Teaching English in Japan: Assistant Language Teaching



Howdy gang! In this video we’re gonna take a closer look at ALT and AET teaching.
Let’s kick this video off with some basic definitions, shall we?

So we have two acronyms: ALT and AET.

The first acronym is “ALT” and it doesn’t stand for a sandwich. HAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHA 
(Worst…joke…ever 🙁 ) . ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher. The other expression that you hear is AET or Assistant English Teacher. They’re used interchangeably, but I think I hear ALT far more often. Because we hear ALT acronym more often, for this style of teaching we’re about to discuss, I’ll refer to these teachers as ALT teachers.

To explain the details of ALT teaching, instead of just talking about it I think I’m going to show you a picture because I think that’d be more effective for you to get the visual. I’m not an artist, so I apologize in advance. I’m gonna draw you a quick sketch:

And yes, I know I’m not winning any awards for art for this diagram. By the end of it, hopefully all of the lines and boxes will make sense.

This is the basic ALT system. Over here on the right, these gold boxes will represent your schools. I made a small one, a medium-sized one, and a big one to represent what? Elementary, middle and high. See what I did? I was trying to be creative. No? Okay, we’ll keep going.

In the middle, the big building is the B.O.E. (go figure…another acronym). If you’re not familiar with this acronym, get used to it because you will hear it a lot if you start doing ALT teaching:
BOE stands for the Board of Education, say it with me “Board of Education.”

The smaller building on the left is going to represent the dispatch company.

The Board of Education has a close relationship with this dispatch company. I want to say it’s actually a contractual relationship. This dispatch company is the go to company to provide this Board of Education with native-speaking, English teachers.

So around early to mid-December, the dispatch company starts putting out its earliest job postings for new teachers. So if you check job boards and those kinds of things, you’ll start to see salaries being posted and all of that kind of stuff. So the dispatch company is actively advertising and actively recruiting.

Let’s say you see an offer that you like and you contact the dispatch company. They look over your resume and they decide they want you to come in for an interview. So you go to the dispatch company, you have an incredible interview, and they decide to hire you. CONGRATULATIONS you’re now an ALT. Of course you have to go through training and all of that stuff.

But once you’re trained, the dispatch company informs the BOE that we have trained teachers ready to work, to fill the positions that you let you let us know about at the end of last year. So the BOE will decide what schools you actually go to. You’ll end up having a meeting at the board of education and you’ll have a meeting at your school with your principal(s). 

Hopefully all goes well and you end up teaching for the entire year. Or if you’re happy, the schools are happy, the BOE is happy, and the dispatch is company is happy, you end up working there much longer. Hopefully the salary is on the up and up, and you end up with a steady job for many many years, and everybody’s smiling & happy. That’s the bare bones of it.

Have you ever heard of M.E.X.T. before? It’s another acronym (For some reason Japan loves ‘em) That’s the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. In essence, that’s the body that governs all things education here in Japan.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! “MEXT…Minstry of Education, Culture, Science, Sports and Tech…” “Where’s the X at!” I remember seeing this acronym for the first time and I was like “Where the hell is the X!” But if you think about it in terms of katakana pronunciation, you can kind of see it. There is no X sound in Japanese. So X is pronounced like 「エックス」

So if you look at the acronym, the Culture, Science, Sports part is like the「クス。。。」that makes up the “X.”

The reason why I bring up MEXT is because they’re in charge of those decisions and initiatives to bring in English teachers to elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to improve English education in Japan as a whole.

I found this English Education Reform Plan on the MEXT website. I thought it might give us a little more insight as to why the ALT exists in Japan. Section One talks about what the English goals are at the different elementary school grade levels. They also talk about lower secondary education and the English objectives get progressively more challenging

So why does the Assistant Language Teacher position exist? Well, in short, it’s to better English education/English skills all over Japan. One teacher can’t do it alone of course. But, if MEXT is placing all of these native-speaking, university-educated teachers all throughout the country, that is going to have a big effect on Japanese youth. It’s going to affect how these students view English education and increase their exposure to it.

