Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: A Slice of Life Post

From July to December I traveled, but also in between those travels was of course the everyday life of Itako. It wasn’t until December that it occurred to me that I should talk about the actual, ya know, job I was doing and what it all entailed.And thus, I finally wrote about all that, and about other things.


MY SCHOOLS, STUDENT STORIES, AND ALT ISSUES

In Itako, I work at two junior high schools, Itako 2nd Junior High School and Hinode Junior High School. Right now I’m at Hinode JU, and next month I’ll rotate over to Itako 2nd. I love both my schools. Itako 2nd wasn’t damaged very much by the earthquake, so by the time I got there everything was fixed.

Hinode JU has construction going on right now. Basically, Hinode is rice fields all around. When the earthquake happened on March 11th, the ground actually collapsed downward. Poles are still drooping left and right all over the place. Some sidewalks are nearly vertical. The roads are a mess, with pot holes and gravel all over the place. I have to be careful when I drive, too, because sometimes the roads suddenly have huge bumps that could be mistaken for hills. I can go air born if I’m not paying attention.

Even My school is still undergoing reconstruction. When I first arrived here, the entrance had a space from the floor level to the ground. That’s been covered up with asphalt. There’s luckily no structural damage done to the building. The gymnasium was unusable for a little bit. The gym had a massive crack up the side, like it was torn in half (and I suppose it kind of was). That’s all fixed up now. Slowly but surely, Hinode is recovering.


Slowly, yeah, like a snail’s pace. Even as I left in my third year, they were paving and putting the roads back in the places they were supposed to be. The problem was that the area didn’t have enough money to fix everything, as in literally nothing much except to patch the most important things up (like the water lines) until money came in from tourism.

Oh, did I mention that the bulk of tourism was in summer? Yep, which meant we had to wait around for another year before things got back to a semblance of normal. It was no one’s fault, that’s just what happens when it comes to natural disasters. Stuff gets broken, stuff needs fixing, but the money has to come in later.


My kids are great. At Hinode JU I’ve got the more shy crowd than with Itako 2nd. Hinode students will take to me more often when I’m at the mall and at 7/11 than at school. I’ve started eating lunch with them so that they will speak more English.

Lunch at my school goes like so: Students don’t go to a cafeteria like in America. Instead, they eat in their classrooms. Some students in each class are selected to dish out the food. These students dress up in white uniforms that include hats, gloves, and face masks. They dish out the food onto other students’ trays. When that’s all done, the class says a big, “Itadakimasu!” (I humbly accept this meal!) And they eat. When they’re done, they say, “Gochisosama deshita!” (Thank you for the food!)


Those lunches were…decent. I see people sharing those viral videos about how “healthy” those school lunches are, and I guess in comparison to American lunches they definitely are. At the same time, most of the fish and meat parts are fried 9 times out of ten. The soups have veggies, but the salt content is high as hell. Most vegetables had obviously been frozen, reheated, soaked in salt and grease, and then put into a huge soup dispenser. Most of the other foods were processed like that.

However, there might be a few pieces of fresh fruit every now and then, like apples and grapes. I loved orange season, because we’d get oranges for days. Since the meal was regulated to one meat thing, one veggie thing, and rice, the calorie portions were well within dietary guidelines to stave off obesity. And like I said before, the taste was decent, as in not awful, but I wouldn’t say it was awesome either.

Most students weren’t fans of anything but Curry Day, which was like how students in America love Pizza Day. It’s not at all healthy, but it’s the one actually delicious meal of the month.The milk was my biggest problem. I’m lactose intolerant, so I would pretend to drink some of it, and then throw away the rest.


 If you read manga or seen a single episode of a anime series set in high school, it will come as no surprise to you that Japanese students have to clean their schools. At Itako 2nd, students usually clean the school after lunch. At Hinode, students usually clean the school after all six periods are done.

It’s fun to watch them do it. Teachers supervise the students, making sure that they actually clean instead of play. Students wipe down windows, sweep, mop, and so on. When they have to sweep the gym, they’ll race each other to finish. They also like to janken (play rock, paper, scissors) for the tasks they hate. Loser, of course, has to do it.

I walk around when they’re cleaning sometimes and talk to them in English. I’m encouraged to talk to them in as much English as possible at my schools. From these conversations, I’ve gotten some pretty interesting questions. For example, one student asked me for my bust size in perfect English. I rewarded her with the correct answer and giggled for the rest of the day. I have boys asking me if I like them, which is adorable. Other students want to know if I’m eating KFC for Christmas (insert raging expletives here). And so and so forth.


There is a slight misunderstanding about students cleaning schools. For some reason, people are under the impression that janitors don’t exist at the schools. That’s a lie, they have janitors, but the janitors aren’t called janitors. School assistants with part time jobs, whose exact title changes with each school, are basically janitors and then some. They come into the school and deep clean about once a month, but they also have other tasks like scheduling lunch food drop offs, cooking (as in reheating the frozen food) lunches, and etc. They’re behind the scenes, and are often unappreciated in my opinion, because they make sure the school looks good and gets all the random tasks taken care of so the school works like a semi-well oiled machine.

I was friends with one of them at Hinode JU, until she retired my second year. She was a sweet old lady with a heart of gold. I do not remember her name, but she was also our office lady and she sneaked me sweets because I sneaked her some. She was awesome, and I hope she’s doing well.


