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Life as a JHS ALT

Welcome to Fukuoka! If your welcome letter includes “Fukuoka-ken” without any city designation or reference to a high school, then you are in luck! You are in a group of  Prefectural JETs based out of six regional offices. When you arrive in August, you will be shown to your regional Board of Education office. We prefectural JETs work in offices with one or more other JETs.  Since you are based out of your BOE, you will most likely have more than one school to visit. When I first arrived I visited seven schools, and this school year I will be visiting nine schools (two junior high schools, and seven elementary schools). There are some JHS JETs who visit 18 schools! This means that sometimes we only visit certain schools one time, earning them the nickname “one-shots.” The schedule of a JHS JET can be kind of crazy, sometimes visiting a different school every day of the week, but it can also be very rewarding. I find seeing a new set of faces every week refreshing!

The school year in Japan starts in April and has trimesters. The first session is April-July; the second is September-December; the third is January-March. School will be on summer vacation when you arrive. This means that you will be sitting at your desk for about a month before school starts again. Luckily, you will not be in the office alone, as there will be other JETs with you. Your sempai JETs are full of knowledge and will show you the ropes. They will have a lot of advice for you and will help you get situated, so it would be a good idea to bring them some sweets from your home country in thanks! Your month in the office is the perfect time to prepare your self-introduction. As you will most likely have many schools to visit, you will be doing your self-intro a lot. I was still doing mine well into October the year I arrived. To prepare for yours, I suggest taking as many photos at home that you can. Even things that you think might be mundane will be interesting for your students. In particular, it would be great to have pictures of your house (inside and outside), your car, the schools you went to (and your uniforms if you had them), your family, your pets, and your hobbies.

In September you will start going to your schools. As a JHS JET you might be required to travel long distances to some of your schools. Some of my schools are a mere 10 minute bike ride from my apartment.  Some of my schools take more than an hour to commute to. In general, my commute goes like this: 15-20 minute bike ride to the train station, 40 minute train ride to the countryside, 15 minute bus ride/car ride to the school. I have to say that even though the commute can sometimes be taxing, the journey is definitely worth it. The countryside schools, in my experience, are charming and relaxed, and the students act more like family. My best memories from teaching in elementary schools come from these “inaka” schools. Nothing beats flying kites in the mountains with the world’s cutest little kids.

Your role as an ALT will change depending on which school you go to. In some schools, I plan and lead the entire lesson, while in other schools I am more of a human tape recorder. In general, I find that at elementary school I have more freedom to suggest activities and share my culture. JHS teachers and students tend to be more focused towards the test preparation. Your role will be specific to you and your situation, so you will have to feel it out once you arrive. School life in Japan, in some ways, will most likely be very different to your school life in your home country. Most of these differences will be interesting and wonderful; some of them might be surprising or hard to understand. One word of caution: most of my schools have no heating/cooling system in the classrooms. This means you’ll be sweating as you teach in the sweltering Kyushu summer, and freezing during the winter.

I could go on and on about life as JHS JET, but your experience will be unique to you. My advice is to have an open mind, ask questions, participate in school life whenever possible, and find ways to connect with your students and teachers. An exciting life is awaiting you here in Fukuoka. Welcome!