Bio: Craig Hoffman is a novelist, writer, blogger, and Social Media guru living in Japan. He spent years as an ALT-CIR and consults with ALTs and school boards on a variety of English teaching issues. Craig can be found at @craighoffman11 on Twitter and at https://craiginjapan.wordpress.com/blog/.
The Japanese government loves English. Well, they love English enough to change the English language curriculum in schools. And, it is happening just in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Elementary school ALTs have nothing to worry about since the Japanese homeroom teachers will be teaching English. Those licensed teachers must be qualified to teach English. After all, Japan is the land of certificates.
Certainly, this will not be a problem at the junior high schools. There is a Japanese English teacher with the ALT in the classroom. That has to be a cake teaching job for the ALT. Right?
Unfortunately, there is not enough qualified Japanese English teaching staff to put in every elementary and junior high school in Japan. In fact, there is a significant teacher shortage in general in Japan.
There are elementary and junior high schools across Japan scrambling to put a warm body in front of students. There are a number of Japanese teachers who are not fully qualified to be teachers let alone English teachers.
“Do you really believe the temporary Japanese teacher is going to be ready on the first day to teach English with you?”
That is not to say one needs a teaching qualification or even a high TOEIC score to be an effective English teacher. Some of the best Japanese English teachers I worked with over the years have degrees outside of English. In this day and age, young Japanese people spend time overseas on homestays, as university exchange students, and working holidays.
“Is it a reasonable expectation that an older, certified elementary school teacher you are working with is going to have enough English ability to carry a year’s worth of English curriculum?”
Probably not. The older generation of Japanese teachers did not have as many opportunities for English immersion experiences. Unfortunately, the English education Japanese college students get in school is of little practical value. This is according to a recent case study on the matter.
“Is it likely your junior high school is staffed with Japanese English teachers who can conduct English lessons completely in English for the entire year?”
This is unlikely in most junior high school English classrooms. I do not believe all is lost despite the above gloom and doom. This English curriculum transition provides a unique opportunity for ALTs to redefine their roles in the classroom. ALTs in 2020 can support Japanese English-teaching staff like never before in the Japanese school system.
A flexible and well prepared ALT in an elementary school can lead English classes while allowing the Japanese homeroom teacher to interject where and when they feel comfortable. The ALT should lean on the Japanese elementary school teacher’s pedagogical expertise. There must be a commitment by all involved to work together if these new changes are to be given a chance to succeed.
A fostering of a symbiotic teaching relationship between the elementary school ALT and the Japanese homeroom teacher will be necessary as the Japanese education system seeks to make English a tested and graded subject. A balance between the ALT teaching real English and the unavoidable fact that most of that practical communication will not be on the real English tests is going to be a problem.
The ALT must weigh increasing English communication skills against the sobering reality that tests still matter in Japan. This presents a different challenge for an ALT teaching at the junior high school level. The MEXT has decided junior high school English classes should “basically” be taught in English.
This change necessitates more communication between the elementary and junior high school Japanese teaching staff (and ALTs) than exists at present in Japan’s school system. In addition, the transition will require more preparation and teamwork with the Japanese English teacher inside the classroom. There is no doubt many Japanese junior high school English teachers will struggle to adapt to an all English teaching-learning environment.
The ALT is going to be invaluable in helping with lesson planning and presentation. It will be imperative the ALT instills confidence in their Japanese English teachers they can teach in English. The ALT should not be expected to do everything alone. It is still team-teaching after all.
The Japanese English teacher and the ALT should create clear lesson plans with easy, student-led activities promoting the use of English only in the classroom. The ALT’s days of winging it and being a human tape recorder are coming to an end. There will be bumps in the road for both ALTs and Japanese English teachers in the classroom, but there is a silver lining for foreign English teachers.
It is a fortunate time to be an ALT in Japan as these English curriculum changes come in 2020. Finally, there is a chance for students to learn and use English, and for the ALT to be an integral part of the process. If everyone involved is committed to working together, English education in Japan will improve in the future.
And, so, I say again, ALTs rejoice!
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