The Challenges of ALT Training by David L. Hayter

by David L. Hayter

Bio: David L. Hayter is a Lead ALT in Mie, Japan. Before coming to Japan in 2014, he worked in various positions throughout the Southern California area gaining experience in industries ranging from customer service and corporate retail management to market research and private security.

During his time as a student at CSU Long Beach, he studied history, international studies, and Japanese. He was an active member and leader in the CSULB Shotokan Karate Club and oversaw the operations of the student government’s radio, television, and print publication while serving as a trustee on the ASI Media Board.

As a lead ALT, he has taught all levels from kindergarten through the ninth grade. Besides teaching junior high school English classes, his other responsibilities include designing and delivering training programs for newly hired ALTs, providing them with continued support, and assisting in the planning and presenting of in-service workshops for JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) in elementary and junior high school.

Outside of work, he is an avid cook, gets beat up on Overwatch, trains hard, helps run the ALTTO Blog as the Community Media Manager and writes for his own blog, Yokkaichi Connections.

Imagine, if you will, the perfect ALT training environment.

Multiple ALTs can regularly meet in a common workspace to share ideas and materials. Classrooms equipped with state of the art teaching equipment are readily available. JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) and students come to those classrooms eager to try out new teaching and learning methods. Teaching consultants and coaches watch these lessons and offer feedback based on their years of experience.

This perfect environment does exist, somewhere, in the Twilight Zone.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it? As ALTs, we often are provided with minimal training. At the same time, we are also expected to produce some fantastic results.

In this post, I’ll outline:

  1. The challenges we have in our training.
  2. What you can do to overcome them.

The Challenges

At my current employer, we are fortunate enough to have a month of training in August for new and re-contracting ALTs. Veteran ALTs teach our new ALTs the basics of doing their first self-intro lesson, general lesson planning, and some information about how to live and work in Japan. Although this training is more than what others get and has been improving over the years, it still has a long way to go.

Here are some of the issues we face:

1. No clear organization

No matter what organization you’re a part of, they all follow the same principals. The key to running any organization successfully is to have clearly defined roles, clear communication, and accountability.

Keys to organizational success
  • Clearly defined roles
  • Clear communication
  • Accountability

As numerous sources have pointed out, the roles of ALTs are not clearly defined (although you can find some of the roles you may fill here). This means that we have to train ALTs for virtually any situation.

Communication between JTEs and ALTs varies depending on the individual. The JTEs are often busy with other duties so communicating with ALTs sometimes doesn’t rank too high among other priorities.

Accountability is another problem. Think about some of the classes you’ve taught or work you’ve done at other jobs. If you performed well, was there a reward? If you failed to hit your mark, was there a penalty? There really aren’t many incentives to do better other than personal satisfaction so it can be tough to bring about change in our work environments.

2. We don’t have dedicated trainers

We provide our new ALTs the best training we can. However, none of us were specifically trained in how to train other ALTs. We just try to remember what others have done before us and adjust it as best as we can.

One thing I learned from working other jobs and my own research is that most good training involves three steps: observation, education, and then following-up with the employees to track progress.

Keys to training success

  • Observe
  • Educate
  • Follow-up

If any of these are lacking, then the training process is incomplete. We need to observe how people work, educate them about the standard we’d like to meet, and then follow-up to ensure progress is being made. Without having someone dedicated to this task, it doesn’t really happen.

3. Lack of facilities

In our training period, it can be difficult to get access to rooms for training and meetings. Other departments and community organizations book the same rooms that we use for training.

We have mock classes in small meeting rooms, but these don’t really prepare our ALTs for what it’s like to teach in a classroom.

We also talk about teaching in our office, but we share this space with other civil servants. If our conversations get too animated, we’ll bug our neighbors!

4. No chance to practice with Japanese students and teachers

The classroom is just one part of the equation. The other part is working with the students and teachers.

Successful training environments recreate the real working situation as much as possible.

In our training, we often have one person present an activity while another ALT acts as a JTE and the rest of us act like students. It’s better than nothing, but nothing like the real thing. Successful training environments recreate the real working situation as much as possible.

The Possible Solutions

This wouldn’t be much of a blog if I just listed a bunch of problems and didn’t give you any info on solutions, right? If you try to do the following things, you can get ahead and stay ahead in the ALT world.

1. Commit to improving yourself despite your challenges

It can be easy to throw your hands up and say, “So what?” No matter your experience or skill level, everyone can improve their work. Your JTEs and students will really appreciate your efforts. You can also help others develop their own skills. There are only benefits to gain from committing to your own professional development.

2. Organize what you can, as much as you can

This can be tricky, but fix what you can and skip over what you can’t. We are often given a lot of responsibility without any actual authority (something Jon Taffer likes to call a stupidvisor). Don’t spend your time trying to change things that are probably never going to change.

  • Define your roles as best as you can. This might mean meeting individually with your JTEs. Think about what work needs to be done before the class, during the class, and after the class. Decide who is going to do what, when it will be done, and how you’re going to do it.
Decide who is going to do what, when it will be done, and how you’re going to do it.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Be honest (but nice) about how the whole process went. Is there anything you can improve on? What is it? How about your JTE? What went well? How can you keep it? These are questions you should ask yourself constantly. It can also help to engage in some small talk before, after, or between classes. Focus on building a good working relationship with your JTEs. Your life will be a lot easier!

  • Hold yourself accountable. Someone else might not do this, so you’re going to have to do it for yourself. If you fail to fulfill your role, identify what contributed to that and how you can avoid it in the future.

3. Be your own mentor

If you constantly reflect on how you’re performing, you’ll start to become your own mentor.

If you can mentor yourself, you can mentor others!

A mentor is someone who watches how you work, listens to your problems, and gives you some advice on how to advance your career. They should be equal parts cheerleader and drill sergeant.

By constantly looking for ways to improve, you’ll not only do better in your current position but will also be better prepared for your next career step. If you can mentor yourself, you can mentor others!

4. Reach out to others

Training on your own is no fun. Reach out to other ALTs and/or JTEs to see how they work and learn about some of the solutions to problems they’ve come up with. You can learn a lot by talking to others. Some good places to do this are online forums or the ALTTO Facebook group. If you have the time, you could record yourself teaching and show it to others.

5. Never stop learning

Training is an on-going process. If you’re not moving forward, you’re getting left behind. In the ALTTO Facebook group, Sam Eek Sha said, “If you are a serious, passionate learner, then every day is a chance to train.”

“If you are a serious, passionate learner, then every day is a chance to train.” -Sam Eek Sha

There are always new teaching methods and materials being developed (did I mention you can get top-notch, free training at ALT Training Online?). If you are a continual student, you’ll always be on the lookout for new ways of doing things for the benefit of your students and JTEs. It’s a win/win!

That’s it!

So what did you think about our training? How was your training? Do you agree with my solutions? Leave a comment below!

          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something ‘ALT’ to write about that hasn’t been covered in these blogs, email me at so we can work together and spread your story.

Don’t have any ideas? We have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

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