Top 3 Reasons the JET Program is Worthwhile

This article is the second in a series of reflections about my time spent in Japan with the JET Program.  You can read my first article, about how the JET Program changed me, here.

Top 3 Reasons the JET Program is Worthwhile

ALTs participating in the annual Toyama JET Fest, a large event that allows JETs to share their culture with the people of Toyama prefecture.

The JET Program occasionally comes under scrutiny – both from officials in Japan worried about shrinking budgets in schools nationwide and also foreigners who like to pontificate about the state of English education in Japan.  A constructive debate is always healthy, and the JET Program certainly is not without its flaws, but I generally have only positive things to say about my two years teaching with the program.  Here’s why I hope the JET Program remains strong and active for many, many more years to come.

1) Grassroots Internationalization – Japan’s population continues to decline at alarming levels, and among the hardest hit are rural communities, where most JETs are placed.  There are fewer and fewer job opportunities in areas of Japan far from the major metropolises of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya, so many times, being a JET means being the only foreigner, or one of a handful, in your community.  Yes, it gets annoying to be stared at and constantly judged for what I am buying at the supermarket or how I am cutting a kiwi, but living here and exposing Japanese people to foreign cultures is a form of grassroots internationalization, one of the goals of the JET Program.  Every time I visit one of my four elementary schools, despite having lived in my town for two years, there is always a young student whose jaw drops at the sight of me – someone who looks different from anyone they have ever seen around them or on TV.  In my younger classes at elementary school, I’m often asked for my autograph after a lesson.  I’m not in love with all aspects of my job, but I’m proud that I’ve worked to promote the English language and have hopefully inspired some of my students to travel and learn more about other cultures.

2) You Meet People from Around the World – What is the capital of Trinidad & Tobago?  And more importantly, can you find the country on a map?  I live in Japan, but thanks to the JET Program, I have met fellow JETs in my prefecture  from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland and Northern Ireland.  One of my closest friends is from Trinidad & Tobago and whereas two years ago I could barely point to his country on map, I now know its capital (Port of Spain) and have heard much more Trini dialect than I would like to admit.

3) There is a Strong Alumni Network – There are about 55,000 JET alumni scattered around the world.  After you successfully complete your tenure with JET, you can register to be part of the JET Program Alumni Association (JETAA), which has chapters around the world.  JET alumni often are active members in their current community and many continue to promote Japan-America (or their home country) relations through various endeavors and volunteer activities.  I am looking forward to joining the Chicago chapter of JETAA upon my return to the States.  One of the most comprehensive Websites about JET alumni is JETWit.com, which posts interesting articles about unique things JET alumni are doing around the world as well as useful job hints for those transitioning to another career.

Teaching Tips for New JETs

Student entrance of my junior high school

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Japan to begin my tenure with the JET Programme as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Namerikawa, Japan.

My plan was to stay a year, save some money, see another side of the world and then come back to start my life in Chicago.  Things moved so fast, and I decided in February to stay one more year.  I am happy that I made that decision.  I feel much more confident in my role as an ALT and look forward to promoting internationalization and the English language.  My students are much more comfortable speaking to me, and I hope to get to know many more of them better this year.

I am helping with Toyama orientation this year and will be presenting with another ALT about lesson-planning strategies.  For our presentation, I created a brief handout with lesson planning tips, which I copied below.  Good luck to all the new JETs arriving in their towns this week!

  • Prepare.  During your down time in August, become familiar with New Horizon books 1-3 (Junior High School) and Eigo Noto (Elementary School).  Try to think of fun games and worksheets beforehand.  It will save you a lot of time during the year if you at least have a general knowledge of what specific words/grammar you will be teaching.
  • Always be ready. Think of a good “ice-breaker” game to always use as a fallback. The game can be as simple as playing music and passing around a ball.  When the music stops, ask the student holding the ball a question. Thanks to Jenson for this idea.
  • Introduce yourself x 1,000,000.  Get your self-introduction materials (pictures, video, posters) ready in August.  If you teach at multiple elementary schools, always have your self-introduction materials ready throughout the year.  You will be using them very often.
  • Talk to other JETs.  Other JETs often have great ideas for lessons, and because your textbook will most likely be the same, you can use their same idea or something similar.  Also, be sure to read the Toyama Team Teaching handbook, which is written by ALTs.
  • Scour the Internet.  Check online for great ESL games and free teaching materials.  Some good sites are:

                http://www.sendaiedu.com/

                http://www.eslcafe.com/

                www.english-4kids.com

  • Multimedia planning.  If you want to use PowerPoint or any other type of multimedia, which we highly encourage, plan ahead and make sure it works beforehand. This will save you from wasting time in class in case of a technology malfunction.  Your school’s computer coordinator should be helpful when it comes to testing things out.
  • Learn from your students.  Observe and talk to your students.  What are they into? What are their hobbies?  What games do they like?  Try to incorporate these interests into lesson plans.  Even the most boring grammar lesson can be fun if it is followed by a fun game that includes pop culture references.
  • Revise, revise, revise.  Learn to change lesson plans immediately if you find out something doesn’t work out as planned. Don’t get discouraged.  This happens to everyone.  The more you teach, the more you will be able to think ahead about what works and what doesn’t.