Apartment · Life · School · UK

Leaving Japan: Resignation Timeline

I’ve found in my personal experience that there is a wealth of information online about the process of coming to Japan (I wrote about my own experience here), but a lot less about what happens when the time comes for you to leave.

As of writing this, this is around the time ALTs are submitting their intentions to stay or leave as it’s coming up to the end of the school year, so I hope this is somewhat helpful.

I remembered to log a lot of what I did with dates, so you can tell from making the decision to actually leaving took six weeks – and this really was a tight schedule. Most people make their decision months in advance. So please heed my warning and take more time than I did to get your life in order.

Nevertheless, this is how it went for me working for a dispatch ALT company.
Dates are in day/month order as is standard in the UK.

06/11: Booked flights home to the UK and told my family. Start advertising furniture and appliances for free on Facebook expat groups and our ALT group chat on Line.
08/11: Sent letter of resignation to my company giving the minimum 30 days notice. Received a call in the evening from my manager asking if I’ve thought this through, but he was very kind and understanding as he knew that I was recovering from surgery. Company sends through a ‘leavers pack’ with a bunch of forms to complete and return.
15/11: Tell my teachers I am leaving and advise my final day. Arrange leaving parties with my favourites.
26-27/11: Leaving parties with teachers:

06-10/12: People come to pick the items I’ve been advertising up from my apartment. (IMPORTANT: Work around YOUR schedule, not theirs. If they’re too busy or flake, immediately offer to the next person or make other arrangements ie. take to the thrift shop or dispose.)
08/12: Last day at junior high school. I’m shadowed by my replacement.
09/12: Last day at my elementary school. I’m shadowed again by my replacement.
10/12: Representative from the company comes to survey the apartment for damage. The actual landlord will do an inspection after I move out. Go to city hall with representative to do leaving process. This includes notifying the city that you’ll no longer be a resident, and to set up a proxy to receive my pension/partial tax refund when I return home. There are various resources online about this and it’s way more complicated than it needs to be.
10-12/12: Leaving parties with friends.

13/12: Clear the last of my stuff out of my apartment. Finish packing and forward luggage to airport hotel using Yamato. Gas is turned off in the evening.
14/12: Water is turned off in the morning. Move out of my apartment and catch the shinkansen for a farewell weekend in Tokyo.
15/12: Check into airport hotel at Haneda, reunited with my luggage.
16/12: Residence card and visa are voided at the airport. Fly home.

N.b. one of my suitcases arrived at Newcastle International with only one of it’s four wheels but しょうがない British Airways were pretty great at coughing up for a replacement.

BACK IN THE UK: Receive final pay after two months, minus 20% tax and mandatory apartment cleaning fees. Also receive my sickness benefits from when I was recovering from my operation. Applied for pension/partial tax refund and discussed with proxy still in Japan.

~ Carla

School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: What I liked and didn’t like about teaching in Japan

ひさしぶり! Surprise!

Hi, hi – remember me? I hope you’re doing well, friend.

Being back home for well over a year now I’ve more that acclimatised back into life in the UK – surprisingly better than I thought I would.
I’m glad to report that I have a job I love and plan on coming back to Japan to visit in Autumn 2024 – hoorah!

I do enjoy looking back at this little corner of the internet from time to time and I am currently drafting a longer retrospective look back at my time in Japan now I’ve had some distance.

But for now, having a look through my drafts I’ve had some posts that have been sitting there for literal years now, and I figured I might as well post the ones that are still relevant.

So without further ado, here’s what I liked and didn’t like about my years working as an ALT in an elementary and junior high school.

The Good…

The kids.
This is what you’ll hear from 99% of ALTs you’ll speak to. Many a time I’d woken upon the wrong side of the bed and arrived at school grumpy and unmotivated. But as soon as I walked into the classroom and saw my bairns, a little voice in my head said: “I can’t let you down.”

Ask a Japanese student what their favourite thing about school is, and the most common answer is “talking with my friends” – so I worked hard to make sure there was at least one activity in every lesson where they can do just that.

While most of their other subjects are predominantly them are sitting at their desks quietly and vigilantly taking notes, they know English with the ALT is the fun class where they can play games, walk around the classroom doing an activity, watch some videos, listen to some music and – of course – talk to their friends. It makes it all seem worthwhile when you walk into the classroom and are greeted with smiles, cheers and “oh, Miss Carla is here today!”

