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JET Program participants who have had formal teacher training, who have been full-time/regular teachers in their home country will either be frustrated with their new job, will welcome the fewer spate of responsibilities–or a combination of both.

(Spoiler alert: It’s usually both.)

Years ago, in the Philippines, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, Major in English. TESOL, TESL, linguistics, and literature–I had training in that. I also did an internship in a private high school followed by one in a public school. This is not an uncommon thing in my country. It’s required of every education program, so every education graduate from the Philippines has had some teacher training.

Aside from that, I worked as a full-time high school teacher (and homeroom adviser and club moderator and unofficial guidance councilor, dance choreographer, glorified babysitter…). Being an ALT on the JET Program is a vastly different experience from that.

Now, this is not a complaint. Far from it. And this is nothing as juicy as an exposé either. It’s both an observation, a warning, and an introduction.

Fewer Responsibilities, a Lot of Downtime

As a full-time teacher, you had a lot of stuff to do. You were swamped. Your salary wasn’t enough. You had meetings on top of checking quizzes, planning lesson plans, prepping and making games/materials, reviewing the kids for national exams–not to mention school festivals, fund raisers, community drives, and sometimes being pressured by your school to pursue a master’s and do research.

In contrast, as a JET, you won’t have to attend so many meetings. You’re not a homeroom teacher. You’re not a club adviser. You don’t have to meet with parents and tell them their kid hasn’t been submitting homework. You don’t have to write recommendation letters for graduating seniors. You don’t have to proctor exams on a weekend (mostly). The pressure on you to prepare kids for EIKEN is not as much as the one placed on the homeroom or English teacher.

Some JETs get saddled with a lot of classes, have to teach at multiple schools across a city or prefecture, or join clubs. Some will be saddled with repeat-after-mes and how’s-the-weather-todays. Most of the time, though, a JET will have fewer responsibilities and more downtime.

And if you’re not careful, you will get frustrated with the lack of meaningful things to do or things to do that don’t excite you or challenge you.

Use Your Time Wisely

The JET Program is still a job, so it can still be tiring. But there’s no denying that it leaves you more time to do other things–and so you should do just that.

  • Plan lessons or make materials/games ahead if you’ve got nothing to do.
  • Take an online course.
  • Do a postgraduate program.
  • Brush up on your Japanese.
  • Heck, study another language.
  • Write stuff, draw stuff, learn stuff.

You might feel like it’s bad etiquette to study another language in the faculty room, but most of the teachers don’t care, to be honest. They’re too busy with their work! But if you feel your coworkers are nit-picky or quick to find fault in you, then:

  • Brush up on your Japanese
  • Make games or materials.
  • Read something and say you’re reviewing linguistics, SLA theories, literature, etc.

If you find yourself constantly not having the energy or motivation to do anything except play games on your phone or mope on your desk because the job bores you, doesn’t excite you, frustrates you, then you will find yourself leaving the country with miserable memories. Sometimes, the situation is what we make of it.

Prepare for Life After JET

So, we all know that JET isn’t forever. It has a limit, a maximum of five years. (Unless if you’re American because apparently you can re-apply after a few years? Ah, screw you, lucky people.) Bottom line, while you’re on JET, you have to think about what you’re going to do after your time’s up.

This is where the title comes in. Get a life. Really.

As a former teacher, are you going back to your home country to teach? Have you realized you want to do something other than teaching? Or are you content with the ALT life and want to keep doing it after the program? Or are you eyeing full-time teaching positions in Japan?

Either way, while on JET, it’s important to think about what you’re going to do after. If you have a plan, you’re less prone to getting frustrated with your current job. Sure, you’ll get stressed and feel unmotivated from time to time, but at least you’ve got something to look forward to–a light at the end of the tunnel. And when you’re happier and less frustrated, you’re in a better disposition and mentality to teach the kids and make memories at your school.

Jam Guibone

Hello! I am Jam. Welcome to my blog! I initially started this to document my adventures while working in Japan as an ALT under the JET Programme. I hope all the information here will be useful to you, whether or not you're also a JET, ALT, or just someone traveling abroad.

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