Elevating Education: What Is It Like Teaching English in Japanese Middle Schools?
Today we will take a look at how vastly different it is to teach at the Jr. high school level as an ALT.
In Japan, Jr. high school is equivalent to 7th through 9th grade, and it is the first time that the students are introduced to all four skills of English: speaking, listening, writing and reading, rather than only the first two skills during elementary school. It is also a time when English transforms from a minor subject into a major one, comes along with the stress and pressure of homework and exams.
Compared to the fun and games ALTs do in elementary schools, the purpose and the atmosphere of English teaching are completely different at this level.
ALTs are not the main teacher in Jr. high schools, as we do work with licensed English teachers who speaks the language very well. While they deal with the flow of the lessons, grammar explanations, worksheets, tests and a whole lot more, ALTs deal with significantly fewer responsibilities.
One of the major roles we have during class is being the “voice”, where we pronounce words and read paragraphs for the students to follow and repeat after. While the digital textbooks nowadays do have recordings that students can listen to, ALTs can offer as a step over the textbook voices is our sensitivity to how students are following up. That way, we can alter our speed accordingly. We can and should also display how our mouths shape as we pronounce words, something that the digital recordings don’t do and many teachers and students alike do not realize the importance of.
We may also be asked to bring in warm-up and review activities to give the students chances to enjoy and practice English more. It is a welcoming request because it definitely falls onto the “fun” side of teaching English compared to grammar-teaching, and it makes the students appreciate us more.
ALTs also walk around the classroom when students are studying, individually solving worksheets. We can check their answers and give special assistance to the students who are weaker in English. It is like being a special support teacher as well.
A typical English lesson at the Jr. high school level involving the ALT may go something as the following:
- Greetings and warm-up
- Introducing the new lesson
- Listening to the passage recording
- Practicing new words with the ALT
- Repeating the passage after the ALT
- Students answer worksheets while the ALT walks around to assist
English lessons at the Jr. high school level are undoubtedly more structured and standardized as examinations are taken into consideration. Exams will directly influence their future high school paths. Thus there are also less surprises since the students and teachers know what to expect from each lesson, especially compared to the more free/chaotic nature of elementary lessons. Personally, I think that the works of Jr. high school ALTs are extremely routine and simple. As long as we can do what we are asked to do while having a positive attitude, we can do the job well. However, I am not saying that it is not enjoyable or meaningful.
Door to the Playground of the School.
After classes, ALTs at Jr. high schools typically have significantly less things to prepare for than elementary school ALTs. However, we may have stacks of handouts and homework to mark, which isn’t challenging but definitely dull. We would check their writing for grammar mistakes and if the way of expression is natural and suitable for the situation, and having a real connection with the students helps us understand and predict what they are trying to communicate.
Outside of class, we once again consume the role of English communication opportunities for the students when we eat lunch with them in the classrooms and talk with them during break time. Cleaning time and club activity times are also great chances to provide students with more interactions in English. Students may not have all the moments they wish for in class to practice speaking the new language, so having us providing these opportunities beyond class time is definitely important.
"If you are being open to communicating with your students and understanding them, you will be just as popular and welcomed regardless of how much responsibilities you have for their English studying."
While the roles of ALTs in Jr. high school are necessary in order to help with their speaking and communication skills, our responsibilities are lessened due to the English-capable teachers in charge and the lesson structures in place. Our job feels a whole lot more of an assistant, for better or worse. However, one thing that I know is that if you are being open to communicating with your students and understanding them, you will be just as popular and welcomed regardless of how much responsibilities you have for their English studying. Language studying, after all, is not about the homework and tests, but about the real life communications. That’s what makes my job at Jr. high school feel significant and meaningful.