ALT’s Thoughts on Teaching in Japan

By Johan Saputra Muljadi

In 2013, I decided to survey 20 junior high school ALTs of Maebashi City focusing on two particular focal points: what aspects of the current team-teaching situation are disliked and what makes a good team-teaching environment.

Muljadi Table 1

Table 1 illustrates team-teaching situations ALTs dislike. In “The English taught/used in activities is authentic”, 0 participants strongly agreed and only 3 participants agreed, and the remaining 9 slightly agreed, 5 slightly disagreed, and 3 disagreed. This could suggest that ALTs ideas are still heavily controlled by JTEs on what is allowed and disallowed in the classroom. In the additional space on my questionnaires for teachers to comment, a teacher wrote “some JTEs have very low-confidence in themselves and are afraid to ask for help from the ALTs or have an ALT in their class. This mentality should be changed”. Another teacher wrote, “I’m pretty lucky with my JTEs; they’re strong teachers, open to ideas and know how to get the best out of me and the class”. The common norm is JTEs advising ALTs to construct communicative activities from pages of the textbook students had learned in class. JTEs are often critical on the content as JTEs would advise the ALTs, “I think it is too difficult for the students because they have not learned it”. On a positive note, during my years of team-teaching with one JTE, where possible she would allow me to have a freer role where I could implement a series of communication activities reciting grammar patterns they learned in class. When she decided that the lesson must be on textbooks or worksheets, it naturally became livelier simply because there were two teachers in the classroom; the students could freely ask questions, work in small groups, and the teacher could tailor to individual needs. From this I would like address the importance of authenticity in language learning. Transforming textbook materials into communicative activities is always possible, but it requires improvisation and language input from the native speaker in order to achieve authenticity. Even without a concrete plan for communicative activities, in lessons where the ALT is present, authentic communication can be achieved through the reinforcement of classroom language such as, “excuse me, I don’t understand this question”, etc.

The other focal point that I would like to draw attention to is the sixth question of the survey, “My JTEs have the English skills needed to communicate clearly with me about lesson planning”. Three participants strongly agreed, 4 agreed, 6 slightly agreed, 1 slightly disagreed, and 6 disagreed. This evidence shows a drastic improvement from what McConnell (2000:211) referred to as “language skills road block”. McConnell concluded upon his findings between 1993 to 1999, “…deficiency in English conversational ability led many JTEs to fear loss of face in the classroom and in the teacher’s room”. Most JTEs found it difficult to convey what they really thought about the ALTs ideas, partially because JTEs resisted surrendering some autonomy in the classroom. It has become an exciting opportunity for the students because in general, present Japanese teachers have better English communication skills. This could suggest that team teaching lessons today are not largely spent on reading or translation.

Learner English (2001), Team Teaching (1990), Planet Eigo: Down To Earth Team Teaching (2007), Team Teaching: What, Why, and How (2000), Professional Development for Language Teachers (2005), are great resources that should be available in every public school in Japan or given during orientation. Brown (2014), Christmas (2014), Hahn (2013), Hamamoto (2012), Hiratsuka (2013), Macedo (2002), Ogawa (2011), Rapley (2010) and Tahira (2012) research articles are also worth reading, especially to JTEs more than ALTs. These articles should be translated into Japanese so JTEs can understand how ALTs really feel. In the near future, as I now live in Sagamihara city in Kanagawa prefecture, I am interested to know about the team-teaching situation and how they are different or similar to Maebashi City.

Johan Saputra Muljadi is currently working for the British Council in Tokyo. He is the lead teacher of English at a private elementary school in Yokohama. His research interests include: homework and testing for young learners and the development of team-teaching in public schools. He can be contacted at


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