This depends from company to company, branch to branch, but at my school I wasn’t really micromanaged at all. As long as I turned up on time, made dynamic lessons, kept my head down and at least looked busy between classes I could do whatever I want.

You are the gaijin (Part 1.)
As an ALT, you simply aren’t held to the same standards as other teachers – and although it can be hard to always be the ‘outsider’ in school , it does have it’s perks. While most Japanese teachers arrive before 7am and leave at 7pm earliest, you’ll find you can rock up at 8am and leave by 4pm.
As previously mentioned, your lessons are the fun ones focusing on speaking and listening skills while providing some context as a native speaker. If the kids don’t do well in their exams – that’s for the Japanese teachers to deal with.

Free time between lessons (Part 1).
As you become more experienced as an ALT, you’ll find lesson planning takes up less and less of your time. While of course I liked making sure my lessons were fun and interesting as could be, after a few months I found I could pretty much plan a grade’s classes for the week somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours at the very most.
As such, you’ll have extra time between lessons and a lot of ALTs spend this time studying Japanese. But as I mentioned before this time is your own. (Just don’t take the piss – “the ALT spends too much time on their phone” is one of the most popular complaints to dispatch companies or BOEs.)

Time off!
One of the major gripes people seem to have with teaching is you don’t have a lot of holiday allowance. I believe JETs get less time off, but likely if you’re with dispatch they’ll wangle these off for you. Dispatch ALTs are paid less than JETs, but personally, I preferred to tighten my belt from time to time and be able to actually enjoy Japan instead of rotting away in the teacher’s room on a higher salary.

You’ll get 10 annual leave days – 5 of these are usually chosen by your company and you can choose the other 5. It depends from company to company, branch to branch how eager they’ll be to process your holiday requests, but personally I didn’t have any rejected.
Most Japanese teachers don’t use their holiday allowance at all, or save it for sick days. But again, you are held to a different standard being the gaijin, so don’t feel guilty about using them! Just try not to take them around exam time or the beginning or end of term.

If you work in a Japanese school you’ll also get all 16 national holidays off. This is actually more than in the US.
Yes we get 28 days paid leave in the UK – 36 including national holidays (“bank holidays”) which I definitely missed, but personally I felt like I had more time off than I expected to explore Japan.

Better supportive materials.
The textbooks are improving. The funny videos like this one are sadly becoming a thing of the past as in the last few years as there’s been a major overhaul in textbooks in line with new government guidelines. Some of the media can still be a bit awkward, but it’s getting better.

The new songs kinda slap, though – this one was a staple in 6th grade elementary.
One girl even learned the chords on the piano and everyone sang it on my last day.

The So-So

You’re here for a good time, not a long time.
Except for a very small minority, teaching in Japan is not a viable career path. While it’s great for a few years, eventually most people go on to bigger and better things – usually back in their home country. The sweet spot tends to be between 2 and 5 years.

Teaching in Japan is pretty great for gap year or two, to gain experience after graduating or even for people like myself on a career break. But unless you’re looking to rise up the ranks in your company, it’s simply not really an option long-term.

The Not-So-Good

There’s no beating around the bush, ALT work doesn’t pay well. If you budget, you’ll find you can live fairly comfortably – until your second year when you are clouted around the head with residence taxes and mandatory pension premiums. A lot of ALTs end up getting a side-gig.

Not all co-teachers are created equal.
ALTs are not allowed to discipline kids, and if you have a JTE or HRT who let the kids run riot you’re on your own tbh. While I had mostly great co-teachers, there were also some who were downright lazy, had absolutely no respect for the work I did and saw my classes as the one they don’t have to do fuck all in – and it was tedious.

All eyes are on you not to fuck up.
There is so much pressure to be the perfect, genki gaijin all the time. If you’re having a bad day, you can’t be pissed off and grump at your desk – you have to get up and do your thing with a big smile on your face. One wrong move and your reputation can really take a battering.

Free time between lessons (Part 2)
The deskwarming. Oh, the deskwarming! It sounds good on paper, but trust me the novelty wears off after a while. There’s really only so much you can scroll, books you can read and blogs you can draft hehe before you feel like you’re losing your marbles. You have to make an effort to push yourself sometimes to be productive on days you are waiting for the clock to tick to 4pm.

