For aspiring JETs prepping for their interview, you might be asked which kind of school you prefer to work in (elementary, junior high, or senior high). So if you’re curious about ES, get ready for a long post.
In my case, I went in with JLPT 2 Japanese and had worked with elementary school kids during after school programs. During the interview, I said that I’d like to be with younger kids and was given a role play scenario where I had to pretend like I was teaching 4th graders. I now teach at several elementary schools and make visits to kindergarten once a week. I sometimes go to JHS, but those times are few and far between. From what I’ve heard, having Japanese prior to JET may help get you elementary school since you’ll be teaching on your own and the other teachers probably won’t know a lot of English.
5th and 6th graders use Hi Friends textbooks which covers self introductions, likes and dislikes, shapes, colors, subjects, and time, things that should help them transition to JHS English. Grades 1-4 is more about playing games, simple vocab and singing songs
In my case, some of my schools have me teach all grades on my own and some have me help out the homeroom teacher with the 5th and 6th graders. For the most part though, it’s all me.
I feel like a lot of ES ALTs can relate with me on this but even with being told that the ALT is more of the main teacher at ES, getting to class, standing in front of 30 kids and being told ‘go’ was kind of a shock and it took a few months to adjust and get a handle on it. While English at Elementary school is still in the early-ish stages, there are some pros and cons to how it’s set up.
ALTing at ES Pros:
- the kids are, for the majority, enthusiastic about playing with English and enjoy learning about different cultures. You’re encouraged to introduce holidays, music, food, etc.
- With the freedom to be the main teacher, you don’t have to stick to the textbook all the time. You can make up games, show photos, introduce phonics, and use crafts. You can even bring the kids into the gym or outside which I’ve done a lot in the warm weather. I also use a lot of phonics songs in my younger classes and like to have the kids draw pictures in group games. Very rarely I’ll use a PPT but that’s only to supplement a textbook lesson and it doesn’t last longer than 5-10 minutes.
- There are no tests or quizzes so there’s more emphasis on just getting them used to English. It’s more about being communicative rather than writing/reading. Some ALTs have their younger students learning the alphabet and reading but I’m not at the same schools all the time and can only do that with 5th and 6th grade since I’m with them the most.
- Not having a clear set of goals expected of you for the younger grades. My predecessors made a curriculum for each schools’ 1-4th graders and the other ALT and I have added to it, changed it but in some cases you start from scratch.
- Teaching alone with no help. English isn’t really English so much as it’s called Foreign Language Activity and from what I’ve heard/read, the textbooks for 5th and 6th grade have only been used for the past 4-5 years. Some teachers are into English and will help while you teach alone or team-teach with you. Some will stand in the back, grade papers. With multiple classes, sometimes you get help, sometimes you don’t. You have to roll with the punches but it takes a while to adjust and sometimes in the classes where you’re totally on your own, look to the teacher for some support and get none, it can be rough.
I heard about the stereotypical ALT-used-as-a-cd player scenarios and that has never been the case for me but on the opposite end, it’s a lot of work planning lessons and making materials from scratch for such a broad range of ages. What 2nd graders like 3rd graders might not. What might be easy for one class of 4th graders might not be for the 4th graders next door. Some of the kids take English lessons outside so they can read while their classmates mix up their alphabet. It took me months to get used to the different abilities in the classes in each school, figure out what works and what doesn’t. No one tells you so it’s trial and error which means some kids love it, some don’t. Some kids are into dancing and singing but you may have one child who starts to cry. You’re with kids aged 6-12 each day so it goes without saying you have to adjust how you speak and interact with them. You need patience, energy, but you should love being with kids.
As far as materials online, most websites are geared for JHS and SHS, I can sometimes take something and tweak it a lot but mostly it doesn’t apply to my classes. On the times I do go to JHS, I’m so used to elementary school that it takes a while to get back into the JHS environment but then I’m back to ES again for the next few months.
Overall, I really enjoy teaching elementary school and it has been pretty much a positive experience for me. For anyone that thinks they would be suited for teaching the younger levels, don’t be afraid to bring it up in your interview and if you can, get some experience tutoring that age group.
If anyone has any questions about being an ES ALT, feel free to message me.