Teaching Solo in Japanese Public Schools by Caleb Moon

by Caleb Moon

BioCaleb Moon has been working in Japan as a junior high school English teacher since 2007. A graduate of Amherst College, his current duties include planning and implementing teacher training curricula. Moon hides his Japanese abilities from his students, and he is particularly interested in English-only classroom control and grammar presentations. In addition to teaching, Moon sings and plays classical guitar for the ambient folk act Lyons and Moon, and he works as a professional translator, specializing in the medical field.

1. Why do you solo teach?
Solo teaching by English-speaking natives at junior high schools in Fukuoka City began a few years ago (2009, if my memory serves me correctly) in response to the BoE’s need to adhere more closely to the legal limitations of its contract with Interac. Gyomu-itaku contracts, unlike haken contracts, forbid the client to give instructions directly to the worker. An ALT is, by definition, someone working in a position which is required to take instruction from (indeed, to “assist”) a JTE. The position’s name was therefore changed to “NS,” or “Native Speaker,” an exceptionally disrespectful title in my opinion, since it includes zero acknowledgment of actual occupation, but hey, I didn’t invent it.
2. What is your opinion of solo teaching? How is it better or worse than team-teaching with a JTE?
When the transition to solo teaching was first mandated, I was dead set against it. I had had the experience of working side-by-side with a number of skilled JTEs, and the back-and-forth we enjoyed, punctuating each other’s points and explanations with examples of our own, making fun of each other (much to the students’ delight), and utilizing each other to demonstrate real communication to the students all had me convinced that this was the ideal way to teach English. I remain convinced that it can be an extremely effective method for foreign language instruction, but after making the transition to solo teaching I nonetheless noticed that my average lesson quality had gone up. There are a few likely reasons for this:
A. Good team-teaching relies on three major variables (in addition to many minor variables, I acknowledge): a skilled ALT, a skilled JTE, and a strong relationship between the two. If all three conditions are met, lessons are fantastic. But it only takes one of the three to fail for the entire lesson to become much weaker and the learners’ educational quality suffer. Good solo teaching requires only one major variable: a skilled ALT. Therefore, a skilled ALT who exclusively teaches solo will naturally find a much higher proportion of their lessons to be successful.
B. Solo teaching affords a purer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the ALT, who is completely responsible for the QA of the lesson. If there is a problem with the plan or the execution, the ALT can act alone to make adjustments, so iteratively based improvements happen much more quickly. This reason highlights solo teaching as an effective activity for promoting professional growth (a well-known and studied aspect of teacher development), thereby allowing the ALT to become a stronger teacher even in team-teaching contexts.

C. Solo teaching by ALTs who avoid using Japanese in the classroom (and almost all good ALTs do avoid it) pushes students to comprehend English-only lessons. It also pushes students to cooperate and collaborate more to understand what is going on: developing communication strategies that they need (e.g. breakdown, repair, cooperation, listening skills). Finally, using English as the primary communicative tool raises students’ confidence to a degree that is almost impossible to realize while using Japanese as a crutch.

I also noticed that my relationships with each of my fellow JTEs had, perhaps counterintuitively, improved. Perhaps this was because watching someone teach a solo lesson successfully encourages you to respect them more, but I think there was a little more behind this: JTEs rarely have an opportunity to watch English-only grammar presentations (see module 8, and two papers from Hino (1988) and Gorsuch (1998) on Yakudoku), and this is an ability they will need to acquire eventually, if MEXT has its way. Therefore I found that stronger JTEs in particular were deliberately asking me to teach grammar which students had not previously seen (i.e., not a review lesson), both to push the students in new ways and to see for themselves how such a grammar point might be effectively conveyed without the use of Japanese.
Solo teaching and team-teaching are both extremely effective, when done well. I am a fan of both. In practice, however, I have found the solo teaching to be more consistently effective than team-teaching.


Hino, N. (1988). Yakudoku: Japan’s Dominant Tradition in Foreign Language Learning. JALT Journal, 10, 45-55. Retrieved from

Gorsuch, G. (1998). Yakudoku EFL Instruction in Two Japanese High School Classrooms: An Exploratory Study: JALT Journal, Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/jj/articles/2777-yakudoku-efl-instruction-two-japanese-high-school-classrooms-exploratory-study

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