I try out my Japanese on them sometimes, which makes them all kinds of surprised. I don’t use it that much with them because I want them to talk in English, but sometimes I can’t help myself. One time, I used an expression my friend, Nobuko, taught me on a boy. He was not looking at my eyes, so I said, “Anata sukebe ne?” Which basically means, “Oh, you’re a perv, huh?” And he shook his head and said “No! No! No! I am good! I am good!” I rewarded him with a sticker for the English and for suffering the shock of a lifetime.


Apparently, I didn’t set up why I said this, which is odd. The full story, because for some reason I still remember this, the boy said, “You have a body I like!” which astounded me because he’d not spoken but all of two English sentences before. Instead of reprimanding him (as I probably should’ve?), I wanted him to keep speaking English, but also make sure he knew that wasn’t ok. Thus, I shocked him with my Japanese.

Weird, why didn’t I mention that? Was I worried people would think I was adding to the ‘pervy-Japanese’ stereotype? The fact is that high school boys, no matter where in the world, are all high school boys. Not all of them say outrageous stuff and act crazy, but you know more than a few do, and sometimes they say things about bodies and butts and stuff. If I got angry with every single weird comment, I’d have no energy for anything else. Instead, it’s always best to match them with the higher level wit given to me over years of teaching (and having far worse harassment before in life).


Right now, we’ve got testing going on, so my schedule’s a little erratic. I can have anywhere from one class a day to five. The five class days are killer. I don’t know why, but it’s so draining. Just one class right after the other and talking to students at lunch, there’s barely anytime to go to the bathroom. When I have just one class, I try to use the time wisely by studying Japanese, but I might meander onto Cracked.com or Facebook when I get bored.


Here we come across one of the other reasons I decided to quit JET. As much as I loved those schools and those students, five classes back to back with lunchtime basically another class, plus hours after school for Interactive Forum for half of the year, I got burnt out. I was trying to tell myself that I could do it for five years, but the truth was that already in the first year I could tell that I wasn’t going to make it the full five.

I knew that other teachers had harder schedules, working five classes everyday with no lunch break at all, and little to no prep time except on weekends. Then again, other teachers didn’t have to prep at all, and they’d only have four classes with no lunchtime with students. Regardless, for me, the work schedule at that time came with also the underlying (i.e. unspoken) agreement that I couldn’t complain, because I was paid so much to “just be an assistant,” which was a bit unfair.

I was an assistant teacher to two schools, with two different sets of teachers with different expectations for classroom English activities, and two different sets of students who I couldn’t remember all the names of until the very end of each year. It was hectic, and even when I got used to it and rolled well, I was still struggling because nothing was consistent. I was getting flopped around back and forth between these different working environments and expected to just enjoy the ride.

Not saying I didn’t most of the time, but it was exhausting in ways that are hard to explain. A foreigner with little to no grasp of the native language, no teaching experience, and learning everything on the fly in a foreign country was already hard enough. Having an inconsistent environment to work in every month just compounded those problems.


I’ve started staying after school to play some sports. I played volleyball yesterday, and tomorrow I’m going to play basketball. The students are happy to see me, and the coaches help to encourage them to do English when I’m there. I love sports, I really do, but I’m bad at them. My volleyball girls would giggle whenever I completely failed at a maneuver (which was often). One girl, Kanna, helped me out with the footwork by trying to tell me things in English. In the end, she would say the Japanese, and I would say the English, and then she would repeat the English. Close enough, right?

At one point yesterday, I had a ball just fly left and keep going. I said, “Sumimasen. Sorry.” And one girl smiled at me and said, “It’s ok! Ball likes to go!” I wish I could’ve given here like a thousand stickers in that moment, because that was awesome.


“OH?!” you say at the fact I stuck around after school to play sports, “If you were so tired then why were you playing around? HUH?! Liar!” Well, no, not really.

See, there was this unspoken thing about being on JET (although sometimes spoken outright as well) that since we’re paid “so much” to “just be assistants” then it only makes sense for us to stay after school and on weekends to speak English with the students. Also, JET meetings and seminars were very intense on getting students to “speak as much English as possible” because they didn’t meet the required 90% English requirements in classrooms. So it was up to us, the hero JETs, to save Japanese students and fill their lives with as much English as possible!

But of course, what the JET meetings and seminars don’t say is that Japan shouldn’t need “heroes” at all. If Japanese teachers spoke the required amount of English in English classrooms, we actually wouldn’t be necessary at all. Also, getting paid for a full time job and telling someone they shouldn’t be paid that much because their level is lower than that of others in the workplace is a bit harsh.

JETs need that money, because moving to another country isn’t cheap. We have to pay for all sorts of start up costs: cell phones, contracts for cars, if you don’t drive then bikes, TV, internet, etc. We’re not just assistants, we’re foreign workers, and that’s why JET pays well. It wants to give incentives for people to stick with the job and not quit, and hopefully bring more people over. Not everyone wants to go to Japan, despite the high number of JET applicants telling otherwise.

Anyways, yes, I at times overworked myself too hard. I wanted to be the best JET I possibly could, and I was. I just didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t have to be the very best.


When I leave Itako 2nd, I go home by taxi service. No, it’s not because I’m that important, but instead because of this safety clause in my contract that states I can’t drive myself during school hours. When I’m at Hinode, I walk to school because I live so close. When I went to the elementary school, I would walk there, too.

I’ve only been to the elementary school once, but I want to go again really bad. They’re so adorable! Oh my god, I want a Japanese child! They kept asking me questions in Japanese, so I had the greatest test of my Japanese skills with them. I managed to make it through pretty well. Luckily, elementary Japanese is around my level of equivalency.