While no two days are quite the same, teaching can feel pretty formulaic after a while – especially in elementary school where we seemingly played the same 6 games over and over and over. The kids love it of course, but there were times when I could actually feel myself losing brain cells.

~ Carla

Life · School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: My Last Days at School

Hi everyone!

I’ve been back in the UK for a few months now and already looking back on my time in Japan. I’ll write a longer retrospective in a little while, but in the meantime I thought you’d like to know about my final days at both of my schools.

Part 1: Goodbye, Junior High School…

For my last lessons at Junior High School, I asked my JTEs if we could keep it casual and was given the go-ahead. I did this quiz for all the grades – so I did the same lesson 12 times (16 including Elementary School, more on that later…) but the kids really got into it.

My JTEs were always pretty strict on sticking to the curriculum, so the rare times I got to stray brought big sighs of relief all around.
I think no matter where you are in the world, the phrase “no textbooks today, everyone!” while the TV gets wheeled in gets you a big round of applause.

The class clown in one of the top sets took the opportunity to ask if I liked his new haircut and if I thought he was an ikemen in front of the whole class. I really did dish it back to them, so I pointedly looked him up and down, looked thoughtful, then replied “meh…so-so” while everyone exploded.
“No, Miss Carla,” he insisted. “Very sexy hair!”

Every class had written me letters and cards and there was a little presentation at the end of the lesson. They then did a very formal thank you with a deep bow – always a bit jarring when they did this as mere minutes beforehand they were all giving each other noogies and wedgies and the middle finger. But very sweet.

I had one student I’ve taught from 2019 burst into tears. I finally managed to console her, then on a whim I unhooked the Yuri Katsuki gatcha charm from my USB that she admired every day and gave it to her. More tears!

I’m really not a big anime fan, but Yuri!!! On Ice is one of our favourite shows so we bonded over a mutual love of Yuri and Viktor.

Near the end of the day, the whole school gathered in the gym for a short farewell ceremony and to hand over to the new ALT who had been shadowing me all day. Typical Japan, a lot of pomp and circumstance over nothing at all, but I felt very loved.

I’d also been told 24 hours prior that I had to give a speech, which was really the last thing I needed to sort on top of all the moving stress – but I did my best.
“Don’t worry, it just has to be short,” said my co-teacher.
“It’s going to have to be!” I replied.

I was incredibly nervous and stumbled a little, but it seemed to get the message across.
Here’s what I said in my usual piss-poor broken Japanese..
(I stole most of it from various corners of the internet.)

Look at those tense shoulders.


皆さんとお別れするのは悲しいです。この にー年間、 オー世話 に なりました。 ありがとう ございます。○○中 の皆さんは元気で明るく積極的で,私もこの学校に来るのが毎 日楽しみでした。ミナーさん 新設 で、 渡し を 受け入れて ください ました。校長先生と教頭先生はじめ○○年間の援助をどうもありがとうございました。先生の皆さん特に○○先生、皆さんも本当にお世話になりました。先生方は忙しい合間をぬって,私の質問や疑問にていねいに答えてくれました. 頑張って、ね!新しい所で皆さんがいなくて、寂しいです!皆さんお元気で。

本当 に ありがとう ございました。

Hello, everyone.
Please excuse my poor Japanese.

I am sad that I have to say goodbye to you. You have been kind to me for the past two years, thank you very much. Everyone at ○○ Junior High School was so positive and energetic that it was an absolute joy to come to work every morning. Everybody has been kind and has accepted me.

I wish to thank the principal, vice-principal, and everybody else for all of your help during my two years here. I have become really indebted to all of the teachers as well, especially ○○ sensei and ○○ sensei.
No matter how busy you all were, you always found the time to answer any question that I had.

Good luck. I will miss you. Take care.
Thank you very much.

The message seemed to get through as I got a big ol’ applause afterwards, and my JTE told me she could some students were leaning forward because they were listening so intently. Bless them.

Unfortunately for the school, I had to leave mid-week as I had a whole bunch of stuff to do before I actually flew home and the teachers had their big meeting so there was no formal goodbye.

I managed to hand out my goodbye presents to the principal, vice-principal, and the JTEs and also take a few quick photos before they said goodbye and they went to the meeting.
There was nobody actually in the teacher’s room apart from the janitor who I have a big soft spot for (he was so accommodating when I was recovering from my operation and had some new dietary restrictions) so he actually saw me to the door.
I took my shoes from the cupboard in the genkan and put them in my backpack, took one last look at the lobby, gave him a final bow and a wave, and left the junior high school for the last time.

