Balance, Enthusiasm and Improvement in Team-Teaching: Comparing ALT and JLT Perceptions

Arthur Merman

Hiroshima University


The present study aimed to identify and establish causal relationships among selected practical and attitudinal elements of team-teaching environments in Japanese junior and senior high schools. Participants consisted of 208 Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) and 96 Japanese Language Teachers (JLT) working together through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. Path models constructed to illustrate causal relationships among six variables revealed three findings. First, data for both ALTs and JLTs suggest a close interdependency between enthusiastic teaching partnerships and the perceived meaningfulness of the ALT’s assigned duties, while each group formed different relationships between these two variables and improvement in team teaching. Second, both groups indicated little or no benefit of the ALT taking a lead role during actual lesson delivery. Third, ALTs and JLTs were opposed in their views about the causal relationship between enthusiastic team teaching and ALT initiative in lesson planning.





In the fifteen years that have passed since the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program’s inception, there is a growing awareness of the need to work towards a more institutionalized, professional approach to team-teaching. Juppe (1998) calls for a more “structurally developed” practice, which would reflect consideration beyond that of ‘quick-fix’ or ‘cookbook’ approaches that have dominated until now. Nationwide, JET Program-related orientations, conferences and seminars, recurring themes (“smooth workplace relations”, “designing communicative activities”, “effective lesson planning”) continue to suggest the implicit assumption that team-teaching involves temporary pairings of educators. Greater emphasis is being placed on establishing working partnerships rather than on developing professional practices and working environments. This study, however, assumes that there are constants in the team-teaching relationship that transcend time, personality, and locale. With information as to certain causal relationships in the team-teaching dynamic, Japanese schools might better tap the potential of ALTs as a (very expensive) educational resource in Japan and program administrators might be better equipped to put together seminars which begin beyond the basics.


The six variables considered as pertinent to building enduring, collaborative team-teaching legacies within schools were based upon consideration of related literature, consultation with numerous present and former ALTs and JLTs, and personal experience (over eight years) working with Japanese educators at both the school and school board levels.





A total of 333 questionnaires were sent to base-school ALTs throughout Japan. 208 responses were received, for a response rate of 62.46 percent. The breakdown of respondent characteristics was as follows: 89 (42.8%) were 20-24 years old, 89 were 25-29 years old, 25 (12%) 30-34 years old, and 5 (2.4%) were above 35 years of age. Eighty-eight (42.3%) respondents were in their first year of the Program, while 84 (40.4%) were in their second year, with 35 (16.8%) completing their last contract year.


Protocol dictates that school principals be approached first to solicit the voluntary participation of their staffs; consequently the resulting number of JLTs that could be contacted was inevitably lower than that of ALTs. Questionnaires were delivered to 176 base-school JLTs. 96 responses were received, for a 54.55 percent response rate. Four respondents (4.2%) were between 20-24 years old, 12 (12.5%) between 25-29, 15 (15.6%) between 30-34 and 63 (65.6%) were above 35 years of age. Fifty-two (54.2%) reported having 1-3 years of team-teaching experience; 35 (36.5%) had 4-8 years, and 8 (8.3%) had over 8 years experience working with an ALT.




This study constitutes part of a larger investigation into the effects of the increasing presence of foreign instructors in Japan on professional working environments in public junior and senior high schools. Of the 56-item questionnaire, six questions serve as the focus for this paper and involve possible variables concerning the team-teaching environment. The questionnaire was written in both English and Japanese, with translation confirmed for accuracy by experienced graduate students and staff at Hiroshima University. Extensive trial testing ensured that both Japanese and foreign English teachers considered the items pertinent.


Two items involve the issue of improvement in team-teaching: “Much more should be done to improve team-teaching at this school” and “Team-teaching lessons are improving over time at this school.” The first statement has an eye to the future and accommodates views regarding the progress and potential of team-teaching at the school in question. The second has an eye to the past and is designed to obtain retrospective performance appraisals of both ALTs and JLTs of their current team-teaching partnerships. Combined, these two questions attempt to capture the views of both inexperienced and veteran teachers.


Two items involve the meaningfulness of duties assigned to ALTs and the degree to which ALTs and JLTs perceive an atmosphere of enthusiasm and dedication in their lessons: “Duties and tasks to which I am assigned are meaningful” and “Team-teaching at this school is conducted with dedication and enthusiasm.” These questions are founded both on previous research linking teacher motivation and sense of purpose in the one-teacher classroom (Fullan, 1991; Hargreaves & Goodson, 1996; McLaughlin & Yee, 1988; Rozenholtz, 1989), as well as in light of repeated indications that ALTs are not provided enough meaningful tasks in their schools (CLAIR, 1995-2000).


The final two items deal with the issue of balance in the ALT / JLT partnership: “JLTs in this school often give me complete control over class procedure” and “I usually do more lesson planning than the JLTs”. (On JLT questionnaires this item was reversed to read, “I usually do more lesson planning than the ALTs”). The first item addresses the issue of leadership in actual classroom lessons, while the other gauges the share of effort in lesson planning. Team-teaching is defined by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as “any time two or more teachers work together to guide an individual learner or a group of learners toward a set of aims or objectives” (Monbusho, 1994, p. 14). This definition lacks specificity, with only “together” containing the hint of being an operative word. Regardless of its official definition, team-teaching takes on different forms depending on a host of environmental, administrative, cultural and personality factors (Chandler, 1999; Feiler, 1991; Juppe, 1998; McConnell, 2000). Observations can nevertheless be collected as to the perceived satisfaction of ALTs and JLTs with respect to the arrangements, or balance, being struck in their teaching partnerships.