If we look a the objectives of MEXT, we can see that it’s a process. Initially, during those earlier years you’re trying to do more exposure. For the levels I was teaching at, kindergarten, elementary, and maybe early junior high, you’re that first exposure to kids for English. So maybe it’s about getting kids interested, maybe it’s about making English lessons fun and engaging at this point. The goal isn’t necessarily to get them speaking at that point. That’s how it was explained to me. It’s getting them to really enjoy the classes. Now, some of the kids will start to excel very early at speaking because that’s how it is sometimes; some kids pick up things really quickly. But that exposure is important.

While I’ve never taught junior high school or high school, I would imagine at those levels that you get into more of the communication side of English: speeches, debates, and those kinds of things, just like they mention in the MEXT objectives. 

Getting Japanese students to progressively speak more English appears to be the overarching objective. The ALT plays a key role in making this objective happen.


When you make that decision to do ALT work here in Japan you can either go public or you can go private. Which one is better?

Honestly I don’t think there’s a big difference. Your job duties are essentially the same: you still have to go out there and teach great lessons, you still have to interact with the students, you still have to communicate well with your staff, you still have to get the parents involved. The same things that are going to make you a great teacher anyway, you’ll have to do whether your teaching at a private school or public school. So please keep that in mind.

Now I will say there’s a significant difference in pay, at least from what I’ve experienced there is. But I don’t necessarily think the salary is related to it being a private or public school as much as it is the company that hires you to do the teaching.

Whichever route you decide to go, just keep in mind (at the end of the day) that there are great public schools here in Japan and great private ones. Unfortunately, there are also some private and public schools that aren’t so good, be aware of that, too. In any case, just go in there and do your best and you can have a great Japanese learning experience, a great teaching experience at either type.


Let’s talk major players in the Assistant Language Teaching space, or public and private school space.

When I think of public school, the big company that comes to mind is Interac. I want to say Interac is the largest of the dispatch companies (for public schools) here in Japan. So that’s a major player.

Borderlink is pretty big I guess.

RCS which is Real Communication Solutions.

Heart, I honestly haven’t heart very good things about, unfortunately. I talked to a former teacher who used to worked there a long time ago. I don’t know how they are now, so please do the research first if you’re interested.

There is ALTIA.

There is WING – I don’t know if they do both public and private or not.

There is JIEC – I asked about what the acronym for JIEC was, and the person who interviewed me couldn’t tell me, so I’m not really sure. But JIEC is a great company I worked for to teach kindergarten. JIEC is one of the rare cases where it’s a company that’s kind of like dispatch, but not exactly. You do private school teaching mainly.

JET – Falls into it’s own category. You can’t really group it with any of the dispatch companies. It was organized by the Japanese government, so it’s kind of a special case, too. I know a lot of teachers who work for JET who really seem happy with the whole setup, and I can kind of see why. We’ll get a little more into that when we talk about salaries.

Those are the major players I can think of.


These are the seven core duties you can expect to do as an Assistant Language Teacher here in Japan:

1. Teaching English (using a more flexible system)

Similar to Eikaiwa work, this is what you’ve been hired to do, so it is your core duty. When teaching English at the public school level, the system is lot more flexible (at least that’s been my experience). You have certain elements that need to be in your lessons, but as far as the content goes, you have a lot more freedom when it comes to what you want do in class. And that’s the way it should be, what makes lessons fun is when you can put your own mark on them.

With 英会話-eikaiwa / English conversation school teaching, you can put your own stamp on lessons as far as personality goes, but it’s a very specific system that they want you to teach because it’s a business. They want to create a standardized experienced for their students, right?

2. Planning / Lesson Prep

This is really going to depend on the dispatch company you work for, and the school that you’re at. Sometimes you’ll have a lot more prep time at a public school than you will at an eikaiwa. But it all depends. When I was doing private school, I guess I had little less prep time. If you don’t have that time, MAKE THAT TIME because you want to make sure your lessons are good. And you’ll be teaching a lot more kids at the public school level. 

