Assistant Language Teacher

Assistant Language Teacher

Assistant Language Teacher, often abbreviated to ALT, is a term that was created by the Japanese Ministry of Education at the time of the creation of the JET Programme as a translation of the term (外国語指導助手)"gaikokugo shido joshu" or literally "foreign language instruction assistant." Oftentimes the term ALT is referred as ELT instead, abbreviation of "English Language Teacher." It is used primarily by the Ministry, local Boards of Education (BOEs) and schools to refer to native language speakers who assist teaching languages in elementary, junior high and high schools. In practice, the ALTs assist with the teaching of English.

ALTs are usually not certified teachers, unlike their Japanese colleagues. Very few ALTs are able to take advantage of policy changes made in 2001 that allow highly-qualified ALTs to obtain Japanese teaching licenses.

Being an ALT


Basically, the JET Programme set the general prerequisites imposed by Japanese immigration (bachelor's degree, health, nationality) and the characteristics that can be considered to be sought by the Japanese government, boards of education (BOEs), and schools.

In the case of ALTs from private language teaching companies, further requirements may include items such as TEFL certification, Japanese language ability (at least spoken) at a communicative level, teaching experience (both within Japan and in other countries) and other specialized skills (foreign languages other than English, IT, etc.) However, as a basic rule, the standards that are expected of JET Programme are still considered as norms among private language teaching companies that provide ALTs to BOEs, although agreements between BOEs and private companies often allow for a relaxing on some of these rules.


The majority of ALTs are recruited through the JET Programme or by private language teaching companies, either within Japan or abroad. Once hired ALTs are sent to work in junior and senior high-schools and, increasingly, in elementary schools throughout Japan. ALTs are either assigned to one main school, or can work at a number of different schools in their area. ALTs entering on the JET programme are not required to have any prior teaching experience or ESL training. Many ALTs hired privately have prior experience and/or training.

ALTs hired on the JET Programme typically enter either in April or July, and most private ALTs are usually on a contract which runs until at least the end of the third school term in March. ALTs also usually have set holidays during the spring, summer and winter school vacations, in addition to all Japanese public holidays. By combining the 23 national holidays with the time off during school holidays, the actual number of working days per year is somewhere near 200 through private companies, which is one of the major attractions of the ALT position, however many schools require you to undertake other tasks when not teaching, so the actual hours worked are similar to other jobs in Japan.


The pay for a private ALT is far less than a normal Eikaiwa teacher or a teacher from the JET Programme, with some of the lowest salaries around the 180,000 Yen per month level. Benefits and workload also varies. (3,600,000 yen/year as of 2008 as part of the JET programme)

The job

ALTs assist Japanese teachers of English to deliver lessons in the classroom and may be involved in lesson planning and other language teaching tasks. ALTs may also be asked to take part in after/before school club activities, although some choose not to participate. ALTs may also choose to participate in after school clubs, such as calligraphy or ikebana to learn more about the culture alongside their students.

ALTs may also be expected to undertake tasks not related to teaching, such as cleaning the school, removing snow from parking areas and performing menial clerical tasks for the Japanese teachers.

Overview of the Private ALT System in Japan

In 1999, Dispatch Law (労働者派遣) was deregulated to allow dispatch companies to enter into other fields of work aside from the traditional industry of manufacturing. Education was one of these fields. Since then more and more local boards of education have turned to private language companies to provide ALTs rather than using the JET Programme.

The business of private language teaching companies providing ALTs is increasing and some with hundreds of ALTs are covering all parts of the country. There is the impression that the private sector in general continues to grow as The JET Programme loses share in the market. Private dispatch companies vary from large corporations to local firms.

Differences between JET Programme ALTs and private company ALTs

*Application: The JET Programme may be very competitive based on the hiring nation (the U.S.A., UK, Canada, Australia being examples) or very lax depending on the needs of the Programme for any fiscal year. Private ALT application processes vary, but tend to be highly competitive for smaller companies and very open with larger companies.

*Compensation: The JET Programme currently compensats ALTs "approximately ¥3.6 million for participating for one year on the JET Programme" (The JET Programme General Information Handbook 2007). JET Programme participants will on average receive a higher initial monthly salary than ALTs from most private companies. However, some private companies require ALTs with TEFL certification who may be compensated at a higher level.

*Support: The JET Programme has a nationwide support system for ALTs that tends to vary in utility based on the nature of each case. Private language companies that provide ALTs to BOEs vary in their approaches to supporting ALTs, ranging from a very hands-off approach to an experience more professionally invigorating than the JET Programme. Private ALTs tend to be more experienced and better trained to start, many being ex-JETs. Teacher support and professional development vary with company.

