At present, Japanese labor law restricts foreign native English-speaking teachers, referred to as ALTs (assistant language teachers) from team-teaching with Japanese classroom teachers. Students get the short end of the stick, as team teaching is considered a highly effective foreign-language teaching methodology.
Legally, according to the Worker Dispatch Act (WDA), only those foreign teachers hired directly by schools or boards of education — such as through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme — or those working for government-licensed dispatch companies can teach an English lesson alongside the Japanese classroom teacher.
The situation can be confusing because ALTs receive conflicting messages. For example, in July 2013, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), with support from the British Council, released its “Team Teaching Handbook” for ALTs. Counter to many prevailing teaching practices, the manual states, “You should not be expected to teach classes on your own” and “You can anticipate being asked to help plan lessons jointly with the JTL (Japanese teacher of language).”
At the same time, some ALTs have been told by their dispatch companies to phase out team teaching, or that “classroom management is the ALT’s job.”
According to MEXT’s “Recommendations for the Improvement of English Proficiency” survey in 2012, 75 percent of native English-speaking teachers were legally permitted to work in collaboration with Japanese classroom teachers.
Hideki Thurgood Kano, a partner at Anderson Mori & Tomotsune who specializes in labor law, says the WDA is fairly clear.
“The underlying fundamental idea of the WDA is that no company is allowed to give work instructions to any employee of another company. Period,” he says. The exception is those employees dispatched from government-licensed companies.
The dispatch license administered by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare allows dispatched employees to be supervised by the school or school board. In the classroom, the Japanese teacher, employed by the board of education is the supervisor.
“The board of education has the authority to tell foreign teachers dispatched from government-licensed dispatch companies what to teach and where to go,” says Yukiko Imazu, also a partner at Anderson Mori & Tomotsune.
The WDA is intended to protect employees’ job security and benefits by encouraging direct hiring rather than working through a third party. This can guarantee lifelong employment in Japan. However, in the case of language instruction, the WDA can hinder when it prevents team-teaching.
Team-teaching has numerous benefits. Students can observe English being used as an oral communication tool between their Japanese classroom teacher and ALT. Varied students’ language levels can be better addressed with a native and foreign teacher working together. And, the foreign teachers language competencies complement the Japanese teachers’ knowledge of individual students’ abilities and common difficulties.