Just like Whitney, I get so emotional, baby, and was surprised that I didn’t cry.
“Wow, that wasn’t so bad…” I thought to myself, as I walked to my bus stop.

Cue, the next day…

Part 2: Goodbye, Elementary School…

OK, OK. So ending my contract mid-week wasn’t wholly an accident. I maaaaay have also timed it so I would have my final teaching day co-teaching at the elementary school with my best-friend Haruna.

FUN FACT: I actually enjoyed my commute! I got to school around 7:50am, so the bus was very quiet. It was a nice time to catch up with people from home due to the time difference, and also just play some tunes.

Usually, at elementary school, we followed the textbook to the letter, but because it was my last ever class, I showed Haruna the lesson I had done at the junior high school and she gave the OK to do a simplified version.

(The new ALT was shadowing me again and I think he was a bit put-out because it was his first time teaching elementary school and I think he wanted to see how a regular class was run. But that ain’t my problem, hun lololol.)

At the end of every class, I was presented with a preciously bundled lot of letters; scrawled “I love yous” and “I like English” among coloured pencilled drawings of Splatoon inklings, Animal Crossing villagers, Among Us crewmates and (rather worryingly given their age) Squid Game pink soldiers. Thanks, guys.

I made the mistake of telling Haruna about my speech from the previous day, so she insisted I give the speech again but just to the teacher’s room since it was after school club activities day and the bairns would be busy.
(I’d learned in Japan it’s best to keep your gob shut lest you be dragged into stuff like this, but I had a momentary lapse!)

It seemed to go over pretty well again, and my desk-mate who came to my (secret, shh!) goodbye party told me I spoke very clearly and sincerely.

Haruna had unfortunately missed my big moment as she was dealing with a parent (always means business when hops out of her trackies and puts her suit on…) and she suddenly hurled back into the teacher’s room, disappointed that she’d missed it. So I took her outside the teachers’ room and did the speech again for her. Andddd that’s when the tears started. From both of us. And they didn’t stop.

And so as the clock crept past 4pm, the time finally came for me to leave. I felt my heart in my throat as I packed my chopsticks, diary and mug into my kånken with a sense of finality. My usually messy desk (my friend Matt was appalled when he substituted for me) was empty except the textbooks and post it’s I’d left behind for the new guy.

As I stood up to leave, Haruna suddenly barked “Carla is leaving now!” and to my huge surprise, all the teachers stood up and applauded as I walked through the teacher’s room to leave. I think it was then that I started Kim K-level bawling.

For the final time, I turned, bowed and said お先に失礼します (“Sorry to leave before you”) and everyone replied お疲れ様です (“Thank you for your hard work”) and readers know that I was in bits.

Haruna and some of my favourite teachers followed me to the genkan to see me out of the building, waving and applauding as I walked through the gates and headed to my bus stop.

And that was that. A happy chapter of my life had closed.
Now the time had come to leave Japan…but that’s for another post.

~ Carla


Japan Keeping Me Humble #18

Whiskey Business (Part 2)

I was showing my adorable elementary school sixth graders how to do a simple self-introduction:


“Hello, my name is Carla. I am from the UK. My birthday is May 12th.
I like peach. I like Famichiki. I like pandas. I like sleeping. Thank you for listening.”

All good until one of the boys piped up “Miss Carla. No whiskey highball?”

D’awww they know their ALT well! *wipes away tear*
Also, I’m starting to sense a theme, here.

~ Carla

music · School Lunch

Life of an ALT: Lunchtime Jams

Me and Haruna covering for the lunch announcers who were on a school trip.

Schools in Japan have monitors in the top set whose job it is to do lunch announcements and blast some music while everyone is setting up. (Japanese school children serve lunches themselves.)

While at my junior high school this tends to be the big pop song at the moment, something from TikTok or off-season belters.

However in my elementary school, the same songs are played nearly every day, and I think they’re going to make me feel all fuzzy and nostalgic when I’m back in the UK.

So here they all are, for your listening pleasure!

Takumi by Suguru Matsutani.

To Love You More by Taro Hakase

Sanpo by Reiko Nakagawa (from My Neighbor Totoro)

Paprika by Foorin:

I first wrote about this frigging song over a year ago. It’s still popular.