*Workload: The JET Programme typically follows the request of the BOE regarding the workload of each ALT. A frequent issue with JET Programme ALTs is being required to report to a town office or education center when school is not in session. In general, ALTs provided by private language teaching companies do not require ALTs to report to the local BOE on days when school is not in session, although they may be required to attend training or asked to take other work during working time. Typically workload and salary are related, in that lower pay is accompanied by fewer required working days or hours.

*External Work: JET Programme ALTs are generally prohibited from working outside the school. Private companies have differing policies that may or may not allow legal work on the side, however, most tend to either provide supplementary work at their own clients, or allow ALTs to seek extra work if they so choose.

*Contractual Term Limits: JET Programme ALTs have a limited number of years to be contracted, while private companies have no such restriction in most cases. BOEs tend to set the terms of the contract and usually limit it to one year. Larger private companies can guarantee employment indefinitely no matter what the BOE chooses to do regarding individual contracts.

The above list is by no means comprehensive, and some other categories that vary from situation to situation may include: the ability to transfer (both locationally and between positions), evaluation, reward systems, and professional development opportunities.

Union Activity and ALTs

Alleged Legal Violations by Private Language Teaching Companies as Claimed by the General Workers Union in Japan

In 2005, the Ministry of Education reported at union meetings ("shunto") that there are approximately 1500 ALTs from private dispatching companies teaching in Japan. It is difficult to know on the surface whether a company is engaging in illegal contracts with individual schools, because the basis of all contractual law in Japan is the freedom to enter into and dissolve contracts privately.

But some shady private language teaching companies offer up their financial and employee records to outside certification services (as with ISO 9000 certification) in an attempt to hide their illegal activities.

Education Law

Some of the contracts that school boards have signed with private language teaching companies are illegal "gyomu itaku" (service contracts). According to the Japanese Ministry of Education [] , these contracts violate Japan's General Education Law since the principal must be in charge of all staff at his/her school. However with these contracts, the company is actually in charge - not the principal.

The licensed Japanese teacher is normally in charge of junior high school and high school classes regardless of where the ALT originates; however in the case of elementary school classes, the ALT is normally responsible for the entire class, with the Japanese teacher either providing limited input or in some cases not being present in the classroom, and for that reason the continuity of school management is sometimes maintained with the school principal in compliance with any legal requirements, as the product being contracted itself is an abstract, education, and the contract basis for private language teaching corporations is to provide education and educational services.Fact|date=October 2007

29.5 Hours per Week

It is common for ALTs to be recruited with job contracts with private language companies such as W5, Interac and WING which stipulates their hours as being 29.5 hours per week. However, the reality is that ALTs are required to work 30-40 hours per week. One reason employers have employees sign such contracts is to avoid paying National Health Insurance payments. Generally under Japanese laws, full-time employment is considered to be 30 hours per week or more, and according to Social Insurance Laws, all full-time employees must be enrolled in the Japanese government's National Health Insurance plan. [] .

Kanagawa Board of Education

In 2006, ALTs in Kanagawa Prefecture who were previously hired directly as part-time workers rejected the privatization of their jobs to Interac, a nationwide language services dispatch company, and took the Kanagawa Prefecture Board of Education to the Labour Relations Board where the case is still on-going.

As in many cases, the likely cause of the dissolution of the direct-hire situation draws back to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who took a hard-line stance on privatization (e.g. Japan Post) and the idea of allowing local governments more flexibility in deciding how to spend their budgets.

Other local Boards of Education

The General Workers Union has been involved with several boards of education in the Kanto area including the Tokyo Board of Education, the Koga Board of Education (in Ibaraki Prefecture) and the Fukaya Board of Education (in Saitama Prefecture). In the case versus the Tokyo Board of Education, the General Workers Union won a decision stating that the directly hired ALTs were indeed legally classified as "workers" ("rodosha") and not simply contractors. Further victories were achieved through the private companies that had contracts with the Koga and Fukaya boards of education.

ee also

*JET Programme
*Education in Japan
*Assistant teacher programme of the Educational Exchange Service

External links

* [ JET Programme]
* [ Advice for ALTs]
* [ Dispatch Company (in Japanese Wikipedia)]

Pro Union Links:
* [ National Union of General Workers Tokyo South]
* [ Kanagawa ALT protest against privatization]
* [ General Union Interac Branch]

Contra Union Links:
* [ Article Discussing Union Activity]

Further reading

*David L. McConnell, "Importing Diversity: Inside Japan's JET Program" (2000)
*Bruce Feiler, "Learning to Bow: An American Teacher in a Japanese School" (1991), later published as "Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan"
*Eric Sparling "Japan Diary: A year on JET" (2005)
*Nicholas Klar, "My Mother is a Tractor: A Life in Rural Japan" (2005)
*David Kootnikoff & David Chandler, "Getting Both Feet Wet: Experiences Inside The JET Program" (2002)

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