A day at school: Part 2

With 4,360 participants from more than 40 countries in 2012, the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET),  is the largest teaching exchange program in the world. Referred to as JETs, participants are hired as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), and placed  in schools within a Japanese Prefecture (district), in my case the Prefecture of Okayama. I’m a bit of an anomaly in that, although I’m employed as an ALT, I am the only ALT I’m aware of who is not a JET; a fact readily evinced by the fact that I’m more than twice the age of my fellow ALTS. In short, give or take a few years, I am roughly twice the age of my contemporaries.

With regard to my fellow ALTs I’d have to say that the selection process (which to a certain extent I may have circumvented), must have been fairly rigorous: Without exception these are some of the brightest, committed and most articulate people I know. Care for a wee chin-wag about the films of Altman or Scorsese, imagery and symbolism in Borge’s novels or Leonard Cohen’s importance as a Canadian singer, poet and icon? No problem: These are typical conversations I’ve had just recently. Of the fourteen ALTs (I believe) in and around Niimi, I work with three of them at two Junior High schools; Daiichi and Minami.

Nathan (from one of my favorite cities; Portland, Oregon) teaches at Minami, which is a little more rural than Daiichi.  Minami is my “secondary” school and I only work there on Fridays. Months before leaving Sidney for Japan I emailed Nate asking him what I might expect when I arrived in Japan. Any trepidation I had about coming to Japan was allayed by his off-the-cuff, informative and funny three-page reply. His email correspondence really set my mind at ease and working with him in the classroom has been a learning experience (he’s in his fifth and final year as an ALT). I shamelessly rip-off his teaching style and mannerisms in my classes at Daiichi. On weekends I’ve enjoyed having a Heineken with Nate at my favorite pub, Nemunoke. How can you not like a pub that plays jazz and has posters of John Coltrane and James Dean?

Andrew. I don’t know anyone who has immersed himself in Japanese culture with a greater commitment than Andrew. In his fourth year as an ALT, Andrew has completed advanced courses in Japanese and, if he is not fully bilingual, is very close to it. He tells me he has problems with Japanese verb conjugation – I have problems saying hello! He and Naomi Sugi are the two people who have most assisted me in dealing with the practical realities (banking, bill paying etc.) faced by newcomers to the country. Andrew teaches an evening English class once a week at a local community center that he graciously allows me to attend. What I really love about the class is that the students (middle-aged adults) come as much to socialize in English as much as they do strictly to learn. Some have been attending for years. A woman brings tea and snacks for the break after the first hour. We play English-learning games like Hangman and Scrabble; it is a pleasure to be there. Andrew is from Port Dalhousie which is very close to my original hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. Only the university is pronounced ” Dal-Housey” by the way – most people in Southern Ontario say “Da-Loozie”. With respect to teaching ESL to Japanese students Andrew may well be “the smartest guy in the room”. The students adore him! Daiichi is Andrew’s secondary school and I work with him on Mondays and Thursdays.

Stacey, now in her second year, is the other American ALT I work with. She’s from California and has a very confident and easy-going classroom manner. She is attuned to the nuances of the Japanese English teacher and intuitively knows exactly when to contribute and when to stand back. To my mind, knowing exactly where you are with respect to the “sensei” is the most important part of being an ALT and Stacey is quite brilliant in that regard. Again, as with Nate and Andrew, I  blatantly steal from Stacey. She is at Daiichi on Wednesdays.

The other ALTS I know but do not work with in Niimi are Oana, Andrea, David, Alex, and Jack. Although I’ve never met her prior to coming to Japan, I have a particular affinity for Oana because she worked in Sidney. She doesn’t suffer fools kindly and has a great sense of humor. At the last ALT dinner (at a terrific restaurant) it was Oana who motivated the “room”  to open up and talk about themselves. Andrea is a little more reserved than Oana (they live in the same building and hang out together) and is writing a historical fiction novel based during the French revolution. I hope it gets published – that’s what I mean about capable, accomplished people. She has promised to give me a brief tutorial on how to text using a cell phone. I don’t often see David, Alex or Jack but they all seem like pretty interesting people and it’s likely I will bump into them in the near future.

Random Notes:

Regardless of how hot it might be, Japanese women will cover their arms to avoid getting a suntan. Tanned skin is considered “common”, I’ve been told.

Large trucks in Japan always look as if they have just rolled off the assembly line. Lots of chrome, freshly painted and sparkling clean. I have never seen a dirty truck in Japan.









5 thoughts on “A day at school: Part 2

  1. Hi Terry: Just read your blog on your fellow ALT’s. A while back I mentioned a young man from Sidney, Brian Timms, teaching nearby you in Okayama. I told him about you and if you are interested in getting to know him and his teaching style his e-mail is kidlibra@gmail.com. Just mention my name and he will get the connection right away. Nice guy, you will like him.

    • Hi Trudie:
      A number of ALTs here in Niimi often go to Okayama.Some of then may know Brian, I’ll ask around and will send him an email. I’ve been intending to visit Okayama for a while now.


  2. Hello Terry,
    I am reading your blog posts with interest, as you might imagine. Are you still using your yahoo email address? I have been trying to contact you and would appreciate a reply. If not, shall I communicate with you this way?

      • I did, thank you. I replied yesterday. I look forward to hearing from you shortly. Given our mutual area of interest, it would be great to reestablish contact. Looking forward to your next post as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *