If you have been brought over from your home country with a job and visa already organized for you, chances are you have landed a job with a dispatch company.
There are many dispatch companies but two of the most well known ones are Interac and Altia Central. While the dispatch company will place you in a public school, you will be technically be working for one of these firms, who pay you wages, help with your visa, find you an apartment and slowly settle you into your new life in Japan.
A dispatch company will directly contact local Board of Educations, or BOEs, and try and win contracts for their Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). Once secured, you will be offered a yearly contract, which could see you working at an Elementary, Junior High and sometimes even a High School. As it is such a competitive market, potential ALTs are not able to choose the level and area they teach in, but many of the larger firms are able to listen to requests and try their hardest to distribute positions close to the ALTs place of residence.
As an ALT, you will be expected to spend around 8 hours in school (normally from 8:15-4:15, although hours change from school to school). There are six periods per day, each between 40 – 50minutes in length; most ALTs will teach 4 lessons a day, but working all 6 is not unheard of. At lunchtime you are able (and oftentimes, expected) to eat with the students, which is great fun and an opportunity to get to know them a little better and in turn make your teaching life much easier.
Some schools will have a cafeteria, whilst in others the students serve the food themselves and eat in their classrooms. ALTs are always welcome to join the students for lunchtime, but if you are eating in a classroom, it is better to ask the permission of the homeroom teacher before barging in and stealing someone’s chair.
Your role in the classroom will vary drastically from one school to the next, in some you will simply practice vocabulary from the curriculum, whilst in others you will be expected to plan the entire lesson. In either case, communicating with the JTEs (Japanese Teacher of English) is essential. For some, it is easy to forget that ALTs are assistants, so keep that in mind and be flexible enough to accommodate the requests of individual teachers.
Working as an ALT is amazingly fun, but it also bears a weight of responsibility. Many of these students would not otherwise be exposed to international interaction, so you are as much an ambassador for your country as you are a teacher. If you can keep a smile on your face at all times and try and make English fun, you should enjoy your time working as an ALT.
Search for ALT jobs in the GaijinPot Job System.