An ALT is an assistant language teacher and my current job. I work in Japan teaching English at various Middle schools and Elementary schools. I wrote a post earlier about school life and what I usually do at my schools. This time I want to talk about a topic which usually turns into quite the discussion when I speak with others who do the same job as I. That topic being the purpose of the ALT.
As an English teacher the purpose seems like it would be rather straightforward. Teach the students English. Right? While I agree with that statement I believe it is really only a small part of it. The real goal is to inspire, open new ways of thinking, and build connections across cultures.
I am sure my thinking will continue to grow as I progress in this job, but I think I am hitting on a main point that many seem to forget. Many ALTs here talk about how they don’t feel like they are really making a difference in English abilities. In the short term I agree with them, I don’t think I have caused a huge change in their English abilities in the year and a half I have been here. That’s not the point though. The point is making an impact on their lives so they will develop the skills and thinking ability they need as they grow and develop. How do we do that? Let’s go back to the three main points I just talked about.
- Inspire: I believe as ALTs we are to inspire the students and install in them a love for the world outside of the one they live in. In order to be an ALT you have to have native level English. Practically all ALTs are from different countries and cultures across the world. Then that one ALT is sent off to live in a selected city in Japan. That ALT has experienced life completely differently probably than most of the teacher and residents in that area. They can reveal a whole different way of life to the students and community. Yes, one way is by teaching them English. More importantly though we can show them what they could do in life or where they could go if they were to learn English. To rephrase that, I don’t think we should just purely teach them English, but present them with something so unique that they build the motivation to seek it themselves. Not saying English is more important than Japanese, just that it is great to learn about other cultures. As ALTs we have huge potential to really be impactful to many people, especially those who are still young and are molded by everything around them.
- New ways of thinking: Japan has a very conformist society. That helps them with a lot of things and has created some wonderful things in Japan today. It also restricts them in a lot of ways and is responsible for many problems in their society today. Japan is just like any other country, has its strengths and weaknesses. Many people I have met in Japan, if they have not traveled very much, can be stuck in this Japanese way of thinking. Once again I am not judging them or that way of thinking, but it is good to be balanced and see the positives and negatives of everything. Particularly it can be difficult for old rules and customs to be changed in Japan. They like to stick to their traditions and the way things have been done. I love that about Japan in certain ways, but it also keeps Japan from being able to grow. One such way is the amount of overtime workers in Japan face. Most of the time they stick around hours after they are scheduled to leave in order to appear as hard workers. Maybe to a western mind that doesn’t sound like a big deal. Just stop doing that and go home right? However in Japan this is a nationwide problem and many people are stuck in this cycle. It’s considered very rude to leave on time in Japan. Thankfully not everyone plays by those rules, but it does make it hard to move up in the business world unless you follow these customs. It also (from my own perspective) seems very hard to enjoy your life at the same time. ALTs are exceptions to the rules, but many of our students will grow up into that society. I for one want my students to grow up to be healthy, balanced individuals who can bring change when it is needed. As an American I can help these students see that there is more than just one way to live their life. If they don’t like something, they can work towards change.
- Build Connections: As an American these students are instantly building a new bridge between themselves and a person from a different culture. I am also doing the same by getting to know how things work and how people think in this country. It is a great thing. It has helped me mature and see things from a different perspective that others that have never left home just don’t understand. These lessons we learn from traveling are very important and sometimes we learn the most from these experiences. I talked about inspiring the students. One way I want to inspire them is for them to study abroad or live in a different country one day. Even if their English level does not change drastically while I am their teacher, if I am able to inspire them enough to go and life their own life in a different country I feel like I accomplished something more important. If they have that desire within themselves, they will learn the language no problem. They will also learn so much more. That is way more important than passing some proficiency tests. Make English attractive. That’s what we need to do. It’s a small thing that can lead to big change. The people they grow into could greatly impact things around the world. I know that’s a big leap, but I choose to believe that every small thing has big consequences when you consider everything and everyone are connected. The connections they make while going abroad could be some of the biggest turning points of their lives. It was a huge one for me after all. If I can help get them there, I want to try.
These are my views and I feel pretty confidently about them. I still have a lot to learn, I am still young, but I do think anyone can make a big difference when you really consider how much things are connected. I would love to hear others comments and feelings regarding this as well. Thanks for reading and peace.