way to show my students gratitude. I asked for help and the ALT agreed to sing and play guitar with me. That day has become the most memorable day for me and I really appreciated the ALT’s help.
Without me prompting them to, one of my ALTs took the initiative and made many teaching materials and worksheets for me.
One of my ALTs made a new-style lesson where they would give a presentation to teach about global issues and encourage discussions and debates. The students then tried to use the vocabulary they learned to express their own opinions. Throughout the course, the ALT kept supporting the students using English and each activity helped them brush up their critical thinking skills and English level. The most amazing thing I experienced was the ALT said they felt satisfied seeing how our students grew and became emotional when they were thanked by the students.
In class, when students weren’t sitting down or concentrating, the ALT stood next to them and helped focus their attention like a homeroom teacher would.
Are there any things an ALT should avoid doing? / Have you had any struggles with ALTs and how did you overcome them?
ALTs should avoid giving up on challenging themselves to make a change.
ALTs should avoid coming late to lessons, forgetting to make the worksheets we need for class, and being too shy to communicate with students and teachers.
I think an ALT shouldn’t avoid talking to other Japanese teachers. If they do, there is a chance that others will lose motivation to start conversations with the ALT and eventually the ALT will feel lonely.
JTEs are sure to come and go as the school years begin and end, meaning an ALT may work with a myriad of JTEs during their time in Japan. Of course, every JTE has different expectations and different methods of utilizing ALTs, but by being an ALT who is outgoing and willing to take initiative, you’re sure to improve the quality of your classes and your school relationships.
Kalista Pattison is a second-year JET in Oita Prefecture. She is currently studying for the JLPT like her life depends on it and can be found in an onsen or hunched over a pottery wheel in her free time.