Teaching English as a second language/ Assistant Language Teacher ALT (part 2)

We touched on the topic of ALT a couple of days ago if you still remember [see 1 Nov thread]. It’s now time I give you guys some fair dinkum, practical tips on how to survive as a teacher from another country and mostly importantly, how to stay away from troubles in a Japanese classroom.

We often hear about teachers in Japan being fired due to differences in cultures and style of teaching, poor work ethics, communication problems, etc.

This guy who has been fired 15 times over the span of 3 years certainly is a legend in history!

http://forum.gaijinpot.com/archive/index.php/t-36501.html

Let’s get back to the subject we talked about on 1 Nov. In her termination letter, it says ‘due to the differences between your style (western) of teaching and the Japanese style’. So you can imagine that Japanese people are kind of conservative. They want their ALTs to blend in, accept their culture, and be part of it. If you can speak some Japanese language and enjoy the culture, working in Japanese school as an English teacher can be one of your most rewarding experiences in your life, I assure you. Yet, if you see working as an English teacher in Japan is nothing serious, just like having a vacation, including but not limited to, turning up late, leaving school at anytime you feel like to, skipping work after a full-on Sunday, you will need to think twice before you will waste your time and effort coming all the way from thousands of miles away before you will get laid off. There are just too many job ads out there emphasizing that ‘you are not having a vacation while you work as a teacher in Japan’.

Coming to work on time means LATE!

Being late cannot be accepted anywhere and that’s why in her termination letter it says it’s not acceptable, both at work and as a social person. Punctuality is highly regarded in Japan. If you google ‘being punctual Japan’ you will find more than you can read about how serious Japanese people are when it comes to punctuality. There was even a train driver in 2005 who got the train derailed simply because he did not want it to arrive late, for 90 seconds!!!

Here’s the news:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/27/world/asia/27iht-japan.html?_r=0

If you are a fan of Japanese dramas, you will see that workers in Japan come to work early to prepare for start of work in a day, say, 9am. They would not arrive at the office at the time they are supposed to start work like people in other countries do. That’s why everyone arrives early so they will be fully prepared by the time the clock says ‘start work’.

The most unimaginable thing for many foreigners is that there is an unsaid rule in Japan, which says, if you’re not 10 minutes early, you are late! It does not only apply to work, but many other occasions as well : meeting up with friends, coming to a party. Because of the different interpretations of time between Japanese and westerners, problems arise if you invite people of these two cultures for a meet up: Japanese people arrive earlier whereas westerners arrive later than the time they have been told. Some are clever enough to tell different people different times so they will come at roughly the same time.

For me, I have never been late for work in school in Japan. I guess that’s why I am still sitting here in my room writing this thread. Yet, I do not usually arrive at work early for as much as 10 minutes. Depending on traffic and everything, I usually only arrive 5 minutes early. Though Japanese people are tough on rules and things, they are quite understanding people as far as my experience tells me. They know that you’re a foreigner and you did not grow up in Japan so you do not know much about the rules and custom here as Japanese teachers do. They will not expect you to be able to stick to all the rules 100%, but you simply can’t go too far and you will be safe!

Argue with students

Whether arguing with students is acceptable or not depends very much on the context so there’s no point to discuss it here without knowing the whole issue completely. Yet, Japanese teachers or homeroom teachers (HRTs), though unavoidably getting into an argument with students from time to time, try to maintain a very intimate bonding with them. As compared with teachers in Asian countries, they rarely punish their students. (I heard in Thailand teachers still use rattans!) Many of them take the role of a counselor’s and talk to them to try to understand the problem and tell them not to do it again. Of course, reprimand or punishment will be exercised if the student has gone too far. But even after punishment, the relationship will get back to where it used to be fairly quickly. Japanese people value relationship.

Japanese people aren’t as tough as westerners

It’s a well known fact for foreign teachers. It explains why the suicide rate in Japan stands the highest in the world.

I am not a fierce person, though I am strict on rules in the class. I have almost never made any student cry before coming to Japan. But for the past 6 months in Japan, I have made 2 students cry. One time was when a girl whose hand was chapping so I told her to put on some cream and tear filled her eyes instantly though she just did not cry out.
The other occasion was when a 5th grade boy was mucking around while everyone was supposed to be working at the exercises in the book. I asked him to finish his work and tried to make him do so and I walked off. A few minutes later, he started sobbing and the HRT asked me why. He simply couldn’t stop!

All these stories tell us that what you’ve used in the west and other countries before cannot be used here in Japan. It explains why Japanese teachers scold and punish their students only on very serious, exceptional occasions. Japanese students simply cannot take as much as their counterparts do in other countries.

Whu! Just found out I’ve written over 1000 words so I guess it’s time to stop. Will bring you guys more next time!

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