Courage Dance by The Chorus ’13.

This catchy and adorable children’s choir song from 2013 is having a second wave of popularity in Japanese schools as a rousing ganbarou message in the times of covid.

The chorus is literally: 元気、勇気、ちから (“genki, yūki, chika-ra”“energy, courage, power”). Aw.

The theme tune from ‘Play Your Cards Right.’

There’s a short three question quiz during lunch and to announce it, they blast the theme tune from Play Your Cards Right. The show never came to Japan and it’s probably used for something else here, but it makes me think I’m missing a trick by not beginning my classes with “It’s nice to see you, to see you…NICE!” (RIP, Brucey)

They usually play the school song too, which is really cute at my elementary school.
Of course can’t post that here for obvious reasons but it also has a lovely message of camaraderie and being proud of the school’s local area. It’s a bop!

~ Carla


Japan Keeping Me Humble #12

Monkey see, monkey do.

During one of the ten minute breaks between classes before my final period of the day at my elementary school, a tannoy announcement from the principal advised that a monkey had been seen on the loose in the area.

The bairns were told not to approach it if you see it, or go looking for it.
So of course on the way home, everyone went looking for it.

~ Carla

School · school events · Teaching

Life Of An ALT: Open School/Parents Day in Japan

Who am I to judge? For I am neither Jesus nor Judy.

Miss Rory.

Ahh “Open School.”
Two words that send shivers down the spines of Japanese teachers and ALTs alike.

Open School is the one magical day per term where the parents can come and observe classes. Vom.

At my Junior High School I am T2 in most of my classes, so I’m just there to look pretty and beam my big gaijin smile at the mums and dads.

But I lead all classes at my Elementary School – so hello, pressure?
I was somewhat overwhelmed that I was going to be observed all day, however parents were only to come in for one class – the last period at the end of the day.

Thankfully, my open school class was scheduled with my tantou (as explained in my daily routine post, “tantou” = the teacher who is responsible for me at school), who suggested we rehearse beforehand.
She’s one of my favourite people in Japan, and I was eager for us both to do well so I took some time out of my schedule to meet with her, get comfortable with the digital materials and rehearse our banter. We were like a multinational Mel and Sue.

While all our classes are especially fun (I have no idea where she gets her energy from, she’s the type of person who runs at eleven every single day) we decided to make a special effort to make things as interactive as possible – using a mix of the digital materials, and our own stuff.

By the time Open School rolled around for us – we were on We Can 1 Unit 8: “What do you like?” using food as a grammar point.

Food is the great connector (Japanese people in my experience are especially big foodies) so I was glad it was a topic that could especially pique the students’ interests. (The previous unit was directions, and frankly I was knackered after that.)

To get them prepared for the vocabulary, I gave my tantou my stash of food flashcards which she went over a few times with her homeroom prior to our lesson.
Her students are especially eager and genki, so they picked it up fairly quickly.

Our Open School lesson ran a bit like this:

✍ Greeting
I greet all my classes the same way every time: I pretend to be a sergeant major and shout “OK EVERYONE STAAAAAAND…UP!”
(The boys especially love trying to beat their pals on who can stand up first.)

I then flex my muscles and shout “Oooh, I have the power!” Gets a laugh every time.
(My physics teacher Mr Obee* used to do this and it’s always stuck with me.)

ME: Let’s begin, so good morning/afternoon everyone!
STUDENTS: Good morning/good afternoon Miss Carla and Miss _________.
ME: How are you?
STUDENTS: I’m ___________________.
ME: Oh good, how are you Miss _____________?
TANTOU: Oh I’m great, thank you. How are you?
ME: I’m fine, thank you very much! *sergeant major voice* Ok everyone, you can siiiiiiiiit…DOWN!

Small talk.
I’d prepared a short presentation about my favourite foods from the UK. A lot of them tend to recognise fish and chips** but I also included sausage and mash. For desserts, I showed sticky toffee pudding and a jam roly poly.
I also featured some of my favourite Japanese foods (takoyaki, ramen, gyoza and matcha ice cream) and had a little vote on the best. It worked pretty well and got them hyped up.

Japanese desserts are great but MAN what I would give for a bowl of jam roly poly with custard…
Picture credit.

