Japan, Life

4 Downsides to Being an ALT

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Ayeee you guys! I did it! I made it to the end of my first ALT contract. This experience had many highs and lows, but in the end, I think I’m overall grateful for the opportunity.

I just wanted to highlight four things that can make your role difficult as an ALT. If you read the experiences of other ALTs on the internet, mine probably isn’t that far off. As usual, if you are looking to be an ALT or will be starting soon, take everything with a grain of salt because every experience will be unique.

#1. Contracts

  • These companies are sheisty. The people you work with might not be bad, but the companies have no issues creating arrangements that low-key screw you over. Here’s how the cycle works:
    • Your work schedule is set to 8:30-4:30, however in your contract you are only getting paid for the hours you teach or prep (let’s skip the hour lunch part that is you eating with the students and then cleaning with them after). The number of hours you are only working is 29.5 hours a week. So why are you in school a full time 40 hours? That 29.5 hour means you don’t get the full-time benefits of having your employer enroll you in health insurance/pension fund, so you are on your own for that.
    • The school’s know the hours you’re supposed to be in school, but not the details of your contract. There’s pressure to keep contracts secret.
    • Anything over 29.5 hours is just “Volunteer Work.”  So if you decide that after 29.5 hours you want just to chill out (like 2 hours a day), humans think you’re slacking off.
    • Slacking off leads to bad reviews. Bad reviews lead to potentially not having a contract the next school year.

See the problem? It seems like unless you’re in the JET program or joined the General Union, you’re assed out. I see many people say you should just suck it up because the job isn’t demanding, Japanese teachers work harder, and it’s entry-level/anyone can do it. The only thing I can say is that if you are working, you deserve to be compensated for your time, PERIOD.

My suggestion: Take the extra time to find a job that isn’t going to give you a shady contract, unless you don’t care about the hour’s thing. That’s your choice. However, being aware is a good first step to making informed decisions.

 #2. “Assistant” Language Teacher

I taught in two elementary schools and was the lead teacher in all of my lessons except with three teachers. 35 out of 39 classes I was doing lesson plans, making materials, running the show. On good days, the HRTs are involved with the lesson; however, that tended to be rare.

I was under the impression that me being an assistant meant that this was supposed to be teamwork. So when I’m giving you lessons plans that I took the time to write in Japanese, the least you could do it read it. If that’s the only effort I get, I’ll take it…but I want at least that much.

My issue with being the lead teacher mainly stems from the contract. They’ll have you out here doing the most, and you can’t even get health insurance through your company or after your hours are finished. Stop playing.

#3. Not Being Able to do Work at Work

I did not have much access to computers at work, and when I did, they did not have the internet. Since elementary school kids don’t read or write, a lot of my activities are very picture heavy. I can’t draw, so the majority of these images I have to pull from the internet and then use them to create games. This is stuff that I could easily use to fill my free time at work, but the lack of computer access makes it difficult. Instead, I would have to spend most of my time doing all of this prep work at home. Unclear antecedent



The word easily is often overused. Consider using a more specific synonym to improve the sharpness of your writing.


I usually expect to have to do a little extra work here and there for my jobs, but having to do this regularly, like more than 2-3 times a week because one school had NO materials for me to use at all, didn’t make me happy.

Unless I want to take some time to read up on teaching methods or how second languages are learned in my spare time, I don’t want to be doing the majority of my work at home. Please refer back to problem #1, contract terms.

#4 “Cultural Differences”

Listen, there will be plenty of cultural differences when you are in the situation of living and working in a different country. You just have to accept that fact and try your best to navigate around them with as much understanding as you can muster. With that in mind, there are still some things that get under my skin due to my personal beliefs.  My main issue was teachers that thought it was okay to talk about me while I’m sitting in the same room because they thought I didn’t understand them. I found that to be extremely rude and unprofessional. This didn’t happen in both of my schools, luckily, but it got my goat in the school it did happen. That location was pretty cold all year though so………*shrug*

Anyhow, I really think that your placement and your attitude will determine how your experience will be. If you end up at a school with warm teachers or teachers who at least try to be friendly, then you might have a pretty good time. If your school isn’t so amazing, how your year goes will be determined by how you react to it. Most companies will try to help you ease and tensions/concerns you may have.

The best advice I can give is to keep an open mind and do the best job you can do. Depending on what you are trying to get out of your Japan experience, this could be a good job while you are here.


Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or want to share your own experiences!

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