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Thread: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

  1. #1

    Default Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    I thought a decent/useful thread might be for us to post advice that isn't so commonly given to new ALTs. Plenty of people have been on here a while, it might be cool if you could share something that you think most newcomers won't be likely to hear at their various orientations and from ALTs in their prefecture.

    I'll keep the top post updated with the best bits of advice to keep things clean and readable.

    I'll go first:

    1. When you first get started in your job, pay very close attention to what is going on around you. Look and listen carefully to everything and try to understand what's happening. Don't ever assume you know and understand a situation entirely but don't allow what you don't understand to wash over you. This is actually kind of how the Japanese workplace is meant to work; instructions and advice aren't necessarily given directly and new employees are expected to follow the example of their senior coworkers. To some extent you should try and do the same. Actually this works for all situations in which you might find yourself at a loss. Confused by the ATM? Take a deep breath, relax, look around, and realise there's a button that changes it into English.


    2. Don't let the opinions of Japan veterans colour your own too much. That includes all of us on this forum. Expats tend to have a lot of complaints and personal grudges and the time they share them is when they're in the company of other expats who'll understand where they're coming from. This forum is a pretty obvious example but it'll happen among your real life friends in your prefecture as well. People who've been here for a while can have a lot of good advice and knowledge, but they have a lot of prejudices as well. Don't allow yourself to be convinced that they know everything and don't fall into the trap of viewing Japan the same way they do just because their observations seem to be accurate on the surface. The second you decide you know what x aspect of Japanese society is like is the second you limit yourself from understanding more about it. To the greatest extent possible, keep your mind open and devote it to understanding rather than judging.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Here's one thing that hit me:

    You will be compared to your predecessor by everyone you meet and everyone you work with. Don't let it bug you. After a year, they will barely remember your predecessor's name, much less what he did in the school. However, it can be a good idea to follow up with the systems that predecessors have put in place. Mostly, talk to your predecessor about what she/he does in the school, both in class and out of class. See if they do cleaning, make coffee, do kyuushoku for the staff room, eat with students, have an English poster corner etc. If you just in an change everything drastically overnight, it can cause issues integrating. Talk to your predecessor and your JTEs as much as you can. And if you have any minor issues, just ask the teachers around you instead of going out of your way to ask your supervisor at the BoE.

  3. #3
    Senior Moment Antonath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Remember that the JTE(s) assigned to help you are teachers, not office staff. If you're having problems with something bureaucratic like taxes or utility bills, you may be better off asking in the school office, with your JTE advisor to translate if necessary.

    While webstaa is correct that you should find out what your predecessor did around school, don't feel you have to do everything in exactly the same way they did; especially classes you plan for yourself.

    Your students are better at English than you, your JTEs, or even they themselves, suspect.
    ...because Japan.

  4. #4
    Comrade therealwindycity's Avatar
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    Default Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Small talk with your coworkers is incredibly important, especially if you're having a hard time with something. It's often better to casually mention in conversation that class 3-3 is kind of rambunctious than to make a big deal out of it with the VP/JTEs.

    No matter the grade level, if you can make your students laugh at the beginning chances are it will go much better than if you let your fatigue/annoyance/nervousness show. Don't be afraid to make jokes at your expense. Also, even though it seems like it would be obvious, students respond way better to being teased gently if they're acting out than with contempt.
    Last edited by therealwindycity; July 4th, 2014 at 16:04.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    not sure if this is obvious or not, but little things like smiling and just greeting staff/students in passing the hallway goes a very long way.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    The importance of giving an appearance of trying to fit in and understand what Japanese people see as important social traits is perhaps not so obvious, and greetings are a big part of that which surprisingly aren't stressed that much.

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    Senior Moment Antonath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Quote Originally Posted by Jiggit View Post
    The importance of giving an appearance of trying to fit in and understand what Japanese people see as important social traits is perhaps not so obvious, and greetings are a big part of that which surprisingly aren't stressed that much.
    Agreed. For all the jokey bowing practice at Tokyo Orientation (personally, I felt like slapping someone), the nod of the head when you pass a fellow teacher in the hallways is a vital part of fitting in.
    ...because Japan.

  8. #8
    Perpetually confused. johnny's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    For this topic I want to reiterate what Jiggit and others have already said a million times about omiyage, because it bears repeating. You don't need to buy a whole bunch of expensive gifts for all of your JTE's and principals and vice-principals.

    If you want to bring something, bring some treats that can be shared with the whole staff in the teachers' room. Cookies or cakes (ideally individually wrapped) are the best thing to bring.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    A smile and a gentle bow/nod goes along way. I live in the country in a small town with a small university which means my area is quite transient. I spent a lot of time in the university area because all of the shopping/groceries are near the university. I often walk into small stores or combinis and notice right away that people are nervous, a small and a nod in their direction really makes people comfortable and will stop the "gaijin da" whispers before they start.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Quote Originally Posted by johnny View Post
    For this topic I want to reiterate what Jiggit and others have already said a million times about omiyage, because it bears repeating. You don't need to buy a whole bunch of expensive gifts for all of your JTE's and principals and vice-principals.

