The Idea(s) Behind this Website

Recently many people have asked how we came up with the idea for this site, so I thought I would make a post about some of these underlying ideas and motivations. I hope that this website remains fairly free-form and flexible, but I thought I would try to spell out some of the original ideas behind ALT♦JTE Connect.

The idea of making a website started with technology. The first idea for a Yamagata website came from a former ALT about 1 or 2 years ago. The website had an amazing design and nice feel to it, but for one reason or another it was never used by the ALT community. The second element of technology was an oft-shared tip to ALTs to exchange their email address with their JTEs as a way to communicate more. These two ideas formed the basis for this website: connecting ALTs and JTEs through technology, preferably an accessible website with nice aesthetics.

As I worked at my school, two things became obvious to me. The first is that while some of my relationships with teachers blossomed almost from the start, there were other relationships that I wish I had some way to improve. This sensibility extended to all teachers and staff, really, and not just JTEs. But, to certain extents, there were limitations to what I could do, and there was only so much time I had to build bridges with people at work.

The second came from my experiences at the Tendo Mid-Year Semniar my first year on JET. At that conference I had one of the first real discussions with JTEs about some issues in team-teaching that I had been dying to discuss basically since I started working in Japan. Namely, how to communicate on a limited time schedule, how to effectively share ideas and overcome common teaching problems, and so on. The discussion was exciting, not only because it was one of the first of its kind that I had had with other JTEs, but because everyone had so much to say. It was obvious from the ideas and responses coming from everyone during that 1 hour discussion session, that I wasn’t the only one who was dying to discuss teaching issues and problem solving.

But then something happened to everyone in the room. After an hour of enthusiastic discussion and discovery, a palpable change registered on everyone’s face.  It seemed that the same energy and enthusiasm for discussion was sapped from everyone, as the facilitators clapped their hands together and warmly said, “Well, thank you everyone for coming. We had a really great discussion today. Hopefully you can put some of these lessons and ideas into practice at your school. Thank you all for coming.” And with that, at least for me, the discussion was pretty much over, as we all quietly filed out of the room. I overheard one person saying, “Wow, that was a really good discussion!” I swallowed hard and thought to myself, “Yeah, but now what?”

At the 2010 Mid-Year Seminar, to my surprise, the same thing happened: big energy and big ideas in the discussion between ALTs and JTEs. I again enthusiastically shared my ideas and concerns openly with other ALTs and JTEs and there was a sense of teamwork and connection fostered by the wonderful facilitators and all the people talking together in the room. Although, there was a small thought nagging in the back of my mind, while I spoke and listened to my peers: this is only temporary isn’t it? In that way, though we had another amazing discussion about previously unvoiced concerns and ways to solve our problems, I have to admit that my enthusiasm was dampened by the foreknowledge that once the facilitators clapped their hands again and made their closing remarks, that this annual sharing of real ideas with my peers would come to an end again, like it did last year.

But as I talked with other people (who eventually came together with me to develop this site)  we started to see a greater meaning in all of this than just being depressed that we could only have meaningful discussions but once or twice a year. We saw ALTs and JTEs with incredible ideas to share and incredible creativity and courage. We also saw many JTEs as desperate to communicate with their ALTs as their ALTs were. The fact is, all of us have wonderful talents and ideas; we just needed the time and the place to share them. So, enter technology, and here we created ALT♦JTE Connect.

I think this website can be whatever we want to make it. I know there are plenty of people out there that have their own blogs and websites they update, and in the same way that I want to see communication between all English teachers, ALT and JTE alike, facilitated — I want us to build a community space where we can not only problem solve about our jobs, but also just share  our experience living and working in Yamagata and Japan.

I was talking to Jasmine, the CIR at Kajou Central and AIRY, yesterday and she brought up a really incredible point. Right now she is working on a website for AIRY that is promoting Yamagata by sharing stories about cultural exchange and the experience of foreigners living in Yamagata. And so she pointed out that in Ymagata we don’t really have many online resources connecting the people of Yamagata together. For this reason, I think it is really exciting thinking about how by working on websites like AIRY or ALT♦JTE connect, we are not only creating a community for ourselves to build and use, but we are creating first-of-its kind materials for everyone in Yamagata and everyone who will come here in the future.

So, to wrap up here, because this post is getting incredibly long, the website is about connection and building a place for ALTs and JTEs to not only share their ideas about team teaching, but to just have fun sharing their stories and interests and talents, thereby building a community in Yamagata. Right now, the website is mainly geared toward ALTs (it is written in only English right now, after all) but I hope that with the right planning and ideas, we can make this a place for both ALTs and JTEs to continue the work of exchanging and learning outside of work and scheduled conferences.

Please let us know what you think about this or any other post, and while you’re at it why not create your own original post?

-ALT♦JTE Connect