Team teaching can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a successful ALT in Japan. There are plenty of people who work well on their own. However, when they have to share authority and communicate with another person from a different culture things can break down pretty quickly!
To be an effective team teacher it helps to understand how your co-workers function so you can capitalize on each other's strengths and minimize each other's weaknesses.
This is the second part of a series, be sure to check out part one!
Here are some more things to consider when thinking about the best way to work with your JTEs (Japanese teachers of English)!
Improvisation vs Planning
Where do you fall on this spectrum? Personally, I like to have loose plans and then adjust them on the fly. This allows me to adapt my lessons based on the style of the teacher and the level of the students.
If you don't plan anything, the class can feel unorganized and sloppily put together. Most students and teachers will think that you haven't put in the amount of time necessary for the class (thus making you look unprepared and unprofessional).
If you plan every minute and don't leave any room for adjustment, the class will feel rigid and not really tailored for your students and the situations they'll run into.
How to work with an improviser: Do your best to get some kind of plan together. Usually, asking your JTE about what they plan to do for the next class is a good place to start. If they don't have an answer, tell them to think about it and that you'll come back later. Remember that if you ask too many times you'll start to bug them! Even a quick two-minute meeting right before the class to discuss the game plan can help.
Staying open to their plan and communicating during the class is also helpful. Remember, you are a team!
How to work with a planner: JTEs who plan out everything sometimes become trapped by their plans if they aren't followed strictly. For example, some teachers will want to continue with their lesson plan even though things aren't working out too well for the class. Rather than try to adapt and change, they will stick to the original plan for the sake of doing things the way it was planned.
If you suggest an idea, it may be shot down, but don't get discouraged!
JTEs like this will be hard to reason with in the class because they are uncomfortable with changing things while they are teaching. Trying to get them to change in the middle of the class may lead to them becoming defensive (and closed off to your ideas).
Take some time to talk with them after the class. Discuss what thing went well in the lesson and what could be improved. Remember to be diplomatic in your approach (unless you wanna solo teach the rest of the year). Work together to make a new plan that accomplishes your goals!
Open to new ideas vs closed to new ideas
I'm sure everyone has had some experience with these polar opposites. On the one hand, you have a "yes person." Everything you suggest is great and there are no wrong ideas!
On the other hand, you have the "naysayer." Everything you suggest to this person is the worst thing they've ever head and you can never be right!
People on both sides on the opposite ends of this spectrum present their own set of challenges when it comes to trying to work with them. Here are some tips to fight through your issues and get the job done!
How to work with someone who's too open to new ideas: Everyone can agree that it's good to be open to new ideas and experiences, but there is such a thing as being too open!
As the famous quote says, "Keep an open mind, sure–but not so open that your brains fall out."
When a co-worker is too open to ideas, they become indecisive or seem to have no ideas of their own. This can especially become a problem when you are counting on someone to make a decision, give constructive feedback or provide leadership.
If someone seems to be saying yes to everything, it can feel like they don't care or are incapable of making decisions!
You may have to pin down the person to make a decision (not physically like wrestling, and in a polite way). Try to limit your options. Give them a choice between two ideas with some pros and cons for each. Ask them which one they think is better and work together to make it a success.
If you need some feedback, ask another co-worker for their opinions.
If all else fails, it looks like you will have to become the decider!
How to work with someone who's closed to new ideas: This type of person can be especially frustrating to work with. A team teaching environment works best when both parties have some level of influence over how the class will go. If you have zero input throughout your time teaching, you may begin to feel undervalued and non-essential.
Despite your predicament, do your best to stay positive! Japan has a culture that sometimes relies on a rigid hierarchy that's difficult to work around. Some teachers may feel that you haven't paid your dues so you don't know what you're talking about. Others may not be used to having to share decision-making authority.
The best way to work with this person is to prove yourself.
Show that you can do what has been requested of you and that you know how to fall in line. They'll come to respect your work ethic and you'll start to earn their trust.
If you have an idea, it's all about how you pitch it! Instead of saying something like, "You decide everything. I want to do this. This is better than what you are doing," try something like, "Your ideas are really good. I think this could make it better. What do you think about this? Do you think it'll work?"
In the previous examples, the first approach starts off with confrontation. The second is more geared towards teamwork and cooperation. See if there is a way that you can take their idea and tweak it slightly. Show that you have learned from their example and want to enhance what they have and they'll be more willing to work with you.
You can also say that you've tried something at another school (or class) and that it worked well. See if they would be willing to give you a shot!
If you've worked hard, have fallen in line, and you're still not getting anywhere, you may have to enlist some help. Try talking to others who may have worked with that person before. Try to get to know that person and the reasons why they are so rigid.
If none of these tips workout, you may have to bite the bullet and do your best despite your circumstances. If a co-worker has demonstrated that you'll never be listened to, it may be a waste of time and energy to try to get that co-worker to come around. Instead, focus your energy in a more positive direction and do what you can for your students.