If you're coming to Japan to work in the JET Programme or as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in the public school system, you're more than likely going to be working with, and under the direction of, a JTE (Japanese Teacher of English).
One thing I'm often asked by my friends and family back home is, "How are the English teachers in Japan?" My response is always, "Think about all of the people you went to school with. Some were really good students and others struggled to get through the day. Some were pretty cool, popular, and outgoing. Others may have been less popular, shyer, and flew under the radar. Some of those people grow up to be teachers."
Because most ALT situations involve team-teaching, your success or failure in this job is going to depend on how well you work with your JTEs in class.
If you want to be able to work effectively with your JTE, it'll help to know what drives them, what expectations they have, their patterns of behavior, and how you can mesh with their style for the benefit of your students.
You are going to want to build a collaborative relationship based on trust and good communication in order to provide high quality lessons for your students.
Over my four years of teaching in Japan, I've worked at nine junior high schools and two elementary schools in addition to making short visits to over a dozen kindergartens.
I've worked with over 50 teachers to teach thousands of students from 1st to 9th grade with all types of personalities in a variety of environments.
Based on my experience, I've found that JTEs tend to differ based on a scale involving many personality traits.
In this series, I'll identify the traits, how people behave on the extreme sides of the scales, and how you can work with that type of person.
When it comes to bringing about change in people, I feel that it's pretty much impossible to change someone unless that person wants to change.
It's far easier to change how you interact with your JTEs and how you respond to their actions as opposed to trying to make them change their behavior.
Before getting into this post, I should note that the scales I use represent extreme opposites and that most JTEs will fall somewhere in the middle.
Now, let's get to it!
Flexible vs Rigid
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Just like with most people you'll meet in life, some tend to go with the flow while others are rigidly stuck in their ways.
Flexibility can be an asset because flexible people are more likely to adapt to situations as they arise. However, it can also be a setback if the person is so flexible that they don't have any opinion and just do what everybody else is doing.
Someone who is very rigid can be really challenging to work with!
They really won't change their mind or way of doing something unless they are outranked or railroaded into doing things.
Even if you are able to carry out an idea that rigid co-worker wasn't in support of, there will probably be some resentment left over or that person may not give you their full support.
How to work with overly flexible people: If you're not getting clear direction, you'll have to be the one who calls the shots and drives the class. Always try to make it about collaboration and working together to avoid dominating the class.
You can also ask for opinions from time to time. Giving choices is a good way to allow the person to choose from a few options rather than being overwhelmed by the idea of having to come up with something on their own.
To quote one of my favorite students when I ask him "What (insert category here) do you like?", he replies "いっぱしぎて、困ります。" (Ippasugite, komarimasu - Rough translation: There are too many [choices], I am troubled [by the number of choices].)
How to work with overly rigid people: These types of people will more than likely be set in their ways. If you fight fire with fire, you may end up destroying your good relationship with them and waste time fighting over who is right instead of getting work done.
Pick your battles and start with small suggestions.
It also helps to let them know that you have tried one of your ideas with another class and that it worked well. You can also try giving them some options so then they feel as though they've had some input into the process. The big thing is to get a buy-in from this overly rigid person so that they'll be on board with your plans.
Organized vs Disorganized
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Some people are highly organized and have all of their lessons planned out for the next three months while others barely know what they're going to be doing in the next five minutes.
Working with someone who is organized can make your life really easy.
If you have questions, they'll be able to provide you with almost immediate answers. Everyone is on the same page and things run smoothly.
Working with someone who is disorganized can be a real nightmare. Everything operates by the "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of style. If you have a question, they may not even know where to find the answer. Everyone will be left wondering what's going to happen and how it's going to get done.
Working with organized people: There usually aren't too many problems working with organized people (unless you are unorganized yourself).
Be sure to stay on top of details!
These people usually like to give you information early and expect you to remember what's been decided. If you take notes, pay attention to details, and stay organized, you should have a good time!
Working with disorganized people: The key here is to be as organized as you can and to work with what you've got. If you're waiting for your schedule or trying to find out what's going to happen for the next lesson, it can be really frustrating.
You never, especially in Japan, want to blatantly call someone out on their disorganized behavior. You may feel better, but Japan has a very hierarchical system and values saving face and social harmony.
ALTs are often viewed as being lower on the totem pole since we usually haven't been here as long as the JTEs (that is to say we haven't "paid the dues") and we don't work the same hours as they do.
In Japan working longer hours is often viewed as showing more dedication to one's job versus doing more in a shorter amount of time.
You can attempt to alleviate the situation by offering to help with making the schedule or coming up with ideas for lessons. Again, make it all about collaboration. By collaborating, you'll show that you value your JTE as a partner and are not trying to take over the class. If you do these things, your help should be welcome.
That's it for this post. Have you worked with these types of people? How did you handle it?
Do you have any questions about how to deal with other personality types? Let me know!