    If you want to bring something, bring some treats that can be shared with the whole staff in the teachers' room. Cookies or cakes (ideally individually wrapped) are the best thing to bring.
    In my experience, bring omiyage (always food, always individually wrapped, never expensive) if you take off work and there are classes. My teachers love the local 'delicacy' omiyage (although you can buy it in Tokyo...) I think it goes over better than the stuff you'll bring in your suitcase and hand out during summer vacation.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Don't worry about the small stuff too much. I think a lot of incoming/ newly arrived ALTs fret over little things like omiyage, indoor shoes, etc, when they really don't need to give it a second thought. Do something embarrassing, like trip over your own feet? Laugh it off. After a little while, you'll be able to joke about it with your co-workers. If you're nervous and stressed out, a lot of (Japanese) people will respond to it and either tense up or think, "What's up with him/her?" On the other hand, if you're fairly calm and just take things as they come, it'll be easier on you and make conversations/first meetings a lot less tense. Sit back, watch, listen, learn, and you'll figure how things work soon enough.
    ES and JHS ALT

  12. #12
    Senior Member Kdes23's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    If you're not busy, you should at least try and look busy. You'll notice that many of your Japanese co-workers have perfected the "busy" look, when in reality, they're on yahoo or amazon, searching for a new pen or some sweat towels. Best thing you can do if you have nothing to do is to practice Japanese. Your coworkers will notice and always have something nice to say about it, plus you'll be learning a new language, which is a good way of utilizing your time.

  13. #13
    Perpetually confused. johnny's Avatar
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    Default Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    The teachers at my school love talking to me about the Japanese I'm learning. They seem to appreciate that I'm trying.
    Last edited by johnny; July 8th, 2014 at 02:41.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ini View Post
    Teach them something new?? Are you mad? All you do in Japan is rehash the same stuff over and over for 15 years. Hello song, what do you like sports? and fruit basket. The holy trinity of English education.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Learning Japanese is a great way to connect. If there's an awkward person standing next to you silently, just be like "what do you call this in Japanese?" about whatever's right in front of you. "Oh cool, we call it a cup in English." BAM friends forever.

    If someone tells you they went abroad, regardless of where they went, they are trying to be pals. Their trip to uzbekistan may not seem relevant and you might wonder how it relates to you, but don't be a jaded jerk. Ask questions and try to connect.

    Also, learn how to describe where your hometown is, in relation to NYC or CA. Because that's all 90% of people will know. My example- "I live 5 hours south of NYC on the coast." Bring up your nearest big city once, just in case they do know, but don't fixate on it.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Quote Originally Posted by tealparadise View Post
    Learning Japanese is a great way to connect.
    I'm gonna call this "obvious advice, sorry"

    Also, learn how to describe where your hometown is, in relation to NYC or CA. Because that's all 90% of people will know. My example- "I live 5 hours south of NYC on the coast." Bring up your nearest big city once, just in case they do know, but don't fixate on it.
    Or just say "America" and offer up where if they ask. Most people will introduce themselves in an international event like an ALT conference with "I'm from Canada", "I'm from Australia" etc, so it's better to open with "I'm from the US" and wait for the other person to ask you where in the US.

  16. #16
    Gizmoduck - blatherskite Gizmotech's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    If you bike, and you have an abnormally large head and like helmets, bring it with you. Finding one for my head size was a bit of a pain over here.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cytrix View Post
    Organising anything with ALTs is like herding cats on catnip

    Quote Originally Posted by Antonath View Post
    We Jeeperneez are express all emotion through money. Wedding is happy money. Funeral is sad money. Izakaya is friendship money. Girl-bar is almost-sex money. But babby-borning is bery happy money, as no babby in Japan. All babby is special so we is givings much money as presento for babby.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Can you just buy them for an exorbitant price online? I don't have a helmet now, but I expect I'll want one. It seems pretty cumbersome to carry with me, especially since it will have to accommodate my huge head.

  18. #18
    Gizmoduck - blatherskite Gizmotech's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    You never buy a helmet without checking its fit first.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cytrix View Post
    Organising anything with ALTs is like herding cats on catnip

    Quote Originally Posted by Antonath View Post
    We Jeeperneez are express all emotion through money. Wedding is happy money. Funeral is sad money. Izakaya is friendship money. Girl-bar is almost-sex money. But babby-borning is bery happy money, as no babby in Japan. All babby is special so we is givings much money as presento for babby.

  19. #19
    keepin' it real ihatefall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Walk around the school(s) during your breaks. Don't be afraid to open closets, etc. You might find your school has bunch of useful tool.
    (Ie My school had old broken tennis racks, that after asking the JTE and turned them into guitars for a lesson)
    Everything I have ever said was a lie, and that's the truth.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Not so obvious advice for new ALTs

    Back from the dead to give a bit of advice. Will try not to repeat too much.

    1. It's going to take a long time for the kids and fellow teachers to warm up to you. Of course there will be exceptions and I actually think the openness to the foreigner varies school by school and town by town, but some may seem cold and shy at first. Just remember it can take people here a bit longer than you may be used to to get comfortable with a new face, especially a foreign one. If you show effort to learn the language and culture it will go a long way. Just be patient. It took me almost a year to get some of the students to be able to even look at me.

    2. Don't turn down any invitations to go out to eat/drink at the beginning if you can. This is a great way to make better relationships with your teachers and you'll get to see them outside of the office with their guard down a bit. They may be expecting you to decline these invitations so don't be surprised if they are shocked you actually go.

    3. Try not to get caught up in the bizarre competition of who is the best super JET in your prefecture. It's hard to explain until you experience it, but if you attend events or conferences with your fellow JETs there are going to be a lot of people who feel the need to constantly talk about how amazing they are. I guarantee the people who claim their teachers and kids LOVE them and they are SOOO INVOLVED are not as great as they claim to be. Just worry about yourself and your own situation and making the best you can with your time here.

    4. If you are interested in making Japanese friends don't go for the obvious choice of the town's best English speaker.
    Last edited by patjs; July 10th, 2014 at 13:44.

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