Finding the ways to fill the time
Every year thousands of new ALTs, Assistant Language Teachers, start their jobs before a classful of kids without any prior experience in teaching.
Inevitably stressful for all involved, many go from bright eyed enthusiasm to a foggy, zombified state which lasts the first few months until they learn the right mix of streamlined preparation and effective classroom behaviour, which slowly rebuilds their energy and confidence.
A year, or several later, they leave, and the process repeats itself.
Belinda Kyle, a JET Programme veteran of 5 years, recognised this issue when it came to handing over her school and classes to a fresh teacher. She wanted to give the next teacher some of the knowledge she had acquired, not only to cushion the shock for him, but also for the busy Japanese staff, who new foreign teachers sometimes rely heavily on.
Encouraged by her school’s principal, Belinda designed An ALT Skill Set and the initial run has already been a success with teachers from her adopted home, Shiga prefecture.
And for good reason. Beyond providing practical advice on everything in and outside the classroom, An ALT Skill Set, is well designed, with an easy to understand colour code system; friendly, entertaining tone; and a clip ring so that teachers can remove cards, or reorder the set to suit their needs.
Cards come in two colours, orange and green. The orange cards relate skills directly translatable to a classroom, from useful tools and props to teaching techniques.
The green cards give ideas for outside the classroom, including preparation, building relationships with Japanese staff, organisational strategies and design tips for clear, punchy materials.
Many of the methods suggested in An ALT Skill Set are supported by educational research such as utilising authentic materials, or the importance of feedback. Other ideas, such as the different kinds of comments to put on student work, and how to encourage more passive students to contribute, are obviously born from Belinda’s warm personality, and desire for positive interactions with her students and coworkers.
Even for those who have been in Japan nearly as long as Belinda, there are some brilliant, why didn’t I think of that? suggestions. My personal favourite was her idea of teaching students, in the very first lesson, standard English-class phrases to be used throughout the year. I also liked her various suggestions on how to be more involved in the school community.
For those part of the next batch of ALTs, those considering applying, or maybe even those who have been here for a few years but want some extra ideas, An ALT Skill Set is a very handy resource. Containing a lot of commonsense , practical and effective advice, without being too Japan-centric, it is a set that would be useful for all ESL teachers, in Japan and beyond.
An ALT Skill Set is available for a limited time at 1000 yen, through the Shiga Board of Education, or directly Belinda Kyle. Leave your contact details in the comments if interested.