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Work Abroad - Is An ALT Position Abroad Right For You?

ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher. ALT's are the guys and gals that go into the public schools and teach English along with a Japanese teacher. For teachers in Japan, ALT work is one option for employment. I was an ALT for a year. It had it's ups and downs. Your experience as an ALT depends a lot on what school you get sent to. Here's a little bit of what you can expect when you teach abroad as an ALT.

Most ALTs teach in elementary schools, junior highs or high schools. I went to a junior high. Everybody generally agrees that junior high schools are the most boring to work in. It's all really textbook-based. These are the schools where you end up being a Human Tape Recorder. The kids don't know much English, so it's basically impossible for them to communicate with you. Plus, we all remember, that's a tough time in kids' lives. They're going crazy with hormones and getting big and their voices are cracking and they're awkward and feel weird.

The actual teaching part of the junior high I worked in was horribly boring. I would basically say a bunch of words for the kids to repeat, maybe do a little skit or model a dialog or something. I spent a lot of time walking around the room and handing out stickers. If I was lucky, I'd get to make a handout or game or something, but that was pretty rare.

In spite of all that, it was a good experience for me. After the classes are over, the kids have their club activities. They play sports and have music and art clubs, and they're really excited if you come and participate. I used to play with the basketball kids, the tennis kids, and I'd sit in with the brass band! Hanging out with the kids was one of the best parts of the job. Plus, I got to practice my Japanese a little.

High schools are a little better to work in, because the kids can speak more English. There are more English clubs and English activities. As an ALT, you will probably have much more opportunity to plan activities and actually talk to the kids. You get more of a chance to help them with speaking English, and not just learning grammar from a textbook.

One cool thing about both junior highs and high schools is that the workload is pretty light. Before I was an ALT, I had been working at a big conversation school, working like a slave teaching 8 lessons a day. So, it was a pretty big relief to actually have some free time. Whenever possible, you should spend time with kids. If you have a lot of free time and there are no kids to hang out with, helping the other teachers with something will score you brownie-points!

Elementary schools are a little different. Depending on the school district, you may be going into a school where they have no English program or texts or curriculum. This means that YOU are the teacher! This is a great opportunity for you because you get to make all the materials and plan all the lessons, but it can also be a lot of work, so don't do it unless you're up for it.

Most importantly, I enjoyed my time as an ALT. I think it taught me a lot about Japanese culture. Plus, it was fun to spend time with the kids. I encourage anyone who wants to teach abroad to consider being an ALT. I have more details about work abroad positions available for free.

Ethan Allen


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