Jesus Mother Mary and Joseph, there was a time I actually enjoyed elementary school classes.

Let’s just say I’ve discovered over the years that I love playing with kids, but I don’t love teaching children. Especially when two classes (or that one time THREE) get all shoved together into the same time slot and I have to teach about 80+ children a lesson while also making sure none of them kill each other. It was fine at first, when I was only going a total of two days once a month and doing proper 30-40+ kids. When the school I guess decided to cut the budget and English class hours, ughhhhhh.

That being said, I heard Itako finally got around to hiring proper elementary school JET, so yay you new person, enjoy.


I got a lot of, “Are you married?” and “Boyfriendo?” questions that made me sigh. That question will never die. Unlike my junior high school kids, my elementary school kids really couldn’t believe it. They were so confused. I tried my best to explain, but I think I failed that part of the interview. Instead, I moved onto talking about MatsuJun and Arashi.


Nowadays, I get the question in high school, “Husbando? Boyfriendo?” looks cautiously both ways, “Girlyfriendo?” And the answer to that, even if it’s a lie, will always and forever be, “I’m single.” If you answer yes to any of those questions, the students will badger you until the day you die about every single detail. Best to just cut off that insanity before it even starts.


Most of my students and I get along pretty well. I have a couple of disruptions every once and awhile, but I’ve been figuring out ways to solve them as I go. In class, one of the best ways is for me to just move and stand close to a students that’s misbehaving. Out of class, I yell out in Japanese and startle my kids to cut it out. It’s the power of being a foreigner. People pay attention when you do anything. It’s a little unnerving at first, but I’ve started using it to my advantage at school.


Shouting was basically the only form of discipline I could do at my old schools. Nowadays, I keep them in the afternoon for study time and cleaning time. Back then I had no power or authority to do anything, so I just did what I could with yelling and tattling to homeroom teachers about super obnoxious or dangerous behavior (fights and such) but honestly I didn’t have to do that much. Japanese students are generally more well behaved than American students.


I love my job. I love getting up and working everyday. However, there are a few issues. People who are interested in the JET program and teaching in Japan in general should know the job can be challenging. After all, even the best schools and best students won’t be perfect 100% of the time, so sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling like maybe you’re all alone with these problems, exacerbating the already kind of isolation you get by living abroad.

Some of the issues I’ve faced as an ALT in my schools include getting time to discuss future lessons with Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs).  I’m lucky with my placement. I can usually get time before class to discuss a lesson with the English teacher in charge. However, that’s not always the case, and many ALTs are not so lucky. It’s not unheard of for an ALT to get no information on a class at all before having to walk in and start teaching.

Sometimes I’ve just had to wing it because the teacher’s been too busy with his or her other responsibilities to tell me the plan. After all, the teachers have to do so much. They have to plan out lessons, grade everything, keep the grades straight in the grade book, and so on. Also, most teachers aren’t just teachers. They’re also coaches, supervisors over school projects, members the Parent Teachers Association, and so on.

For times when you can’t grab a teacher to find out the plan, just give it your best guess and plan accordingly. Make two lessons, one which is grammar point oriented and another that’s much less difficult to do, just in case the JTE says, “Oh no, that’s too hard!” and you’re not left in stunned silence with nothing to do for that class.

One of the things that will be a little frustrating at first is trying to figure out the students English level. Students will know some words but not those words, and they will know this basic bit of grammar but something very similar is too difficult, oh and this cannot be said the way you usually say it because students get confused…You get the idea.

It’ll be frustrating, but it’ll be alright. If you get a textbook and flip through it, you’ll get an idea of what the students know and don’t know. If all else fails, ask the JTE. They will probably tell you a lot at first, “Can you make it easier?” and you will probably think, “But it is easy…” but what they mean by “easier” is actually like shorter words and shorter sentences. Think less complex and more elementary school English.


Past me is right about everything here. Japanese English teachers are super busy, they rarely have time to sit down and help you plan things out. Make the worksheets simple and easy in accordance with the grammar lesson, and don’t be afraid to fail. Some classes aren’t going to go well, just do what you can with what you’re given.


Also, you will speak English too fast when you first get there. It’s just a fact. You will speak English too fast at first for students to understand. Your JTE will inform you that you have to slow down over and over again at the beginning, and you will think, “But I am talking slow.” Sorry, still too fast. Don’t worry though because after about a month you’ll develop Shatner-esque style of talking that will become your default mode for students. It’ll take a while before you can get it to feel a little less robotic, but you’ll make it work somehow.


Also, if you have an accent, it will mellow out as time goes on. My Kentucky accent was already barely there in the first place, but it’s all gone now.


In JET, there’s this saying that they use at orientation called E.S.I.D. (Every Situation is Different). Meaning every class is different and every student is different and every teacher is different. When it comes to conversing with Japanese Teachers of English and other Japanese co-workers, the task is daunting at first. At Hinode my teachers are a little more shy and nervous around me at first, but after while they’ve gotten used to me and ask me about my day. Itako 2nd embraced me wholeheartedly and it feels like they never stop talking to me. Since I’m shy around people at first and a natural introvert, I had to force myself to speak and interact, with can be terribly difficult with the language barriers.


Once again, I forgot to mention that students will be shy as hell around you at first too. It’ll take them about a couple of weeks to get used to you, and even then, there will always just be that one shy kid in class who won’t have the nerve to converse with you until the very end of a school year. Just be yourself, your teacher self anyway.


