5 common complaints Japanese teachers have about ALTs

By Liam Carrigan

Today, we turn the tables.

I asked a number of Japanese teachers of English (JTE), some of them friends and some of them current and former colleagues, what have been the biggest issues they have had to deal with regarding their assistant language teachers (ALT) down the years. Their comments should give ALTs plenty of food for thought!

Here are five common problems heard directly from JTEs — and how you can work together to resolve them better.

1. “The ALTs are changed too often.”

One of my former colleagues from my time in Tokyo complained that she never has enough time to get to know the teachers she’s working with.

“For some reason, my board of education swaps out the ALTs every three months,” she says. “Sometimes it takes one or two months just to get to know a new teacher and to build a good rapport with them for teamwork and so on. Just when you feel like you’re developing a good rhythm in classes, they get swapped out and the whole process starts again.”

This first problem is less common among direct hire ALTs, such as myself, where we usually keep the same set of schools for the whole year. However, in cases where the teacher comes from a dispatch company, they are often swapped out every few months, to work at a different base school in the same city.

Ultimately, this isn’t something that the JTE or their ALT has any real power over. It’s down to poor management on the part of the higher-ups at the education board and a lack of consideration for the ALT on the part of the dispatch company.

As I have mentioned many times before: the key to job satisfaction as an ALT lies in making the best out of what you have. You need to take the initiative. Be proactive. Engage with your colleagues as much as you can and be open and willing to help as much as possible. The quicker that your workmates become comfortable with you and your teaching style, the easier it will be for them to teach together with you effectively.

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Perhaps if you paid a decent wage ALTs wouldn't change so much.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

If the ALTs contract says they can finish at 3:30, then they're damn well gonna be out the door at 3:30. If the JETs have a complaint about that then tell the company. Sounds more like jealousy to me.

i suspect they complain so much because of the poor level of English used by the JETs. Or perhaps they want to be more involved not just a human tape recorder.

If English education and the whole ALT thing in Japan weren't such a joke, they might take it more seriously

7 ( +8 / -1 )

“My ALT doesn’t make time for meetings and always goes home early.”

Actually the ALT probably does not go home, but to another job, which he or she needs to do to make ends meet. As Gogogo says, pay a decent wage.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

What value is there in swapping out a teacher 3-4 times a year? There’s more than just getting to know the system. I feel they dont want ALTs too involved in the curriculum. Funny. When I started years ago in a school, I instantly changed their way of doing things and were very happy. Rule: let the students be as involved in class as the teacher, or more. They enjoy, dont go to sleep, you can correct their katakana English, etc.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Can someone please explain to me the duty of an "ALT"? I went into the job thinking that I was an assistant or at least team teaching with a Japanese English teacher and/or classroom teacher. In all my years working in different schools, I did entire lessons by myself as the teacher either left the class or sat at the desk grading papers.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

And this is the result of the BoE's trying to save $$$ by going down the private route. They have a perfectly good system with the JET Programme which screened applicants for speech quality, temperament, supported them while in Japan and paid them a reasonable wage often with subsidized housing..

Trying to cut costs has led to ALTs bailing out early when they just cant afford to be in Japan with little support etc. In simple, you get what you pay for.

I stayed on JET for 3+1 years at the same schools in the same town. 2 years later I went back to visit, they had changed to a private ALT provider and had gone through 6 different ALTs in my old role at my old school.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Yep. You get what you deserve! The whole ALT thing is a joke and very demeaning to foreigners. Imagine all those people going back to their countries with their image of Japan having soured so much (after being replaced with reality).

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I enjoyed my time as a JET ALT in Oita in 1993 for 1 year. If I were to continue teaching English after that I would have gotten some masters in TESOL and tried to work at a university, or started my own school.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They have a perfectly good system with the JET Programme which screened applicants for speech quality, temperament, supported them while in Japan and paid them a reasonable wage often with subsidized housing..

A good system, yes, but I wouldn't say perfect. I remembered in the screening process, there were numerous documents, including credentials and letters of recommendation. I went over the documents with a former JET and JET advisor, and everything was okay. I even got a letter of recommendation for my advisor, too. I didn't receive any notice from the JET organization for a few months. I phoned back asking what happened with my application. They said that they've already sent their perspectives for training and that I didn't get accepted. They only way I found out was with the phone call.

I did get a teaching position through another company a few months later, but like the JET program, it was done through persistence. I later found out that I was doing a lot more lesson planning than the JET ALTs, which was alright by me, since I really wanted to be a teacher, not a human tape recorder.

My point is again, it's not a perfect system, and for what the JETs were doing, I think they're overpaid.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

JET is not a perfectly good system. It's better on average than many of the dispatch companies in terms of quality and training, to be sure, but it's also hugely more expensive. Salaries are higher, which is good for the ALTs, but overhead costs are massive. For every yen spent on a JET's salary, there's at least another yen being spent elsewhere on the program's administrative costs. Overall, it's a massive burden to taxpayers. This is one reason many BOEs opt for direct hires or dispatch companies. JETs aren't cheap.

Japan would do much better simply to scrap the ALT system. It's a product of an outdated, last-centruy, backwards mentality about English education. Assuming that Japanese people can't speak English, and therefore Japanese teachers can't teach communication, and that native speakers automatically qualify to teach communication by's all absurd. Instead, for what is currently spent, hire more and better qualified language teachers to permanent contracts. Whether foreign teachers or Japanese teachers does not matter. For the Japanese teachers, send all of them overseas to study English and language teaching methodology for at least 6 months to a year early in their careers (and don't send them to places where they can group with other Japanese people). A lone teacher in a classroom who is skilled in teaching a foreign language is worth triple a JTE and ALT combination who limp along with a mix of poor methods and inexperience.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The JET Programme was a great opportunity and experience for me. I was in Ibaraki in the Programme for 3+1 years to 2 junior high schools and other elementary schools in the area. I was treated well but there were minor issues of course. The experience pretty much changed my life. I stayed in Japan for 10 years, and returned to my home country. I now teach English to international students to help them to enter university.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So Fendy, 3+1 is 4 where I am from.

I disagree with some posters that the JET Program is a waste. I was deeply integrated in my school for 1 year and still am in contact with a few students and teachers. Some of my students were deeply influenced by the English club activities I did, and one in particular is now an interpreter and has appeared on tv. On the other hand many of the JP English teachers have the opposite effect and demotivate the students. They should be fired and work as translators in small cybicles alone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps if you paid a decent wage ALTs wouldn't change so much.

If your only qualification is being a native speaker of English, you should consider yourself lucky to get a job on just that basis. It is estimated that there are 330-360 million people world wide who are native speakers of English and many millions more who are very competent in the language.

As a general rule, jobs that pay well are those that require high level qualifications that few other people have. If you want a high pay job in Japan (or anywhere else), you need to have something other than the chance acquisition of English as a spoken language.

Grunt language teaching jobs anywhere for any language are generally insecure and low pay. If you are stuck in this type of job, you really should consider acquiring qualifications that command a better price in the job market.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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