Test preparation puts a huge burden on students and ALTs to focus on reading comprehension at the expense of learning to communicate. And from my experience, the JTE is fully capable of teaching these reading comprehension classes by themselves. Although the ALT can add something to these classes, I have come to the conclusion that it is a tremendous waste. ALTs have one very special and outstanding skill: that is, the ability to teach students communication skills and how to speak. What do we say when we don’t know what to say? What is the word we’re looking for? How do we communicate an idea simply? These are all skills that ALTs can teach students simply by talking to them.
Okay, so we all know the testing system in Japan isn’t going to change, right? Well, it doesn’t have to if ALTs start changing the way we do our jobs. We have so much flexibility to turn our job into what we want it to be and we can change the system by doing so. Prepare communication activities every chance you get. Visit other classes and speak to students while they work on something in woodshop class. Insist on having quarterly communication tests with all your students. Ask your JTEs to have a conversation corner so that you can talk to each student for a few minutes while they fill out yet another test-prep worksheet in the regular class.
There are more ways than I can even imagine that we can change the nature of our jobs as ALTs. Changing the role of the ALT by the kinds of ideas and materials we bring to the table can redirect the course of English Ed in Japan even without changing the entrance examination method.
Communication is the answer, I believe, and Communication Teachers are the future.