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What is an ALT?

Japan's ALT system is unique and different to an ordinary teaching job

Unlike many countries, one of the most common kinds of English teaching jobs in Japan is as a language assistant as opposed to a teacher.

This is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).

What does a ALT do?

An ALT works with a Japanese teacher to help teach English. They might work just at one school or across a number of them.

Because an ALT is an assistant teacher the responsibilities are lower - setting the curriculum and marking are left to the teacher. Instead the ALT focuses on the classes. The exact responsibilities depend on your Japanese co-teacher. It could be just doing vocab drills, planning entire lessons or anywhere in between.

If you want to know how being an ALT compares to other kinds of teaching jobs (like working at an eikaiwa) then head to the Types of School page.

An in-depth job description and guide to being an ALT

Put together by the JET programme this excellent pdf is applicable to all ALTs and covers in detail, all possible parts of the job, common problems, how to plan lessons and pretty much everything related to the actual practice of being an ALT. Click here to read it.

So how can you become an ALT? There are three ways, for 98% of people you’ll take one of the first two options.

How can you become an ALT?

  1. The JET Programme
  2. A Dispatch company
  3. Direct Hire from a BOE (Board of Education)

The Ministry of Education is the overall head of the ALT programme and JET is the government programme for hiring ALTs. However the Ministry of Education also contracts out a lot of the work to dispatch companies to save money. Those are the two main options.

So should you choose the JET programme or a dispatch company?

They’ve both got their ups and downs, most importantly remember they’re exactly the same job, we’re just arguing over contracts here.

Below we’ve put together a comparison table of the main points.

A comparison of JET and Dispatch Companies (Interac)

This is not a be all and end all comparison, there are a number of dispatch companies who are contracted out to provide ALTs (IES, Heart Corporation, Joy Talk, JALSS, Maxceed, RCS Corporation etc.). The table below compares JET with Interac, the largest ALT provider and also the one with the most information available.

JET Dispatch
Salary 280,000 yen a month (This increases by roughly 20,000 yen a year for the first three) 230,000 – 250,000 yen a month. (50 & 75% salary for August and December respectively because of the holidays.)
Locations Typically rural areas, once you get placed you can't change your placement unless there are special circumstances. More variation in places (although still a lot of rural placements) and it's possible to change your location after a year.
Vacation 10-20 days of vacation + national holidays. Japanese schools don’t close in the school holidays, students still do extra-curricular things and clubs and with JET you’ll still be expected to work then. 5 weeks + national holidays. Roughly 3 weeks in August & 2 weeks from end of December to early Jan (this lines up with school holidays).
Housing Housing is usually provided, usually the housing that the previous JET had, although you may get given options. You might get housing subsidies or assistance with the deposits but it’ll depend on your school rather than JET. You’ll have housing arranged, but it won’t be subsidised. If you’re with Interac it’ll be with Leopalace.
Where can you apply from? You have to be in your home country. You have to apply through the embassy/consulate in your home country, which you could do by post, but then you’ll still have to interview in your home country. You can apply from wherever you are.
Airfare Airfare is paid for. The airfare won't be paid for.
Driving You might be asked to drive to work. That doesn’t mean you’ll be given a car, you might have to rent or lease one. Your school may offer you a car for commuting. Depends where you are. You might be asked to drive. If you do they’ll let you lease a company car and provide an allowance to help cover the costs. Although it'll cover the lease it probably won't cover fuel and insurance. Again this depends where you are.
Second Job You're not allowed to hold other jobs. You’re allowed to hold multiple jobs as long you’re not working for a competitor and don’t tutor your Interac students privately.
Chances of getting a job JET is really competitive, it has quite an involved interview process and you get interviewed in person.
Rising Dakon has a good post comparing Interac and JET, he quotes the following statistics from Chicago's Japan embassy (although the link is now dead)
"64% of applicants were granted interviews, and 58% were selected as short-list candidates. This adds up to an overall success rate of 37%."
There’s a far greater chance of getting a position with Interac, the application is mostly online and it’s not as rigorous as JET.

Which is better, the JET programme or a dispatch company?

The biggest factor is the first. If you’re already in Japan you can’t apply for JET, which means you’ll probably end up going with a dispatch company.

Assuming you’re not in Japan, then it comes down to personal choice and preferences. How much will it bother you being somewhere very remote? Is this outweighed by the increased salary and benefits of being on JET?

Do you want to wait out the long JET application process, knowing it's very competitive and apply to Interac if you don't succeed? Or would you rather get straight down to it and apply to dispatch companies straight away?

The answer is going to depend on what you want. And if neither of these sounds quite right then there are of course plenty of other places to teach in Japan.

Direct ALT Contract

The third option is usually for those who are already ALTs and it means skipping out the middle man and trying to get employed directly with your local Board of Education. This option gives you a better salary and benefits, a far more secure job and pay rises. The trade-off is less vacation time, longer hours and higher qualifications.

A guide to getting a Direct ALT Contract

Trying to get a direct ALT contract requires some fairly specific advice. The Archipelago Group has written an extensive guide on going direct which you can find here, giving both information on the job differences and how to get the contract. By far the best guide. Click here to read it.