The thing about JET is that you really don’t know where you end up after you get accepted. Take me, for example. I had asked for a sub-urban placement with no preferences for prefectures, and I ended up in one of the most urban placements right next to where I had lived the previous year.
Kobe, as a designated city, is like a mini prefecture. Over 100 ALTs are spread out over 9 SHS, 82 JHS and 166 ES, and you don’t really have a choice where you go. One of the ALTs said that school placement is like an arranged marriage. You don’t know what you’re getting into, but all you can do is try and make things work with the other party. She’s not wrong.
I was placed in a really large JHS with 3 ALTs (anyone would tell you that this is really uncommon). Besides taking one grade of students (over 300 of them), I also took on the task of teaching at a mammoth ES. In order to meet requirements, I had to spend 2 days every week at there, sometimes teaching 6 straight classes a day. For someone without teaching experience with children, I can tell you that it was not an easy task.
But with the hard work came the most friendly environment an ALT can have. The principal had taught overseas himself, and is a firm advocate of English in elementary schools. The vice-principal is a friendly, fatherly man who would answer my numerous questions about Japanese school culture and kept an interest in what I was doing. The school nutritionist would join in our conversations and kept me fed with all kinds of sweets and tidbits.
The school had a great system for planning classes. Each grade had a teacher in charge of English, with one of them my overall contact for the school. Every time I was due to teach a new grade, I would sit down with that teacher and discuss the next lesson. It’s easy for me to do so because I speak pretty fluent Japanese, but the teachers themselves are mostly younger teachers, and they are happy to listen to my ideas and discuss my plans, which makes lesson planning a joy.
When I received my new posting for the new school year, I was both happy and sad. Happy because I was moving to a high-level SHS, something that I’d worked towards as part of my own professional development, but sad because I was going to have to leave my ES. I loved the school – it was the only reason I stayed in my current JHS despite having a terrible first year (the second year was great).
On my last day, the principal congratulated me on being transferred to the SHS, saying that my hard work has been recognised. He has always been a firm supporter of my work, and I know that he often spoke of me to the BOE. He made the announcement of my leaving to the school at the morning meeting, and the looks of surprise on the teachers’ faces made me tear up again. I cried so hard when I made my leaving speech, something I didn’t think I would do, but I was grateful, so grateful for having been placed in such a supportive and nurturing school for my first ALT experience that I couldn’t help myself.
So many teachers came up to me to congratulate me and encourage me after that. A couple of them got their classes to write goodbye notes to me, and I was beset upon by a class of 4th years after school, thanking me for teaching them. I hung around after working hours, helping out with graduation prep just so I didn’t have to leave, and I found myself tearing up again as I handed in my staff pass to the vice-principal. “I’ll hold it for you for the next time you come back,” he said.
Thank you, IBKH ES, for being my home for the past 1.5 years. I don’t believe there can be any placement more welcoming that you were. I’ll miss you so, so much.