Miscommunications can and will happen. That’s just part of it, but they can be hard to work through. For me, the miscommunications I have the most pertain to class and how to teach during class. There are some fundamental cultural differences between the Japanese style and the Western style of teaching. In Japan, it’s usually lecture style, with the teacher at the front telling students what to learn and no interruptions allowed.

I tried when I first got here to ask questions when I was at the front to get a more discussion style class going, but that quickly died. Japanese students are really not trained like Western students to be active in class. It’s actually considered rude to interrupt or ask questions because that means the teacher didn’t do a “good enough” job teaching. My JTE at Itako 2nd actually sat me down to talk with me about it, and said even though the Japanese schools want a more Western classroom for English classes, it’s a going to be a while before it actually happens.


Oh yeah, this problem. I fixed that within the first year. The trick is to give out stickers every single time someone says something, even if it’s wrong. Ask the teachers if bonus points are allowed for speaking up. I did more games, allowing for more talking, and made most of them conversation style. It took like 9+ months, but eventually most students could answer questions.


At the end of the day, I do my best to say goodbye to as many students as I can before I go home. I love my job, but I will say it’s draining some days. I try to remember my trump card: “I’m tired, but I’m tired IN JAPAN!” It still manages to perk me up. Also, when my students are shouting, “Goodbye!” and “I love you!” I feel a little proud that I’ve got such great kids.

And now, I’m going to go dive under my kotatsu.

TTYL!


They were great kids, I’m still proud of them. I met one of my old students at Tokyo Station once by chance. We exchanged LINE Ids, but then I got a new phone and lost all my old contacts (iPhones suck). Before I lost her, I found out she went on to be a student at Yokohama University. She was still studying English, and she was doing well. I was so happy she remembered me when she saw me, and I remembered her. Even if I never see half my students again, every single second I spent with them I wouldn’t take back.

I also miss you, my dear kotatsu. I hope my successor is treating you well!

Alright, see you in two weeks for the next flashback!

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Posted in Jobs in Japan

Teaching Experience: Do you “need” it for the JET Program?

I get this question all the time. “Somebody said that they don’t accept people without teaching experience, is that true?” The long and short of that is no, otherwise I would’ve been rejected from JET. I had some tutoring and an observing education class in university (wherein I went to different schools to watch teachers in their classes), and that’s all I had. Before the JET Program, I had never taught in front of a classroom, so you don’t need to worry about it.

It doesn’t hurt your odds to get in if you’ve got teaching experience, so by all means if you do have it put that on your application and mention it in the interview. Be sure you can answer questions well, like “Why did you want to become a teacher? What kind of teacher do you want to be? How long have you been teaching?” Those kind of routine questions will be asked, and then they may go even harder on you. “What are some challenges you’ve faced in the classroom that you’ve overcome? How many students do you teach on average?” And so on.

Regardless of whether you do or don’t have experience, be sure you can answer the question, “Why do you want to teach in Japan?” My answer was along the lines of, “I want to be a good representative of my country in the classroom so students will have a good impression of foreigners, specifically American foreigners. I want Japan’s international relations to improve, even if it’s only in a small way.” It’s not a bad answer, I think, but there are better answers out there. For example, an art major I knew told her interviewers that she wanted to learn about East Asian art, and bring that experience back to America to influence her art. She hoped to be a part of the art after school programs in her school so she could teach them the Western styles of art and they could teach her the Eastern. It was a better answer in my opinion because it showed she’s future oriented, she’s thinking outside the box, not just the classroom but even after school activities.

Know this answer and memorize it. Practice saying and explaining your view before the big interview. I’ve talked about the JET program before, so be sure to take a look at both the video and the article to learn about what it takes to get in. Also, there’s a very nifty guide from Tofugu about the JET Interview. Read it to get prepared to give the best impression!

 

Posted in flashback friday, Jobs in Japan

Flashback Friday: When It’s All Mundane

As the months rolled on from summer into fall of 2011, I found myself unable to write about my life. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to, but I found that everything was becoming a new standard of “normal.” I wasn’t running off to go on adventures every weekend, I wasn’t living in an anime, I had a real life with a real job I needed to do. The days passed by with little to nothing noteworthy, so I ended up posting only two things the entire month of November.

I decided to stick with the old phrase, “Write about what you know.”


MY DAILY ROUTINE

People have asked me what I do during the day, so I’ll talk a little bit about that. It’s pretty simple. I arrive at 8:15 at my school and work until 4:00 in the afternoon. When I arrive I say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” My teachers will either say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” back or “Good morning!”I can have two to five class periods per day. During free periods, I try to work on worksheets, projects, Japanese (reading and writing), and I won’t lie sometimes I just go onto Facebook. Sometimes I eat with the students for lunch and speak in English to them. Other times, especially lately, I eat with the teachers and try out both my Japanese and English skills.


Each ALT will have a different opinion on whether or not they should or shouldn’t eat school lunches with the kids. Some people don’t get a choice and have to regardless, but for me I was given the option. Some days I could force myself to be genki and try to initiate broken conversations. Other times, I couldn’t bear the thought of forcing words out and making lunch into yet another class to teach.

The argument for them goes like so: Students need more conversation practice and more time with the foreign teacher(s). But the counter argument to that is some people would like to eat in privacy and not get stressed out over eating. I took it day by day.


