The dos and dont’s of class control for ALTs

By Liam Carrigan

“All kids in Japan are polite and well-behaved.”

A common trope, but this is absolutely not the case.

Japan isn’t so different from anywhere else. There are good kids who will play along with an almost angelic demeanor and there are difficult kids can who make The Incredible Hulk seem calm and rational.

What is different here, however, is the way that we tackle such behaviors and how we maintain discipline in our classroom.

It’s important to remember that — from an official standpoint — ALTs aren’t supposed to be handling disciplinary issues. It is the responsibility of your Japanese teacher of English (JTE) to handle classroom disruptions. There are, however, a number of situations where we will have to get involved.

Sometimes, your colleague may be young, nervous or feel intimidated by their students. Other times, you may be left to run a class by yourself due to teacher illness, events at the school or other unforeseen circumstances. In short, you need to be prepared to take charge because chances are it will happen to you at some point.

So let’s run down three common scenarios you’ll face in the classroom and the do’s and don’ts for each one.

1. Students talk over you while you teach

Don’t shout at the students to be quiet. Like any troublemakers, showing the students that they can provoke a reaction from you through disruptive behavior is a pretty destructive precedent to set.

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I studied abroad in high school 3 different times in Japan, twice in the summer and once a whole year. Japanese classrooms are almost chaotic compared to my school back in the states. Back home we could never talk without being called upon, couldn't leave the classroom without a hall pass (and even then we only got 3 a semester), and if we had our cell phones (etc) out they would be confiscated by the teacher. And we were never left alone without a teacher. Of course not all of this is good but compared to what people from other countries assume it was really different and it's not like my experience there wasn't usual. The first two times I SA I thought it was just because the schools I went to were in the country and I shrugged it off but then I went for a year at an elite all girls school in Hiroshima and although it was a little tighter with the rules it was really a bit of a laissez-fair environment. Japanese schools only want you to appear like you're following every rule with uniforms and hair styles, even the color of pencils we could use, but behavior wise they really don't care. I suppose that's why a lot of bullying isn't addressed, I mean there was never even a teacher around outside of class time when I went here. Maybe things have changed in the last decade but I doubt it honestly.

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I won't do any of those things - as long as the home room teacher backs me up. The first time I'm left out to dry, I'll dish out punishment how I see fit.

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