✍ Vocabulary
Although they were pretty familiar with the vocab by this point, we drilled it again a few times – especially to get their pronunciation down. Plus it helped to show the parents what they’d been learning.

✍ Keyword Game.
Man, the Keyword Game is the world’s easiest game to prepare and for some reason my kids LOVE it. Basically, we put all the flashcards on the blackboard (Japanese blackboards are magnetic, so I attach magnets to all my flashcards so they can be visable at all times), choose one of them as a keyword.
The students make pairs and put one eraser between them on the desk. They put their hands on their heads and when they hear the keyword, the first one to grab the eraser wins a point.
I always demonstrate the first round, then ask someone to come to the front. (I always camp this up, calling the student Mr/Miss _______ and making sure everyone listens to their new teacher.)
Eager to impress mum and dad, we had a bunch of volunteers so had about five rounds – keep it an odd number so there’s always a winner.

✍ Listening activity.
We used MEXT’s digital materials from We Can 1 to demostrate to the parents how we use these, and how the students complete their workbooks.

✍ MRI Quiz.
As a fun cool-down, I presented a shorterned version of this MRI quiz from ALTopedia. It’s actually an activity I’d used for my third graders, and it had KILLED. But thought it was a fun, easy activity – and would get any bairns who were starting to lose interest back in focus.

✍ Chant
We ended with a chant/song that came with the MEXT digital materials. Some of the songs can be a little strange, but the one in this unit isn’t too bad. They were quite familiar with it, so I played it twice at normal speed, then got them all to stand up and sing it faster. We emphasised to use nice big voices, gestures and big smiles.

Wrap up
I wrap up the class the same every lesson – I get the kids to stand up (sergeant major act again – “STAAAAAND….UP!”), and I compliment them with what they have specifically done well in the class. So I told them their pronunciation was good, and thanked them for volunteering with activities.
ME: That’s all for today, so for now I’ll say *dramatic pause* GOODBYE EVERYONEEEEE!
THEM: Goodbye Miss Carla, and Miss Haruna!
ME: See youuuuuuuu! *Big wave*
THEM: See youuuuuuuu!! *Big wave back*

And that’s it. I then left while my teacher had a thirty minute meeting with the parents to discuss the students and they gave feedback on the lesson.

Usually in my classes, I’ll try and make sure there’s a free discussion section with plenty of time for the students to practice amongst themselves, with me and the homeroom teacher observing and helping. This is usually in the form of an interview or survey game.

However we’d discussed how this would be logistically difficult with parents taking up space in an already crowded classroom, plus they tend to take around 15-20 minutes out of a 50 minute lesson by the time we have demonstrated the target language and how to complete the worksheets.
So on this occasion we decided to omit this and focus on quick, dynamic activities.

In short although I wasn’t there for the discussion with my tantou, it seemed to go down well with the students – they all wrote me thank you letters at the end of term, and a lot of them referenced the games and activities we specifically did in Open School.

It was definitely a stressful planning period and day – but still, ever a new learning experience!

~ Carla

*Mr Obee now has a Science Youtube channel and it’s the most wholesome content on the internet. There was even a merch drop.

**I’m actually not a huuuuge fan of fish and chips – it’s a little too heavy for me and I’m more of a chips and scraps kinda girl. But it’s an easily recognisable British food to many Japanese people. Plus I always make the connection explaining the batter is crispy and similar to tempura which they all know – comparing your life to theirs always keeps them interested.

School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: Your First Days

Since it’s the end of term and the next influx of ALTs will be landing this week, I thought it was a good time to post about my first few days of teaching in my Japanese schools.

So you’ve had four or five days of training, been bombarded with information, lesson plans, activities, schedules and more. You’re jet lagged, running on coffee and conbini food and most likely living out of a hotel room.

But all of a sudden you find yourself in a suit, and reality sets in that it’s time for you to impart your gaijin wisdom and knowledge. Heck.

I can honestly say that the most nerve-wracking time you will have during the whole moving to Japan process is visiting your schools for the first time, and the days and weeks that follow.

All situations are different – some people visit their schools a week or so before classes begin, some due to teaching schedules are thrown into the fray mere hours before their first class is due to begin.
It’s just luck of the draw. So all I can base this on are my personal experiences.

The one thing I would say before I start is although it is ridiculously anxiety-inducing – remember that everyone at the school is expecting you, looking forward to meeting you, and are happy that you’re there.

