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Life as a Kitakyushu City ALT

About the job

Kitakyushu  City vs. Fukuoka Prefecture

Out of the 200 or so JETs in Fukuoka Prefecture, there are 12 of us who are employed directly by the Kitakyushu City Board of Education (BOE). Despite living very close to the Fukuoka Prefectural JETs, there are several small but significant differences between our job types. For example, you won’t see us at the big ALT meetings in Fukuoka City – instead we have our own meetings every month in the BOE.  Unlike most of our peers in the rest of Fukuoka, Kitakyushu City ALTs don’t go to school during the vacations; instead the 12 of us are often together in a room in in the BOE in central Kitakyushu. Additionally, the 12 of us share one Supervisor (Iwamatsu-sensei), a Japanese Prefectural Advisor (Tsuruta-sensei) and a JET Prefectural Advisor (Kris) – they can be found at the BOE, or in the case of the JET PA, more often at school.  Furthermore, Kitakyushu City JETs don’t have predecessors, unlike many other ALTs in the JET Programme.  Therefore though Kitakyushu City ALTs may move into apartments where older JETs had lived, there’s little chance that they’ll be visiting the same schools as the older JETs (so if you’re an incoming Kitakyushu City JET don’t worry if you haven’t heard from your predecessor – you don’t  strictly have one!) Aside from these examples, there are a number of other bureaucratic quirks that distinguish us from the other JETs in Fukuoka.  Saying this, there are times when we do all come together and mix, such as at the Skills Development Conference in November, at Fukuoka Orientation for new JETs in August and of course at the many social events that happen all across the Prefecture.

 

At school

We have one Kitakyushu City JET who is based at a High School, 9 Kitakyushu JETs teach at Junior High Schools and Special Needs Schools, and 2 ALTs designated at leading schools (one elementary and one junior high school).   Most of the JETs have their time split evenly between two Junior High Schools, but some of us have a one base school and once or twice a term will visit a Special Needs School too. However, as of April 2012, Kitakyushu City JETs in the months of April, May and potentially February and March, will be visiting 2-4 extra schools each. This is due to the private company ALTs in the city having the lengths of their contracts shortened, so in the months that the private ALTs will not be working, the JETs will be visiting and teaching at their schools instead. Therefore, every 3 or 4 days we’ll change schools and will spend little time at our base schools during this period. This is an excellent time to meet with a variety of schools, teachers, and students.

 

The following below is a past Kitakyushu City ALTs experience

My base school is a Junior High School, it’s about a 35minute commute by public transport from my apartment; my Special Needs School is about 25mins away.  Thankfully, the BOE gives us money to cover some of our travel expenses. In my Junior High School there are 18 classes and four JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English), although this varies from school to school depending on size. There are 6 classes a day, but I can teach any number between 5 and 20 classes per week. I have very few classes during exam periods and school events. It varies wildly how ALTs are used in their English classes and schools in general. When I’m asked to prepare an activity for class, for the most part it’s a game or more light-hearted activity. At Junior high we always teach with a JTE, never by ourselves. Some lessons I may feel I’m little more than a human tape recorder, but in other classes there’s an immense feeling of satisfaction when you prepare and activity that the students not only enjoy, but grasp the underlying educational concept! You may also be asked to participate in the elective English classes where you can stray away from the curriculum in the English you teach (think more games and movies, less grammar!) Alternatively, you might be requested to assist with the Special Needs classes, they’re usually a lot fun! When I don’t have class I usually study Japanese or prepare activities for future classes.  I also opt to eat school lunch and most days I’ll join a different homeroom at lunch time and this can be a good chance to talk to students on an informal level.  At the end of the day I’ll help the students to clean, again an opportunity to get to know your students outside of the classroom.  After school I might wander around the different club activities, maybe listening to the music club practice for their next concert, or being thrashed at table tennis by a 13year old. There are school events such as Sports Day and Culture Festival where the might be opportunities for you to get involved too, be it running against the students or helping the drama club rehearse their play. In October, it’s the annual Kitakyushu English Speech Contest, so you may find that your time after school in September and October is filled with (rewarding) hours of helping  students practice for this.

 

The Living Situation

Apartments

If you’re lucky enough to be a Kitakyushu City JET, congratulations, you’re going to have one of the nicer ALT apartments in the Prefecture! City JETs live between three locations in Kitakyushu so you’ll have at least one other City JET living a five minute walk from your apartment. The apartments vary in size, rent and how central they are, but Kitakyushu City JETs don’t need to worry about deposits or paying ‘key money’ to a landlord when they first arrive. As mentioned earlier, Kitakyushu City JETs don’t have predecessors, so it’s not pre-determined where you’ll be living. Instead, on a date and time set by the BOE, the details of all the outgoing JETs’ apartments (including location, rent and accompanying furniture), will be released via email to the incoming JETs. The incoming JETs will then decide if they want to purchase an apartment package given to them by a leaving JET. IF it appeals to their interest they are responsible for completing the deal in detail with the seller directly. Truthfully, it seems a bit of a scramble for the incoming JETs to try and ‘get in’ before the other new JETs, but don’t worry, it all works out just fine in the end.

 

Kitakyushu city

Although in the past Kitakyushu has been depicted in a particularly unflattering light, ask anyone who’s lived here for more than a couple of months and I’m sure they’ll agree that its description in Lonely Planet’s 2009 Japan guide as  a “bland industrial city” is totally unjustified. With a population just shy of 1million, Kitakyushu is the second biggest city in Kyushu and a great place to live. Kitakyushu City is split into seven wards, Kokurakita-ku, Kokuraminami-ku, Moji-ku, Tobata-ku, Yahatanishi-ku, Yahatahigashi-ku and Wakamatsu-ku. Each of these wards feels like a separate town (as they once were, until a merge in the 1960s) all with their own shopping and entertainment districts. However it’s Kokurakita-ku that’s the hub for shopping and nights out. It’s easily reachable from all the outlying wards by public transport in about 30mins or less.  You’ll find familiar shops like GAP and Uniqlo, shopping malls, cinemas,  loads of restaurants, karaoke parlours and bars, and even a couple of nightclubs. When this gets boring, there are mountains, parks, rice fields, waterfalls, caves and even a beach all within the city boundaries. Aside from this, in the summer in particular, there are plenty of varied and interesting festivals in the area for you to get involved in and experience some Japanese culture. Ask anyone in the Prefecture and they’ll tell you that the Kokura Castle ground is the place to have your hanami party!

Despite Kokura having pretty much everything you need, sometimes you want to go to Fukuoka City for more shops, clubbing or just for a change. Luckily it’s easy to get to the rest of the prefecture and other parts of Japan by bus, regular train, Shinkansen, plane, and even ferry, from Kitakyushu. Kitakyushu airport is a mere 40mins bus ride from Kokura station and if you want to go to more exotic locations, Fukuoka International Airport is only 1hr30mins from Kitakyushu.