I remember my classes were between three and ten students, when I was doing eikaiwa work. But it was more like 25-35 students in public school classes. With larger student numbers, lesson plans can sometimes go off the rails and it’s better to be prepared for that.

3. Making English Fun & Engaging

When comparing teaching in Japan to teaching in America, I really enjoyed that I didn’t have a ton of papers to grade. You’re really trying to build an interest in English (elementary & early junior high). Trust me, the kids are going to have plenty of time to do testing. Once the students hit that middle school/late middle school level, they’re going to be testing their butts off. So this is chance to really build a genuine interest in English. If the students have that, even when all the testing starts to get stressful, they’ll still remember you, remember your class, and remember that they enjoyed their English experience. That’s really important.

4. Interacting with Students

I don’t know if everyone will agree with me, but I think THIS is the most important of your teaching duties as an ALT here in Japan. Why? Because this is where the connections are made. This is when you go to eat lunch with them, when you go outside to paly with them, when you reach your kids on a more pesonal level. Sure you can make connections in class, but if students see that you’re willing to spend time with them outside of the classroom it can be really meaningful. Kids can get a sense what kind of person you are, that you’re not some big, scary monster, that they can actually talk to you.* KiIf kids see you in that light outside of class (if they find that you’re not) they’re apt to be more responsive inside of class.

*Many schools have no problem with you speaking Japanese during these times, so it’s great Japanese practice, too!

5. Attend Staff Meetings

I’m not going to lie to you, this is probably the down side of ALT teaching for me. Especially the formal meetings where you have to go city hall. Those things can get REALLY boring. I’ve had my eyes glass over, done the slow bink, and done the semi-polite inside-of-your-mouth-with-your-lips-closed yawn countles times during these meetings…UGH!! You’re just going to have to grit your teeth and get through it. However, when you do the meetings with you coworkers and your peers (usually arranged by the dispatch company) where it’s all in English, and everybody is sharing teaching ideas, that’s a lot more fun 🙂

6. School Cleanup

Expect to do more cleanup at public schools than you would at an eikaiwa because public schools are bigger. Keep in mind that you’ll be doing this with the kids. I think of it as another chance to bond. It’s not backbreaking labor, it’s a little more intensive, but it can be a lot of fun. Don’t worry about it.

7. Teacher Observations/Open Houses

From time to time someone from your dispatch company/company will come to watch your lessons to make sure that the quality is there. The open houses are for the parents. A lot of people get nervous over these observations. But I like think of this as your time to show off! Show your company what you can do and show the parents what their kids are capable of. If you think of it as a glass-half-full situation, it’s alot more fun.

Those are the seven core duties for the ALT. If you notice, they’re very similar to the eikaiwa core duties. I think that you’ll find with many types of teaching work in Japan, the duties are quite similar.


As an ALT be prepared to work from about 8:00/8:30am until about 4:30pm. This will vary from school to school, from board of education to board of education. This will change if you have meetings if you have meetings or you’re actively participating in any school clubs. So, sometimes you can end up staying pretty late. With ALT work I found that it wasn’t busy the entire day, you will have down time to plan, just make sure to use that time wisely.

Your typical day is going to be five to six periods. Each class is going to be about 45-minutes. I say 45-minutes because I taught mainly elementary school (15-30 minutes for kindergarten). I can’t really speak on junior high school, but a teaching buddy told me his lessons were about 50 minutes, so a small change there.

As far as the school year is concerned, public school starts in late April and goes until the following March but it’s not year-round (in case you You do have a summer vacation that starts around the third week of July and goes until the end of August. You also have winter vacation which starts around the third week of December and goes until about the second week of January. You can also tack onto that the national public holidays and things, which is quite nice. There is a downside to the vacation time when it comes to salary, and we’ll talk more about that when we discuss salaries.

Well gang, that’s going to wrap our discussion on ALT/AET public and private school teaching, and I’ll catch you in the next video.

[<---Go back to FOWVS Video 2] | [Go to FOWVS Video 4 —> ]