You won’t be the first ALT they’ve met and you certainly won’t be the last.

The Initial Visit.

The Friday before term I was taken to my two schools for a visit before all the students were there accompanied by a representative from my company’s office.
(FUN FACT: I was actually my representative’s first day on the job and she admitted she was a little nervous too, which helped!)

“Pretty darn good!”
(I could legit quote this film from start to finish)

First thing’s first – dress up!

Before arriving you’ll be told to bring at least one nice black suit, preferably a second in another colour – wear the black one when you visit your schools and at the opening ceremony.

I wore: my black suit, white shirt and black brogues but I carried my pink Kate Spade handbag to give me a pop of colour to match my personality.

(At many schools the dress code is fairly relaxed – especially in elementary schools. Officially you’ll be told to wear a suit all the time, but the reality is this is usually not the case. Your teachers will give you advice, and the old saying goes – when in Rome, do as the Romans do.)

At my junior high school, I was taken to the principal’s office. In training, we learned how to do jikoshoukai (“self introduction”) with simple Japanese and it pretty much went as follows:

はじめまして。Hajimemashite. = Nice to meet you.
わたしのなまえは カーラです Watashi-no namae-wa Carla (SURNAME) desu = My name is Carla (SURNAME)
= I am from England
よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = Pleased to meet you (but literally translates as “Please take care of me.”)
PRINCIPAL: よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = Pleased to meet you/likewise!

If you know, you know.

Then there’s the exchanging of business cards which is an art in itself, especially if you’re clumsy as fuck like me.

Business cards are treated as an extension of the person, and must be treated with the same respect you would give them. My company were kind enough to provide nice quality business cards and a rose gold case at orientation.

In my experience, you don’t especially need these when meeting your fellow teachers, but they’re important to have when meeting the principal and vice-principal.

More information on business card etiquette can be found here – however again, we did go over this also in initial training.

It was at this point the principal asked me to take a seat and someone came in with green tea for us.
I placed his business card on the table in front of us, facing myself and sat down.
You’re also not supposed to take a drink until the principal has taken his first sip. We then had a fairly casual but polite chat with my representative translating.

I was introduced to my three JTEs I would be teaching with in each grade. They told me on my first day it was just the opening ceremony with no classes, and if I could prepare a short speech to introduce myself to the school. Eek.

We then went to my elementary school where we met the vice principal, who is incredibly chatty and funny. (The principal was unavailable and I wouldn’t meet him until my first day of teaching.)
I would miss the opening ceremony due to being at my junior high school so I didn’t need to give any speeches there.

After we were finished I got to go home for the rest of the day.
Try to relax over the weekend, and get plenty of rest because the next week is going to be pretty full-on.

Your First Day / Opening Ceremony

As I mentioned, all I had to do on my first day was attend the opening ceremony and give a short speech.

These school ceremonies tend to be a little dry and super formal, but I was too busy feeling nervous about three hundred little faces staring up at me to pay much attention to what was going on.

When it was my turn, I walked up onto the stage – my legs feeling like jelly – and just said a few words about how their predecessor told me how much she loved he school, and how I was looking forward to teaching them all. Very simple stuff, though I practically ran back down the stairs when I was done.

Other than that, I was showed my desk in the teacher’s lounge, where the supplies are etc. I started in August, and the teachers told me I don’t have to wear my suit and can dress down a little – especially it being in the middle of the sweltering Japanese summer.

We also had a tsunami drill, but it was a long day with nothing really to do!

Self Introduction Lessons

This is the big one. Your first lesson.

Most likely your first few lessons are going to be your self-introduction. I’ve since done this so many times I could recite it in my sleep. Though my first time, I was incredibly nervous and nearly went to pieces.

Keep it fairly simple: Your name, where you’re from, lots of photos of your family and hometown, your hobbies and favourite food will suffice. It’s up to you how much personal information you’d like to give – it’s likely the kids will ask you your age and if you have a partner or spouse, but anything you’re not comfortable answering, just camp it up with “Shhhhh! It’s a secret!”
Afterwards if time allowed we did a Q&A.

I’m eventually going to do a post on my self introduction as it went through some major changes throughout doing it a total of THIRTY times over the following weeks as I met all my classes in both schools.

But quick tip: make it interactive – we ended up turning mine into a quiz that the kids really got into.