My kids are great. I’ve got a couple of punks that are too cool for school, but that’s normal I think. Some kids are also really shy, but I’ll keep trying to get them to talk. They love to tell me about what they like and don’t like. The boys are hilarious. They’re not looking at my eyes, if you catch my drift, but they’re talking to me in English so it’s all good.


I felt really bad for most of my junior high school students, actually. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that their English levels were perhaps American grade level forth graders, if that. It was around this time I realized that Itako was much like the decade ago version of Paducah: most of those kids would become farmers, they would drop out of high school, they’d get married, and they might never even leave Japan.

That’s not to say of course that many of them didn’t go into good high schools to eventually perform well at university (I actually met up with one or two recently in Yokohama!). At the same time, the majority were still just products of their upbringing and conservative environment. The schools are improving every year though, and I watched as our scores rose higher and higher while I was there. Yet I would also watch as the “punk” kids struggled to understand the basics of anything and wouldn’t even bother trying because they figured they knew exactly how their lives would turn out.


My Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs for short) are awesome. I love working with them. They are so accommodating with my crazy English. Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate some things, but I’m lucky to have them for JTEs. Some people have issues with their teachers and supervisors in ways that horrify me. I’m so glad my JTEs are nice, respectful, and willing to teach me.


While it’s true that my JTE’s were pretty great as people, I still couldn’t believe their English skills were so hit and miss.  Considering that most of them came from the era of Japanese education where English was only reading and writing? It was pretty good. In terms of fluency? High intermediate level on average. They could run circles around me on explaining grammar, but they’d get stumped over simple language conversation usage.

I will still remain forever grateful that most of most stayed with me for all three years. I got that stability of knowing what each of them wanted and not having to worry about brand new people every year. And yes, none of these people gave me horror stories.

Many ALT’s will have THAT ONE ASSHOLE. He/She is the JTE who didn’t bother to do anything ever, blamed the ALT if scores were low, made disparaging comments about foreigners/ALTs/racist other things, sabotages demo lessons in front of other teachers and parents, ruins perfectly good worksheets, behaves like a seudo-yankee and threatens the ALT for coming to class, the list goes on and on.

I only ever had a problem with Mr. Igime (name changed into a pun). He was with me for only six months, and he was just lazy. He’d go into class, use me as a tape recorder, and then just have the students read the books over and over again. He would attempt to bully me, but I’m one of those people who can dish it right back. He learned pretty quickly that I’m not his slave and I’m not going to call him senpai or whatever. The only time he caught me off guard was when he complained in front of the students in Japanese how it wasn’t fair I was making “so much more money” than him. Huge dick move, but jokes on him because I went straight to the Principal after class and filed a complaint. He didn’t come back the following year.


The only downside, I’ll be honest, is the textbooks. The textbooks are awful. Whenever my fellow JET Setters and I get together at a meeting, this topic will invariably come up. Immediately, everybody has something to say in terms of what it does wrong. It ranges from everything to bad grammar, misspellings, archaic language, and then (my biggest issue) the huge lack of English culture in the book.

new-horizon.jpg

I could cite the many pages throughout the New Horizon and Sunshine texts that use incorrect examples of grammar and what have you, but that would take up too much time and effort. Instead, I’ll just give a couple of examples and move on.

“My favorite was Kinkaku-ji.”

First off, it should be Kinkaku Temple, not Kinkaku-ji. Also, favorite what? Your favorite place? Your favorite sight?

“Where shall we meet?”and “Pardon?”

Shall? Really? The last time I used “shall” was a sarcastic response to my mother when she asked me, “Are you going to clean your room?” And I responded in my most obnoxiously polite voice, “Yes, mother, I shall.” Nobody uses shall. It’s polite, but it’s ridiculously polite. And the last person I hear use the word, “Pardon?” was an old lady. Nobody, that I know of, uses the word pardon in everyday language. Instead, I always hear, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Huh?” or “Wha?” or “What?” and on occasion “Darlin’, I didn’ah understand uh word ya jus said.” I miss Kentucky accents. Anyway, they’re teaching the kids these words and I have to stifle the urge to giggle every time.

“I got a letter from Canada. But I can’t read it.”

GAHHHHH! WHAT?! Every single American, British, and Australian will tell you that when writing sentences, you do not put conjugation at the beginning of a sentence if you can help it. The textbook could just as easy say, “I got a letter from Canada, but I can’t read it.” They have other sentences like that in the book. Why the wrong version?! It’s so confusing and inconsistent. Sometimes, I will correct a sentence and a JTE might say, “Oh, but that’s in the textbook!” I clench my fists while I smile and say, “Well, I’m afraid the textbook is wrong. I will let it count, but it’s not correct.” It makes me want to scream just a little bit.

Alright, so you get the idea. Now, it may seem nit picky with these examples, but they’re all over the textbooks. It would be a different story if there were only a few problems, but it doesn’t stop at just a sentence here or there.


Every single ALT I know agrees that the MEXT textbooks are garbage, but they’re government issued garbage so we have to just use them anyway. Three years down the road when I realized that I knew those textbooks inside and out, and I asked myself, “Can I really teach these same lessons for one more year?” I realized the answer was an emphatic NO, and decided it was time to go.

However, this is part of the reason why ALT’s exist. We come into the classroom with Native English (or equivalent) under our belt so that we can point out these mistakes and then teach the students the better way to do it. I spent a lot of classes explaining things like, “Well, even though the textbook says this is natural, we actually say _____ more often.” or “Sometimes it’s okay to do this when you’re writing, but when you’re speaking please be careful not to say it like that.” and visa versa.


