On Being an ALT in Japan Part 2
by Kevin Burns
On Being an ALT in Japan Part 2
On a bright morning in April, Walker goes to one of the two elementary schools he will teach at.
There has been no meeting with the teachers he will work with, there have been no introductions
with the teachers he will “team teach” with. There has been no instruction about how to teach. Walker is not worried about that though, he was told he could teach any way he liked, and he would not have to discipline the students. He looks forward to weaving his TEFL magic with Japanese teachers waiting in the wings to discipline any trouble makers. Sounds like TEFL heaven.
Walker elects to teach in a huge room as he feels the children will be able to move around more,
and he likes active, fun classes. The grade ones come in and they look so cute and tiny all 43
of them. Little brown eyes staring up at the visage of this foreign giant. The two Japanese teachers
do not introduce themselves to Walker, they seem to want to stay as far away from him as possible, while still appearing to be “helping” with the class. Their help is in the
form of standing motionless, and silent. While one occasionally, scolds a few of the more rambunctious boys in a husky army sergeant voice. At the end of class one of the teachers leaves
and doesn`t look Walker in the eye. In 8 months she never will.
The children are great! Walker loves the kids. The kids love the classes. They light him up and they are so alive and open to anything. They really are great. Some of the teachers though look like someone told them they have one hour to live and will die painfully. It is amazing to see the teachers then realize that they must have been just like these children, only twenty years ago.
What the f–k happened? Then period one is over.
The next class shuffles in. Another teacher who looks like Dr. Death has paid her a visit
shuffles into the classroom with her grade two`s. Then a second teacher appears. She is so
different from the other three teachers, Walker has to take a second to take it in.
She has energy, yet appears to be much older than the other teachers. She seems to love what she does, and she has command of the class. She turns out to be a joy to teach with. Walker puts
his finger on it. She is still child-like herself, yet can lead the class. The other teachers seem
dead inside. There inner child is buried. This happy teacher allows Walker to do what he does
best—teach English. She doesn`t interfere, far from it. She works with him. She follows his
lead and goes with the flow. She never second guesses him in front of the students as some
of the teachers will. She works as a teammate. Walker comes to look forward to teaching with her.
If only all the teachers were like her……………..
The kids are great. They always will be. Ironicly, this huge man who loves children, but hates teaching them, loves teaching the children at the elementary schools. The kids are great! Walker can`t believe it! Walker realizes in these eight months that he doesn`t hate teaching children. Ironicly he hates teaching children in his own English schools, where many of the children are forced to study by their parents.
This is probably the greatest experience Walker will take with him from being an ALT. The kids are great! They are just a joy! Their eyes gleam with light and potential. They smile. They laugh. They grab Walker`s long legs and hang on, they give him impromptu tours of the school. They give him high fives. They show him the English on their shirts. They show unconditional love of life and everything. They write him letters to say goodbye. They bring tears to his eyes when he finally
realizes it is time to move on. Walker is greeted by the children as a kind of celebrity a
or pop star and that never changes. Walker has a fan club of over 300!
All 41 of the grade threes enter the classroom. . Teaching such huge classes will be a big challenge
for Walker, who asks his wife to help with the classes, as about half of the Japanese teachers are not of much help. They will do all the discipline? Yah right! I can teach any way I want? Yah, hand me another plate of bullshit. More pepper please.
A meeting with the staff department chiefs doesn`t change much of anything. Though polite platitudes are expressed about the English lessons, Walker comes to feel he is not heard, nor are his opinions valued, as the problems he has mentioned are not fixed in any noticeable way. While
his lessons are complimented, almost in the same breath he is politely criticized. So the impact
of the compliments are quickly nullified and Walker comes to feel that he is not appreciated much
by the staff. Perhaps this is not so. In retrospect, probably he was appreciated. But in the moment, it doesn`t seem so.