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Working With ALTTO by Armando Duarte

My first encounter with ALT Training Online and Nathaniel Reed happened in early 2017. I had just finished my Masters of Art in Teaching with an emphasis on Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, or MAT TESOL to save time because the name is so long. As a newly minted MAT, I was looking to leave my dispatch company and move up to university teaching but without an offer in hand and the prospect of a contract renewal with my dispatch company looking grim, I reached out to Nate via the ALTTO Facebook page to contribute to the community and also to build up my resume.

Nate’s responses and directions were professional, concise, and helpful. He emailed the six of us who volunteered to write the Working in Public Schools course and send us PDFs of research articles related to our topic and detailed, thorough guidelines for how to write the course and what to include.

It would not be an overstatement to say that Nate truly had a complete vision in mind for what he wanted the courses of ALTTO to look like, complete with suggestions for content and a style guide not unlike what academic journals would send out to prospective authors.

The writers of the Working in Public Schools course began to work. We began by filling in the sections Nate initially suggested: the differences between elementary, junior, and senior high school, the roles an ALT might play in the classroom, things to know on your first day, and so on. This was all poured into a shared Google Doc which the writers all edited at their own pace.

Then we began to add more – “a day in the life” where each of us wrote about what a typical workday looks like for each of us, the advantages and disadvantages of ALTs working in more than one school, resources available at urban schools compared to rural schools.

At times it felt chaotic, with sections being moved earlier or later in the course to create a sensible narrative but with a healthy amount of communication between the course writers and Nate, we were able to deliver a finished product.

In some ways, I think the Working in Public Schools course is very different from other courses in that the bulk of the course does not concern itself with teaching advice, tips, research, or strategy.

The goal of our course is to explain everything about what it means to be an ALT to teachers with wide-ranging experience working in schools, and some very little.

In other words, the course writers and I were adamant about including even the smallest detail about working in public schools – recommended attire, a description of the buildings and layout of the school itself, a rundown of teachers and staff employed by the school, non-classroom roles ALTs might take on, and so much more.

We even wrote suggestions about how to interact with students during downtime. ALTs interacting with students during non-teaching hours may be done in a variety of ways, as mentioned above. By speaking in these informal settings, a more authentic communication feeling, more than classrooms at least, occurs.

These, often short, “conversations” with students outside of the classroom check a lot of boxes being ticked beyond simple communication.

They help to:

  • raise intrinsic motivation
  • raise awareness of how to communicate (meaning that there is no correct way to speak)
  • share knowledge about ourselves and world culture.
  • Note: this list is from the Working in Public Schools Course; Talking With Students section

To experienced ALTs and people who have worked in education for some time, this kind of description might come off as tedious and possibly even obvious, but ALTs, at all levels, are not always explicitly taught the importance of these conversations and that lack of training may lead some ALTs to spend more time at their desk or otherwise engaged in some non-communicative work.

Going in-depth about the minutiae of day-to-day ALT work is a point of pride for the writers of the Working in Public Schools course and it is our sincere wish that this course has been helpful for both ALTs just entering the field and those who have attended their fair share of sports days.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for me, as a course writer, has been the sharper focus I see my teaching in.

“What am I doing, and why is it important?” is a question I try to ask myself when I am designing a lesson or a semester’s worth of lessons for my university students, and it was a question I had to ask myself often during the writing of the course.

“What should ALTs know on the first day, and why is it important to know those things?” “What should ALTs know about the roles they’ll play in the classroom and why is it important to know those things?” That kind of conscious affirmation about what I wanted to convey to people reading the course has carried over into my teaching ever since and I think writing about teaching has helped me become a better, more deliberate teacher.

I can say that writing that module definitely helped build my understanding of how teaching listening works and the importance of listening activities (especially in elementary schools).

Sam Gledhill, the Course writer for Listening

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Armando Duarte

Armando Duarte worked as a dispatch ALT in junior and senior high schools from 2011 until 2017, when he began working at the university level. At the time of writing, he is employed by Kwansei Gakuin University. His research interests include CALL (computer-aided language learning), learner motivation, and a little bit of everything. When he is not teaching, he enjoys looking over his balcony to the mountains and making occasional trips to Costco.