I might have been able to let sleeping dogs lie if not for the fact that the textbook teaches little to nothing about foreign culture.

Very briefly at one point the textbook students visit Canada, but then they go back to Japan four pages or so later. So often, the textbooks talk about things in Japan, things the students already know. To me, the implied message is, “Hey, kids! English is awesome for vacations and for a homestay, but really you don’t need to know a single thing about a culture other than your own!” Way to teach a language in a vacuum, MEXT.


Here is another reason ALT’s are necessary, we have the cultural background and understanding of our respective countries that we can bring into the classroom. I talked about Kentucky’s cultural traditions around the holidays-the top three being Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In addition to that I would make English Boards, posters that would get placed on a wall that discussed other countries traditions.

While I still think the textbooks could try and teach a little more about other places, there is something to be said for taking the reigns and proving your worth as vital part of the school. If you notice something that you think is lacking, do something about it.


There is little to no hope for change in the system. The textbooks stay the same because of the standardized tests, and the standardized tests stay the same because of the textbooks. It’s a vicious cycle.

I get through these moments by telling myself that the activities will make up for the loss. However, it’s hard to build up from a poor foundation. It’s very easy for the students to get confused with one little change in the script. For example, I was doing a “Where is…?” assignment. When I asked the students, “Where is your pen?” they all just sat and stared at me in confusion. Eventually they figured it out, but the fact is they couldn’t grasp that “Where is…?” applied not just to, “Where is the store?” but also other things and places. The textbooks make it seem like the scripts are just that, scripts.


Because there is little to no hope for change in the system, it’s really important for teachers to take the initiative to fight for proper English and cultural exchange. Of course, you’ve always got to pick and choose your battles, but make an effort to show that there’s more than just some lines in a book or something to memorize for a test.

Then, what past me doesn’t know yet is that there are ways to make the scripts more memorable and flexible, such as layering. Whenever you move forward, try to bring a little bit back from the previous lesson and layer it on top of new material. Keep it fresh in the students’ minds. Also, bringing in pop culture can always help make it more memorable while being fun at the same time.


For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough when it comes to activities that I haven’t had to work from nothing at all. Lauren left me a huge amount of worksheets and activity books so that I could make my lessons without much hassle. Also, I use a website called Englipedia if I need help with a grammar point activity or if I need something right before class. I love using Englipedia because it’s got the lessons organized by textbook and even by each section. For me it’s one of the most convenient resources online for ALTs.

Usually, I spend at least one free hour planning out the lessons for the next day or next couple of days, depending on what the JTE wants. Sometimes it’s hard to get a hold of them to find out what exactly they want from me, so I leave notes on their desks or a Lesson Plan Form that I fill out for them to look over and return to me. I try to catch them to talk face to face as often as possible, but sometimes they’re just too busy.


I still can’t recommend Englipedia enough as an ALT site. It’s got everything you need to make your lessons great. That being said, sometimes my JTE’s would get so picky about they wanted and I’ve have to redo a worksheet five to ten times to make it look just so or include this vocab word, or something. After all that, I sometimes didn’t even get to use the activities because of some scheduling thing or another! So frustrating, but that’s a part of the job.


Everyday when I leave, I say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” and the teachers in the staff room will either say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” in return or “See you!” The English makes me smile every single time.


I think in my next Japanese Conversation Tip post I’m going to talk about all the different goodbyes that are possible in a Japanese workplace environment versus friends and such. When I first got there it was a bit confusing as to which one I was supposed to use, but nowadays I’m pretty confident on which I should and shouldn’t so I’ll pass that knowledge along.

The rest of the post is talking about my pet spider, which I’d actually like to save for next Friday. I’m going to take that opportunity to educate everyone on all the creepy crawlies that live in the inaka parts of Japan. You’d be surprised what you can find! Until then everyone, sayonara and see you later.

Posted in Jobs in Japan

About the JET Program(me)


The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (ak.a. the JET Programme) is dedicated to “promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations.” The JET Programme is a very well known and well established English teaching program in Japan, but it also has other positions. Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) work in communities on international exchange activities and Sports Exchange Advisors (SEAs) who promote international exchange through sports. I went through the application and interview process in the year 2010, so perhaps some things have changed since then. Be sure to check the websitefor more up to date information.

I’ve been asked over the years about some  specific aspects about the process, so I’ll share my version of the events that led me to Japan and the JET Program.

 

The Application

To get an application, first visit the website for the Embassy of Japan in your country. Since I came from the United States, I’ll be discussing that specific process, so if you’re from another country this information might be a little off from your nation’s way of doing things. Deadlines will be different from country to country so be sure to check on those.

When it comes to the Main Application Form, I can tell you that I agonized over every little detail. I stuffed that thing with as many achievements I possibly could, along with club activities and volunteer work. I expressed my interest in Japan, and I was able to put down that I studied abroad there for a month the previous year.

People applying often ask me if study abroad or Japanese language experience is necessary for acceptance. The answer to that is no, you don’t need Japanese to be an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). In fact most people who come to Japan know little to no Japanese as ALTs, so you don’t have to worry about that aspect of the application. Whether or not you know Japanese will have very little to do with whether or not you get a position.

CIRs and SEAs require a high Japanese ability, as in fluent or at least business fluent (equivalent JLPT N1 or N2).

