Ten years ago at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party my mom gave a speech. Grandma had been a teacher, so Mom rattled off a list of children and grandchildren that were also educators. I jolted a bit when I heard my own name among them. It actually confused me for a quick second. What’s she talking about? I’m not a teacher, I thought.
But of course I was. I had just wrapped up a three year stint teaching English in Japan. In the decade since, I’ve added another five years to that tally. The eight years I’ve spent teaching eclipses all the other jobs I’ve had by a pretty significant margin, both in terms of time spent and money earned. But in spite of all that, it still feels a little weird to call myself a teacher. I think this has a lot to do with the capacity in which I was employed.
For both of my teaching gigs I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (or an “ALT”) through “JET” (a work exchange program run by the Japanese government). To become a JET ALT, you just need to be from an English speaking country and have a bachelor’s degree in anything; no prior teaching experience or certification is required. Due to the lack of formal teaching training, JET ALTs are required to teach with a Japanese teacher who they assist (in theory at least). Opportunities for advancement are nil, and you can only do the JET Program for a maximum of five years. It is, by design, not something you can easily parlay into a career.
Ironically, ALTs with a background in education were often the most frustrated with the job. An ALT’s role in the classroom varies greatly, but is often extremely limited. It isn’t at all unusual to be put in charge of a five minute warmup game, maybe spending a few minutes doing a pronunciation exercise, and then spend the rest of the class standing awkwardly off to the side while the “real” teacher explained grammar points in Japanese. Outside of class, there was often even less to do, especially during summer vacation or midterms.
So I can understand why the job would leave people dissatisfied. But personally, while teaching isn’t my calling, I begrudgingly enjoy it in spite of myself. I never really looked forward to going to Monday morning, but I didn’t dread it either. Once I got to work, the day usually flew by. And the thing that drove a lot of ALTs crazy, all the free time, was fine with me. After I finished lesson plans, I’d just study Japanese or work on comic scripts or something.
So I can’t say working as an ALT is my dream job. But it just might be my dream day job. I took it seriously for what it was, taught whatever classes I had that day, and then went home and forgot about it. The steady paycheck, low stress, and lack of overtime let me devote my evenings and weekends to my true passion, comics. I could see myself being content working as an ALT indefinitely (which I’m sure would shock the me of ten years ago).
My tenure as a JET ALT is over and I’m back in the States for now, but within the next year or two, I hope to make it back to Japan to work as an ALT again. I don’t know how viable this is, but I’d really love to find a decent part-time ALT position. I think that would be the perfect balance between steady income and having enough time to devote to my art.
As I understand it, landing a decent ALT position outside of the JET Program is no easy task. Even with my eight years of experience I don’t think I’d necessarily be a shoo-in. So I hope to get some teaching certification and look for other ways to help improve my employability in the coming months.
Which brings me to my ulterior motive for writing this blog entry. If anyone out there has any insight about landing a decent ALT job outside of the JET Program, I’d be all ears! I’m particularly interested in in what kind of teaching certification/program I should look into, as that’s the next step for me in the short term. This blog has been inactive for so long maybe there’s not anyone reading with experience in this area, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Thanks!
Next Monday’s blog entry will be about Tonoharu: Part Three. Stay tuned!