Thank Your Teachers

A few weeks ago an ALT friend posted on Facebook asking for advice on how to deal with uncooperative homeroom teachers who do not actually team teach with him. We have all known these teachers. Some of them grade papers while the ALT tries to run the class, some stand or sit in the back of the classroom, starting confusedly at a copy of the lesson plan that they are supposed to be teaching.

If you’ve ever been an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, then you know vast the difference is between a helpful, cooperative teacher, and the deadbeats. My friend’s post struck me though, because he is what you might call a professional ALT. He has roots in Japan, he takes his job seriously, and he has a lot of experience in international English education. But even with these resources to bear, he still faces the same problem which plagued me as a first year ALT. Of course, it is not his fault, but it made me realize how hard it is to instill positive teaching practices in teachers who have little experience with English or who simply allow themselves to succumb to the fears of difference.

It also made me realize how lucky I am to have teachers with whom I have developed healthy and positive teaching relationships. Of the 30 or so Japanese teachers that I work with, none of them cower in the rear of the class, none of them are so rude as to grade papers, and although the level of interaction and classroom control varies, across five schools, I am lucky to have no issues even approaching this level.

So after all three of my elementary classes this morning, I thanked each teacher personally as we walked back to the classroom. I realized that in acclimating to Japanese culture, in which uniformity and equity are social norms, I have forgotten how to really show true appreciation. These teachers deserve to have some cookies baked for them, for being professionally and socially proficient enough to work with a person who is an intuitive expert in the subject material, but also perform the role of primary teacher. It really can’t be easy. So thank your JTE’s the next time you have a great class. Maybe other teachers will catch on and learn.


Welcome to America

The experience that one has when encountering a faceless organ of the state really depends on the manner and tone of the actual human face you interact with. I return to the US about once or twice a year, and have had a wide range of experiences. Sometimes the border control agents are very friendly, chatting about their day, or mentioning their own Japanese experiences when I mention where I live. Other times they simply follow their script. Usually the script seems pretty boring, almost basic to the point of inanity.

When I flew back into the US this May, I had a rather odd interaction with the border control agent in Los Angeles. Here’s the content of our entire exchange. I’m confident that it is word for word, since I wrote it down immediately afterward:

Why were you in Japan?

I live there.

What do you do in Japan?

I teach English.

When is your birthday?

June 6th, 1984

Have you ever lived in New Haven, CT?


Welcome to America.

Have you ever lived in New Haven, Connecticut?┬áMy initial reaction was that the guy thought I looked familiar and wanted to make sure he knew me or not. But would he insert such a personal question into an official transaction of information? And if it was a legitimate question, what is the connection? I’m still amused by the seeming pointlessness of the exchange. I gave all of the right answers, but I have some new doubts about the relevance of the questions asked at our borders.