I know several JETs that have come to Japan with absolutely no experience living or studying abroad. Some people have never even traveled much outside their home state/ providence/ what have you. Also, you don’t need an English or teaching degree. All ALTs must have a Bachelors degree or higher, but teaching experience is not necessary. If you have any experience with any of these things, I would definitely recommend putting that down on your application.

If you don’t, just do your best to put in all the relevant information you can. Believe me when I say that without experience you can still get in. In my Group A (the first group that arrives in Japan in August), there were photography and history majors who never taught a subject before coming to Japan. Everyone has a shot of getting in, so don’t give up just because you think you’re somehow not qualified because you might be surprised who does and doesn’t get into the program.

When it comes to who should give you a recommendation, go with the professors at your college that know you best. I was able to see mine in person to give them the recommendation form, but if you can’t have face to face interaction be sure to leave them with some basic information about the position you’re applying for and what the program is all about. Some professors know it and others don’t, so try your best to make sure they can write up a good recommendation that is relevant to your specific job position and interest in the program instead of spending time having to research what you need from them.

I believe the essay portion, the Statement of Purpose was perhaps the hardest part for me. I wrote it and re-wrote it like ten times before I finally sent it off. The essay is two pages in English, so DO NOT SHOW OFF JAPANESE ABILITIES HERE. Also, if it’s more than two pages, it will get tossed in the trash. You should write down any and all Relevant Experience. For example, in my essay I wrote about how I went to Japan in the summer of 2010 and read to an elementary school class “The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar” in English. That would be considered an applicable experience for the ALT position.  Don’t write something irrelevant, such as how going to Cancun made you want to travel more from those two weeks you spent there during spring break. That has nothing to do with wanting and getting a job. You should also add in professional skills, relevant interests and personal qualities, and how you feel these will be useful to you as an ALT.

You should also include Motivation for Participation, which is basically answering the question, “Why do you want to come to Japan as an ALT (on the JET Program)?” For me, I actually spent a page and a half going over the why first and then adding relevant experience at the end. I discussed my experiences studying abroad and how they affected me  on a personal level. You also add in what you “hope to gain, both personally and professionally, and what effect you hope to have on the Japanese community and internationally as a result of your participation in the JET Program.” Meaning, what do you hope you can achieve for others, as in teachers, students, neighbors, etc.

Do yourself a favor and have people read over your essay before you send it in and get their feedback. Besides checking for punctuation and grammar errors, your friends/ professors/ parents can also point out some qualities about yourself that you might’ve missed.

The rest of the application as I recall was a long chore list of getting a bunch of documents and copies done. For the medical check you can go to your nearest clinic for the medical release form. The clinics do these kinds of physical exams all the time, so it’s very routine for them. Actually, if you’re really lucky, your university might have a doctor that can do it for you (one of my friends went to med school and got it done for free). If you have health insurance, you should just have to pay the fee for the appointment and that’s it. Mine cost just $25. Send out for the FBI background check ASAP. That stupid piece of paper nearly made me late to send in my application, so be sure you give yourself at least two weeks if not longer to get it sent and returned.

The deadline for the application in my year was at the end of November, but this year it was December 3rd. Be sure to double check all the deadlines and mark them on your calender so you don’t forget. Also, double and triple check all your documents before send off. Usually it’s not a big deal if you’re missing just one page. They will contact you if, say, you just forgot the copy of your transcript (Yes, I did that), but better safe than sorry.

Protip: Make copies of everything you send off for yourself. You’ll need it all later.

The Long Wait

From November to January is the waiting period, where you essentially bite your nails and hope you get an email confirmation for the job interview. During this time, which should be winter vacation for you undergrads, I recommend going ahead andstudy some basic Japanese. You don’t have to be fluent or anything, but go ahead and hit the internet for basic survival phrases and key terms you’re going to need if indeed you do come to Japan.

For example, “Konnichiwa! Hajime mashite. Watashi wa Jessica desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” Hi, how do you do! I’m Jessica. Nice to meet you.

Learn, love it, because you might just live it.

The Interview

When you get the call or email for an interview, congratulations! You are nearly half way done. Now, it’s time to prep and do the interview. Firstly, before you even go, read up on other people’s experiences on what they went through. I’ll share my story, but trust me it will help to get the whole big picture of what to expect by reading other blogs as well. The interview can be anything from a simple job interview to a long interrogation over every little detail on your application. It really varies in the degree of difficulty.

People often ask what to wear to the interview, and my answer is essentiallyformal suit wear. You will need a suit anyway for formal events at your school, so believe me it will pay for itself in the end. If you can’t afford a suit (I actually couldn’t at the time), then just wear your best clothes available to you. Go for a button up shirt and black pants/ skirt if you can’t do the suit. Ask to burrow something from friends or hit the second hand store if you’re really strapped for cash. Try to avoid loud colors like yellow or neon green (why you would wear neon green, I don’t know, but apparently this happens sometimes).

Now, remember I said make copies of everything you sent off? Your homework for before the interview is to memorize everything you wrote for that application. Yes, including your essay. I actually got asked several questions about my study abroad experience, and the interviewers said something wrong and I corrected them. I believe it was, “So I bet you really liked Osaka.” and I responded, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t study in Osaka, I studied in Kyoto at the women’s college. I believe I wrote that down.” And the interviewers all gave me sly grins. It turns out that they’ll sometimes do that to see if you’re paying attention and how you will handle a situation like that. Be careful of the traps!

Also, hit up other blogs to see what questions other people got asked at their interview. Make a list of the questions and write out some answers. If you want, you can also do a run through with a friend or two, making them be an imaginary interviewer.

