Something that nearly every Teacher of English as a Foreign Language will have to do is work with a JTE. The Japanese Teacher of English is the professional school teacher who, in most cases, is in charge of the year’s curriculum and thus also determines the Foreign Teacher’s schedule. There’s a few things to bear in mind when working with a JTE which I’ve learned myself and from colleagues over the years.

JTEs are only found in Junior High Schools and High Schools. In Elementary Schools the main point of contact is the Home-room Teacher (or HRT). They both help to manage the classroom, but whereas a JTE can sometimes kick back a little management is more of a full-time job for the HRT. It can be a bit like herding sheep at times.

Check the fine print.

What company or program a teacher works for will affect the way a JTE views them. For example, the JET program (don’t mix up JET with JTE like I just did while writing this!) is operated by the government and so the Foreign Teacher becomes the responsibility of the school they’re working at. This means that the JTE is kind of like the supervisor to the JET.

However, someone who works for a private company, like I do, may initially be viewed differently by the JTE. I don’t work for the school, I am a private contractor. My supervisor works in an office in a different city to where I teach, the Japanese teacher isn’t really supposed to directly command me about my work. This can make some JTEs appear a bit stand-offish, but its rarely anything personal.

Busy Bees

The one thing that I’ve noticed nearly every Japanese teacher has in common is that they are busy. Like, all the time. Or at least that’s how it appears. I think that those teachers who are not totally overwhelmed put up a front of busyness to avoid making others feel bad.

Whatever the case, finding a window of free time in which to engage with a JTE (or any other teacher for that matter) can be tricky. And when doing so I find it best to slide in with a gentle

Sumimasen …

to excuse your way into a conversation.

Working with a JTE

As well as outside of the class a JTE is supposed to accompany the Foreign Teacher to the classroom. Now, for someone on a “Team Teaching” contract (which is common with most JETs) its likely that the whole lesson will be conducted in tandem with the Japanese Teacher. So if they don’t appear along with you in the classroom its probably a good time to start worrying.

On the other hand, for many private company teachers the lesson is in the hands of the Foreign Teacher and so perhaps the JTE seems less necessary in these cases. There is, however, a bit of a legality issue. If something were to go awry in the class and there was no official staff member around then everyone; the school, the Foreign Teacher, the private company; would get into big trouble. Nevertheless I have known many Japanese teachers who don’t come to the lessons at all or who might come for a while and then slip off. The most common thing I’ve known JTEs to do is bring a bundle of work they need to catch up on, and then get to it somewhere in the room.

In my experience the main benefits of having a JTE in the classroom during the lesson are that they can encourage over-active kids to focus and assist others that are struggling. Another thing they can do is help the Foreign Teacher with certain parts of the lesson. For instance, if there’s a dialogue that needs to be modelled for the students the JTE can step in and read one of the parts. Also, it’s advisable to give examples of what to do before an activity starts, so if it happens to be something like an Interview activity then the JTE is the perfect person with which to present such an example. This is also a role that the Home-room Teacher (in Elementary Schools) can often fill, although it’s wise to remember that they rarely speak much English so if the activity is too much for them to follow then it’s almost certainly too much for the kids to follow.

Playing outside.

It might seem like it sometimes but Japanese teachers aren’t actually at school all day, every day. Sometimes they leave. Sometimes they go to normal places like supermarkets and bars. And sometimes Foreign Teachers find themselves in normal places too. Inevitably, the two meet. In such a situation I’ve noticed most teachers take on a formal stance. Most of them don’t want their private life mixed up in their work life. There is the occasional Japanese teacher who will open themselves up to their colleagues. I have a couple of teachers who I also consider friends, but largely I try not to intrude on my co-workers’ personal lives. In fact, when bumping in to a teacher in public I generally try to emulate whatever vibe they project. This often involves a number of polite bows, lots of smiling and a smattering of “Nice to see you!”/“Enjoy your shopping.”/“Sake? Me too!”

The Flip Side

Nearly every single JTE I’ve worked with has been amazing. Understanding. Helpful. Friendly. However, I have heard some real horror stories about JTEs who treat their Foreign co-workers terribly; lumping excessive work-loads onto them, criticising every aspect of their work, and generally being counter-productive. These Monster Teachers do exist and it’s a tough situation to deal with. The best advice I can give is to try and find some common ground. It may be that they’re over-stressed or they have problems at home, so try to be considerate. They might appreciate a little present or two (perhaps some nice tea or a bit of chocolate). But if they refuse to acknowledge your ideas or try to take control of your class the only thing I can say is: keep trying. Keep giving them new ideas, push the class in new directions.

When trying to please a JTE a general rule of thumb is

If the students are happy, the JTE is happy.

How have your JTEs treated you? Have you successfully engaged with them? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

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