There is still a lot of debate about exactly what the role of an ALT is. Some see ALTs as an assistant teacher in Japan who came to bring English into the classroom in a positive way. Some view ALTs as activity/game factories whose goal is to entertain and boost the students' interest in English.
Whatever your view is on the role of an ALT, the one thing you can count on is that you WILL be working with other teachers and staff.
This is the third part of a series, be sure to check out part one and part two!
With that in mind, I'm continuing this series about how to work with various personality types in Japan.
Laid-back vs serious
This can be a big deal in Japan. I feel like Japan as a whole is much more serious at work (and can often be far more laid back when going out). The attitude of your supervisors often trickles down to the staff and ultimately sets the mood for the workplace.
Whatever type of workplace you're in, it's best to get with the culture and try not to be too far on either end of this spectrum.
How to work with a laid-back JTE: Now that I'm thinking about this, it seems like laid-back JTEs are certainly in the minority.
For some being laid-back could mean that a person has a very nice, genuine, go-with-the-flow kind of attitude. The opposite end of that spectrum could be viewed as aloof, lazy, uncaring, or unprofessional.
If your JTE is laid-back, then enjoy the ride! They will often be the ones setting the standard for behavior and what you should be doing at school.
Just remember that the students and teachers should be your focus so as long as everyone is learning, nobody is offending anyone, and the supervisors are happy, everything should be fine!
How to work with a serious JTE: This can be a challenge for some ALTs. A VERY serious JTE can sometimes really be a wet blanket on a good time.
These types of JTEs usually value control and an orderly environment. They may not want to joke around in the class or try activities that they view as too goofy or serving no purpose.
If your JTE is super serious, show them that you're good at what you do. Later, check to see if there are any cracks in their facade!
Showing that you take your job seriously is paramount when working with this type of JTE. If you can demonstrate that you are professional but can still have a good time, they'll likely start to warm up to you.
In a lot of cases, the serious front is kind of a way of staying on guard. Once you get to know them a little more (like going out outside of work or talking at a party), they may start to let that guard down a bit and become a little more easy going.
Proactively communicates vs does not initiate communication
Being an ALT requires teamwork and nothing is more important to teamwork than communication!
This is especially true as most ALTs work in multiple schools with multiple teachers.
How to work with someone who proactively communicates: If your JTEs are sending you emails and coming over to your desk in the teacher's room to talk about lessons, that's fantastic!
If your JTEs' communication is good, make sure you don't drop the ball!
The best thing you can do is to make yourself available to communicate with. If you get an email, try to get back within 24 hours. If someone writes a note and leaves it on your desk, make sure you read it!
At times, there can be such a thing as TOO MUCH communication.
Some JTEs will want to spend a long time talking about something you've already discussed. They may also just keep hashing over small details (and ultimately taking up your time as well as theirs).
If this situation comes up, see if you can take a rain check on that conversation and talk it over another time. Maybe the issue will resolve itself by then. Just remember to be polite when it comes time to ending conversations!
How to work with someone who does not initiate communication: Working with someone like this can be really tough. ALTs usually can't make a lot of decisions on their own so communication with the JTE is a must.
If the communication between you and your JTEs is bad, it's the students who ultimately suffer.
If you have a JTE who isn't the best with communication, the best thing you can do is to make sure that you're not the one to blame.
When I'm about to change schools, I generally send an email to my teachers about a week before to see if there's anything they'd like me to make before coming.
In the email, I usually say something like:
Hello Mr. Sensei,
How's it going? I'm looking forward to visiting your school next week.
It looks like we'll have a couple of classes on my first day. Do you need me to prepare something?
See you later!
I try to keep the tone of the pretty light. It's a little bit nicer than saying, "What are you doing next week and what do I need to make?"
A lot of times teachers are REALLY busy so it helps to understand that their time can often be limited.
Although we would like all of our co-workers to be great communicators, the truth is that some people just don't have (and don't wanna get it either).
In that scenario, just do the best job you can on your own and don't stress it too much. If you keep bugging your teachers, you may become overbearing and they'll come to resent you!