At the start of every school year in Japan (April) I am required to submit a brief essay (minimum 300 words) about my Teaching Philosophy along with other documents - passport, Resident’s Card [formerly the Alien Registration Card], personal seal (if I have one) - when I sign contracts with the various public schools where I work. Each year the essay has to be re-written because schools want a fresh, new essay. I know they do because in the past I have re-submitted the same essay as the previous year only to be asked to write a new one once my subterfuge was discovered (several months into the school year). It is not a difficult task - 300 words is hardly an essay, more like a letter. But it is tedious because my teaching ideas change so little or so slowly that writing a new essay each spring means inventing a new way to say pretty much the same thing over and over again. That is not strictly true, of course, because I certainly do change, physically and mentally, over time, so I have to find a way to express that point while remaining true to my core ideas.
The Japanese Ministry of Education’s goal for English education is to see half of high school graduates successfully reach Eiken Grade 2 or pre-2 levels. This calls for an English education program that enables students to express themselves by producing meaningful, content-filled English. Hopefully, communication that contains meaningful content connects language study on the one hand with students’ natural curiosity on the other hand, and that will motivate them to keep learning. To produce meaningful, content-filled English students need active and regular practice: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
The assistant language teacher’s role is diverse, involving conversation practice with entire classes, explaining vocabulary and grammar. My job as a foreign English teacher in public high schools is to focus on listening and speaking. In addition to being a source of authentic English, I am also an unofficial ambassador. That requires not just professionalism on my part, but also that I be a role model.
I want to help improve both cultural interaction and awareness among my students and give them a motive to use English. I want them to have fun, and I want to have fun in their company. Having worked in Japan for many years already, it is important to me that my lessons are simultaneously relevant and functional.
Working in Japan allows me to discover new models of teaching. As a language teacher I hope to contribute to internationalization by stimulating the students’ interest in the English language and by nurturing an awareness of foreign cultures. I am confident that by being employed as an ALT, my teaching skills and past experiences will positively influence the students themselves, and the students and I will benefit from our experience of each other.
The role of an ALT requires patience and an easygoing nature. I always speak slowly and clearly with students and try to be sensitive to the dangers of miscommunication. Similarly, I try to be especially careful communicating with the school staff. I think I understand from many years’ experience how Japanese schools operate, and I try to use intercultural skills to work in harmony with the school culture.