21 July 2010

5 Tips for new JETs/ALTs

I was a JET for five years but I still remember the nerves during my first lessons (and second... and third...) so here's a few tips for those of you just starting out. Being an ALT is a very different experience from other EFL jobs, especially as every situation is truely different! I won't be describing activities here but take a look around the rest of the blog for ideas!

5. Simple is best!
Don't worry too much about elaborate games and crazily creative ideas, a lot of the students are just happy not to be in math/science/PE whatever other lesson they hate. As a new foreign teacher you are automatically interesting, so keep to simple activities with few materials until you find your feet. The less materials you have the less chance of things breaking or getting lost!

4. Try again tomorrow!
If a lesson goes wrong, don't beat yourself up about it. It's easy to say but seriously, the students will forget about a bad class pretty quickly, they have numerous other classes, clubs, lunches and who-loves-who conversations between one class and the next. One bad class does not make you a bad teacher, good experienced teachers sometimes have bad classes but they carry on and learn from them!

3. Give Up!
In case of a class that isn't going so well, always have extra activities that you can switch to. It's perfectly ok to stop an activity that isn't working and change it completely, the students aren't stupid and they can tell when something isn't working. It's far better to give up and change an activity rather than push on and waster the students' time. Afterwards have a think, was the activity too hard? Or could your instructions be better?

2. Show don't tell!
Yes, you are an English teacher and yes you should be talking in English in your classes. But it's so very important that you use gestures and demonstrations as much as possible. You will likely have a mix of levels in your classes, even if you teach high school. And you will find that some of the higher academically-able students find real communication difficult whereas lower-level students can interpret what you say better with gestures. I had a boy once who understood perfectly what I was explaining everytime and the other teachers were surprised. Turns out he was very low level even in Japanese so he had interpreting skills that he simply transferred over to English. The point I wanted to make was that gestures and demonstrations will confirm for the able students that they are understanding, and help the less able students to follow the class.

1. Be friendly!
It's really important that you smile and be friendly to the students, for many of them you may represent all the foreigners there are! When I first arrived I was told "It's nice that you smile and say hello to the students in the corridor" It made me wonder what the previous ALT did! If you shout and get angry or are cold and distant, then the students may resent you, the class and English. Most of the time these students haven't chosen to study English, some of them would have and do love English. But sometimes you'll get a note saying something like "I didn't like English before I took your class but I like it now." That's a moment to be proud of!

Good luck and if you're in Japan, 頑張って!

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