Friday, October 3, 2008

Attitude/Goals & Reality

Re: The "Internationalization" crutch

There are a lot of things we, as ALTs, cannot control. We can't choose where we get placed, what position we're assigned in our cities/towns/villages (elementary, junior high, senior high), how often we teach, whom we teach with, etc. etc.

The one thing we can control, however, is our attitude towards the job. And really, that's the thing that matters most.

I'm not sure where it's from, but a favourite saying of mine is: "If you reach for the moon, you can never fail to reach the stars."

And that saying is largely why I think it's so important to have the attitude/goal that the ALT's job is to help students learn English.

Even if we fall far short of the goal in reality (because circumstances constrain us), if we have learning as our goal, and have the attitude that we want to be teaching, we will make the most of every opportunity presented to us.

For example, if all our JTEs allow us to do is to pronounce words for students to repeat, we can use the opportunity to teach them the proper syllables to emphasize, or how to correctly pronounce certain sounds (like "L" vs "R.") I'm not saying it has to be a full blown, or even explicit lesson--it can accomplished simply by overexaggerating our facial expressions and stresses when pronouncing words (students will catch on!) .

Even if all we are doing is walking around the class and observing while a JTE is explaining English grammar points in Japanese (something I spend probably 70% or more of my time doing at my base school), if we have the attitude/goal of teaching, we can view the observation time as a chance to see where students have difficulty. Also, we can take it as an opportunity to learn the grammar in Japanese so we can better help students later on.

There will most likely be times when the only thing we actually manage to accomplish will be (so-called) "internationalization," but accepting that reality doesn't mean we have to lower our sights from the goal of teaching. (In fact, I think having "internationalization" as a goal would make the aforementioned situation even more aggravating and make an ALT feel even less useful.)

It's fine to be comforted by the fact that, if nothing else, we're helping with "internationalization," but if we are satisfied with only promoting "internationalization," we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our students, and the JET program as a whole. If we give up and believe ourselves limited to "internationalization," that belief will become a reality.

Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but I truly believe that if we work wholeheartedly towards the goal of helping students to learn English, even the most restrictive, constraining teachers will eventually acknowledge our efforts and allow us to do more. More importantly, I think the desire to teach will enable us to turn even mundane duties into teaching opportunities.