I had to drive up to Chicago from Kentucky in order to go to my interview. You get to choose the Embassy where you’d like to be interviewed, and for me at the time it was Chicago. In hindsight, I wish I’d just flown from Lexington to Chicago O’Hare because I could’ve used that time to relax instead going through the stressful ordeal of Chicago city traffic (yuck). And that’s my recommendation to you. Try to go the path that doesn’t require a fight to get to where you want to go. You don’t want to be stressed out and possibly late to your interview. The thing I did right was stay the night in Chicago in a hotel near the Embassy so I could just walk 5 minutes to get there the next day. One guy decided to travel and interview all in one day. He arrived an hour late and missed his chance.

When it comes to how early you should be there, I recommend actually getting thereat least an hour earlier. Because the other guy didn’t show up, I got called in to take my interview instead of him (poor guy). The interview room was a simple little square space. I got three people to interview me: an American man, an American woman, and a Japanese man. They were very polite and we all shook hands and the interview began.

For me, they asked simple questions first, just double checking everything I wrote down on my application. Then, they moved on to harder questions, just as, “If you lived in a rural area without many resources, what kind of lessons would you prepare?” and “What’s your favorite Japanese movie?” and “Where would you like to live in Japan and why?” (My answer to the last one was, “NOT TOKYO!” which made them all laugh. Oh, the irony).

Be honest with your responses and keep a calm head. Don’t panic if they ask a difficult question and take your time thinking it over if you need to do so. The interview is over when it’s over, there’s no set time. Don’t attempt to make yourself seem more worldly than you actually are and don’t try to pretend you already know everything there is to know about Japan. It looks really bad and arrogant if you’ve never even been outside of your home country to act as if you’re an expert on the country, especially if one of the interviewers happens to be Japanese. I actually asked the Japanese interviewer if he’s ever been to Kyoto and what he liked there. We compared notes and he gave me recommendations for new tourist spots. Be engaging with your interviewers. Anime is an obvious part of Japanese culture that most people know, but don’t make the mistake of speaking like anime is all there is to Japanese culture. Being an otaku is fine, but just remember that anime is fiction and Japan is real, so don’t get the two confused.

Lastly, the Japanese man asked me some basic questions in Japanese. I believe I answered two out of five, mainly because I was just so nervous. Funnily enough, I remembered all the answers later when I got in my car to go home. Don’t worry about the Japanese part of the interview! Most people don’t do well. They just want to see how you handle it, not really if you’re good or not. One question, at least, will be a hard question. When it is, just say, “Sumimasen, wakarimasen.” and don’t try to answer it if you have no idea what’s going on. Don’t try to fake your way through it.

My interview lasted about an hour and then I was dismissed. Some people will have an interview that only lasts thirty minutes and others can have an interview for an hour and a half. It really depends on the interviewers and the schedule for that day in whatever city.

Good luck and do your best!

Living in Limbo

It can be very hard for the next month or two waiting to hear back from the Embassy. If you’re in your last semester of college, you’re probably already stressed out enough as it is just trying to make sure you graduate. Thesis papers, senior projects, and all that noise can be hard to deal with during this time. You’ll feel strange, like you’re on a balance beam and if you tip to one side to hard you’ll go crumbling down. Seniorities and burn outs might hit you here (or might not. I actually never burnt out, surprisingly).

If you can, I still say make time for Japanese whenever possible. Just a little here or there can really go a long way for when/if you get plopped down into a foreign country. You may end up in a big city where it’s not as necessary, or you might end up in an inaka (countryside) area like me where it’s essential to your daily life. Try and get an hour every other day, if you can.

Acceptance / Alt. Listed/ Rejection

If you get accepted, congratulations! You’re joining the awesome ranks of the JET Setters and moving to Japan. Enjoy the euphoric feeling of having a job after college (contracted for at least one year, hooray!), with the possibility of staying for up to five years.

Now, you should get in contact with your predecessor soon. He/She should help you with the transition and move. Usually the predecessor will  be able to tell you what you should bring over and what costs will be expected once you get there. Your supervisor may also get in contact with you and will send over the contract for you to sign and send to him/her. So get to packin’ your bags and have fun!

I was put on the alternative list before I was accepted. Why? I have no idea, but sometimes it happens like that. I got the email and felt down about it for about two weeks. I felt really dejected, mainly because I didn’t have a backup plan for if JET fell through. So with that, let me give this piece of advice: Have a backup plan! If you’re really set to go to Japan, there are other organizations such as Interac that can you can apply to as well.

But if you get Alt. Listed there is hope. After a couple of weeks, I got an email telling me that they got a position for me in Japan. I believe my first reaction was to jump out of my seat, squeal like a five year old, and do a ridiculous victory dance that thankfully no one saw. You may have to wait another couple of months before a position opens up for you, but it is possible.

If you are rejected, it will feel like a punch to the gut. You just spent the better part of a year trying to get this job and now it’s all for nothing. However, if you got to the interview, I’d imagine there just weren’t enough spots that year. You can try  again for next year, which yes will require several more months, or you can go through another program. Don’t give it up if it’s your dream to come to Japan. There are other ways to get you here.

Final Thoughts

The JET Programme can seem a bit daunting to get into, but I do believe it’s worth it. This experience has been absolutely amazing for me, so I hope that you’ll take the chance to try. God bless and good luck!


Have any questions about JET? Ask in the comments!