Your First Lessons

Talk about throwing me in at the deep end!
At the junior high school it wasn’t too bad because I just assist in those classes most of the time. I got to know my three JTEs, working out our rhythms and pacing.

But I’m not going to lie – I really struggled during my first few weeks at elementary school.

I lead all of my elementary school classes – however I thought during my first few weeks I’d be able to take a slight back seat while I found my feet. Well, I was wrong.

I was sent a lesson plan a few weeks before, but hadn’t actually received my textbooks until the last day of training. And I hadn’t had a chance to look at the digital materials (songs/chants/videos etc.) until I was in front of the kids. Nerve-wracking stuff, and I’ll be completely honestly I spent the first months dreading my elementary classes.

However as time went on, the kids warmed to me and were more eager to participate in lessons (though all ALTs I know have at least one class where it’s like pulling teeth), I got to know the homeroom teachers, I felt more confident making my own activities and games – and before I knew it, I’d found myself also into the swing of things.

Elementary teaching is definitely a steeper learning curve than junior high school in my opinion – but stick with it, you can do it!!

So I’ll wish you the best of luck if you’re an aspiring ALT, or you’re about to start at your school/s and are feeling nervous. It’s natural – nerves are good and show you care.

However please try not not tie yourself in knots about it like I did, and if you have any questions – please just ask, and I’ll help as best I can!

~ Carla

Food · School · School Lunch

Life of an ALT: Kyushoku (Japanese School Lunch Part 2)

Since my previous post about kyushoku (Japanese school lunch) is one of the most popular on this blog, I thought I’d make a part two.

It’s the end of term, and as the students no longer have to come to school until the end of Spring Break due to the government trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus – teachers now have to bring our own lunch in every day. (I’m currently working from home.)

So I figured it’s as good a time as any to reflect on some of the lunches I’ve had since my last post.

As before, meals always come with a carb – usually rice, but sometimes noodles or bread. I find it difficult to eat rice every day, so I often forgo this – but you can see it in some of these photos.

Fridays at my school is also bring-your-own-rice day, but I’m lazy and usually forget anyway!

Fish patty, cheese slice, bread bun (kinda like a Fillet O’ Fish), cabbage, pudding, stew.
Chicken and vegetable soup, teriyaki salmon, fried potatoes and an orange.
Vegetable soup, bread slices, fried aubergine and half a banana.
(I always wish they’d give us some butter or spread for the bread!)
Mushroom and tofu soup, beef in black bean sauce, greens and cherry tomatoes.
Egg drop soup, dried fish and noodles.
(Not going to lie – this one was a struggle!)
Noodle soup, chicken tonkatsu, cabbage and grape jelly.
Curry and rice, pickled cucumbers and pudding.
Tofu soup, root vegetables and natto.
(I gifted the natto to my tanto. Bleurgh!)
Tofu scramble, shishamo and cabbage,
Cream of mushroom soup, cabbage and hot dogs, hot dog bun and fruit salad.
Chicken and konnyaku soup, fried teriyaki fish, bean sprouts and pudding. 
Oden, bonito flakes, gohei mochi and bean sprouts.
Gohei Mochi is a traditional rice cake with a sweet miso paste. The reason it’s on a stick is because in the olden days people working in the mountains used to ate them this way! They are also made to thank the gods after harvest in Autumn
It was absolutely DELICIOUS and I remember the students and teachers alike being very hype about this school lunch!
Egg drop soup, sweet and sour chicken and a milk pudding.
Vegetable soup, shishamo, daikon salad and a mikan orange.
Vegetable soup, croquette and cabbage.
Egg drop soup, fried fish, daikon and a mikan orange.
Vegetable soup, tofu with noodles, Japanese sweet potatoes and an orange.
Sweetcorn soup, burger and fries
Will I ever tired of wholesome Japanese soups? Nope!
Curry and rice, sauteed greens and half an orange
Vegetable soup, salad and a tempura prawn.

And as a bonus – the special Japanese New Years themed lunch box we got at the start of the school year. MAN, this was delicious:

Prawn and vegetable tempura.
Teriyaki fish, rolled omelette, fish cake, egg salad, a plum (I think)
White rice.
Tuna sashimi.

Honestly, I’ve had worse bentos in Japanese restaurants back home!

Let me know what you think. I know kyushoku is very different to the school lunches I remember in the UK. How about from your country?

~ Carla