Placement + years on JET
I was placed in Shiga Prefecture(requested from a prior JET’s recommendation) as an ALT at Kawase Junior and Senior High School. Initially thinking I’d be a short-term JET, my position there as a fully utilised teacher saw me stay the full 5 years.
Favorite JET memory
Of course there’s a whole bunch of great and often amusing memories I have from my students, but I guess the one time all those memories (plus those from teachers and friends, travels, or accomplishments in my learning etc.) came together into one super feel good moment was completing my first Mid-Year Seminar (now called SDC). Being able to distil and translate my varied experiences and learnings into tangible materials that tested my love of design (and ability to help others) shot all those good memories into a new stratosphere of satisfaction. Thankfully, the presentation itself came out much better than my pre-presentation nerves had led me to expect and seeing the ALTs and JTEs in the room comically and aesthetically appreciating my presented experience– and finding it worthwhile (phew!)– was amazing. The positive feedback I continued to get afterwards (especially from my often scowling but kind JTE) lit a “fire in my belly” telling me I was able to teach myself and that’s a pretty cool feeling that still lingers.
Most valuable thing she learned
There are a few “valuables” I’ve racked up being here. The three I can cut my list to here are as follows:
-One is to watch and learn. Not speaking Japanese when I got here, I watched how to behave and got comfortable quicker than I expected at being able to read situations and people and how to respond in turn. It’s also given me so much information about my students, which has helped me tweak my teaching to get more responses and have more fun. People are also watching you more than you might be aware of (often unknowingly from the sidelines) and will help you (if you’ve earned it) when you least expect but need it most.
-Secondly, with teaching students, even though you can aim to do so much with them (or are maybe frustrated you can’t) just liking them is the biggest and best step forward. They sense it and will lend you greater trust. You’ll find yourself enjoying teaching more too.
-The final thing that helps is aiming to be good. Hearing about a previous “super ALT” in Shiga, I wondered what she’d done. Why couldn’t I do it too? Taking a sense of personal responsibility to be good in my position and in turn “making it my own” led me on a path of (somewhat) determined professionalism that returned a lot of satisfaction and success. Being considerate of local manners adds further icing to the cake.
Recommendations for current JETs
1. Walk around, get lost (occasionally) and embody a willingness to meet people. There were no Google maps or bikes for me when I got here (only the latter by choice). I walked most places on foot and guess I wore a friendly enough expression for people to stop and greet me. I didn’t mean to build up acquaintances but it happened and from there networks took hold helping me settle in, enjoy and discover more of Japan.
2. Find a hobby or something outside of school. Becoming a bit of collector of pottery while here, I’ve travelled to different pottery areas of Japan and built my Japanese language skills from zero by finding out more about places, events or people in the field (plus the shopping lingo!). It also helps relax people into conversation when you have a talking point to start with and they love to recommend stuff when they can. Through my growing reputation, I’ve also been given use of an old Japanese farm house to act as a display space for my pieces (yay!).
3. Don’t forget to learn Japanese body language alongside verbal language. Japan, being a group-orientated society, means that social nuances are well ingrained and often unsaid. We often rely more heavily on direct verbal communication between people in the West. Not being flexible enough between these cultural differences in communication can cause friction and misunderstandings. Also, teach these underlying cultural differences in communication to your kids so they can see the importance of speaking up and out!
4. If frustrated by the role you’ve been ascribed at work and you’ve had barriers towards changing it, stay dedicated to working hard in areas you like in your job (for me, illustrating and designing a lot of my work, then for larger school events). By gaining recognition and respect in one area, doors will open for you to put your keen teaching tendrils into other aspects of your job.
Something she wishes she’d done
Hmm–not much, as I’m pretty selfish and driven to do what I want. Though, in hindsight, seeing how much I like interacting with a lot of non-English teachers now, I wish I’d made a lot more effort to talk to the teachers at my first school. Being the biggest (or most salient) outsider, I expected them to talk to and welcome me but they didn’t (I guess mostly out shyness– I hope!). Then, sadly, I got used to it and not many of us ever made the effort (apart from the odd enkai moment). I’ve been back to my old school a few times since, and have found the shyer teachers of old are not so shy after all!
I’ve also been slack on taking the more “local” chance to visit Mongolia.
I still happily work as an ALT (though on a 4-day a week schedule that I managed to negotiate with my school, Shiga Gakuen). On the other 3 days of the week (if I’m not doing other English related community stuff), I visit craft markets around Japan, set up small exhibitions of my collections and host different events from experimental movie nights to day cafes and the odd tea ceremony. I’ve also run tours of my local area and Kyoto focusing on interesting spots and gallery cafes. Then there is my volunteer role as one of 3 core members of a group called ‘”Be Wa” (a play on words coming from “Lake Biwa,” the mostprominent feature of our prefecture). Be Wa centres around a website and Facebook page showcasing the people, places and events of Shiga in English. I also made a teacher training manual for ALTs called “An ALT Skill Set” a few years back funded by my school that I must get back into circulation when I can squeeze it in! I’ve also started to try to balance my time a bit better between Japan and Australia. This year I will spend a total of 3 months Down Under during the school holiday seasons. I’ve also thought to collaborate in the future with craftspeople I know in Japan to offer design products to local and overseas markets. I need more time!
I don’t get to spend a lot of free time online, but do please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions, comments, etc.