Questions were scored on the basis of a 5-point scale: -2 strongly disagree, -1 disagree, 0 neither agree nor disagree, 1 agree and 2 strongly agree. Negative responses indicated unfavorable or unsatisfactory circumstances, while positive responses indicated favorable perceptions.


Data Gathering Procedure


Japanese subjects for this study were obtained by approaching the Hiroshima City and Prefectural Boards of Education for lists of public junior and senior high schools hosting full-time ALTs through the JET Program. Individual school principals were then asked to solicit the participation of their English-teaching staffs and to distribute the questionnaires and accompanying explanation. Self addressed, postage-paid envelopes were provided to respondents to encourage frankness and to ensure anonymity.


An alphabetical list of all nation-wide JET Program participants working in base schools, obtained with the assistance of the Council of Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) and the Hiroshima Municipal Board of Education, provided the source of ALT subjects. ALTs were mailed questionnaires directly at their base schools, with much the same response procedure outlined above for the JLTs.


Results for ALTs


The means, standard deviations and Pearson’s correlation coefficients for the six aspects of the team-teaching environment for ALTs are presented in Table 1. There are 15 possible correlations among 6 variables. As indicated in Table 1, ten of these showed significant correlations at the significance level of 1 percent.

Ÿ ‘Team-Teaching Must Improve’ showed a significant correlation with ‘Team-Teaching is Improving’, ‘ALT Duties are Meaningful’, and ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’.

Ÿ ‘Team-Teaching is Improving’ correlated significantly with ‘ALT Duties are Meaningful’, ‘Team Teaching is Enthusiastic’, ‘ALT Controls Class’ and ‘ALT Plans More’.

Ÿ ‘ALT Duties are Meaningful’ was significantly correlated with ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’ and ‘ALT Controls Class’.

Ÿ         ‘ALT Controls Class’ was significantly correlated with ‘ALT Plans More’.


Table 1   ALT and JLT Respondent Characteristics






Years Team-Teaching

Teaching Credentials




























































































The correlation matrix in Table 1 does not show the overall contributions of the six aspects under consideration. Consequently, this study includes a structural path analysis model for ALT responses (Fig. 1) to illustrate causal relations among the six variables.



Figure 1



Several interesting relations are apparent in Fig. 1. The path model postulates a mutual causal relationship among ‘ALT Duties are Meaningful’, ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’ and ‘Team-Teaching Must Improve’. The more that ALTs perceive their duties to be worthwhile and consequential, the more enthusiastic their lessons with their Japanese colleagues are, and the greater the desire to work for higher performance is. This relationship also holds true in the opposite direction. A strong mutual causal relationship is also evident between ‘ALT plans more’ and ‘ALT controls class’.


While these results are not surprising, the causal relationship between planning and enthusiasm in teaching was weaker than had been expected, and the strong negative causal relation between ‘ALT controls class’ and the sense that team-teaching is improving was also unanticipated. The relatively weak mutual causal relation to enthusiasm may suggest that ALTs who are taking the initiative in lesson planning and delivery feel somehow obliged, rather than eager to do so. With respect to the decidedly negative relationship to improvement and meaningfulness, it was expected that when ALTs assume more responsibility in the classroom, they would perceive their work to be more worthwhile. However, ALTs indicated that taking the lead in class neither improves team-teaching, nor contributes a sense of meaningfulness to their work.


Results for JLTs


The means, standard deviations and Pearson’s correlations for the six aspects of the team-teaching environment for JLTs are presented in Table 2. There are 15 possible correlations among 6 variables. As indicated in Table 2, four of these showed significant correlations at the significance level of 1 percent.

Ÿ  ‘Team-Teaching is Improving’ showed a significant correlation with ‘ALT Duties are Meaningful’ and ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’.

Ÿ ‘ALT Duties are Meaningful’ correlated positively with ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’, while ‘ALT Controls Class’ was significantly correlated with ‘JLT Plans More’.


Table 2  Correlations for six aspects of team teaching

  Means, Standard Deviations, Correlations Concerning Variables of Team-Teaching for ALTs





























Team-Teaching Must Improve














Team-Teaching is Improving














ALT Duties are Meaningful














Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic














ALT Controls Class














ALT Plans More



























Standard Deviation





























Note1: n=208. * p<.05. **p<.01.














Note 2: Variables range from -2 to +2.

Negative numbers indicate unfavorable responses while positive numbers indicate favorable ones
















The causal relations of the six variables of the team-teaching environment are investigated by the use of partial regression coefficients calculated by the series of multiple regression analyses of the stepwise method. These relations are depicted in Fig. 2.



Figure 2



Strong mutual causal relationships were found between ‘ALT Duties Meaningful’ and ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’, and between ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’ and ‘Team-Teaching Improving’. Negative causal relations were evident in both directions between ‘ALT controls class’ and ‘JLT Plans More’. One-directional relationships were found from ‘ALT Controls Class’ to ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic (negative), and from ‘Team-Teaching Must Improve’ to ‘Team-Teaching is Enthusiastic’ (positive).


Discussion – Comparing ALT and JLT Perceptions


In The JET Programme: Looking towards the Future after 15 Years, one long time JLT and former JET Program coordinator contributed that “the key to the success of the JET Program lies not only in systemic factors such as the range of service conditions and the quality of the JET Participants themselves, but also the human environment that surrounds the workplace to which they have been assigned” (CLAIR, 2002, p. 128). While the attention paid to professionalism in team-teaching environments in Japanese schools has been increasing (see for examples Crooks, 2001; Lamie, 1998, 2000), studies of causal relationships in the practice are yet scarce, if they exist at all. The purpose of this study was to establish causal relationships among six selected practical and attitudinal elements of team-teaching environments in Japanese junior and senior high schools. Three important observations regarding differences between ALT and JLT perceptions were made.


First, data for both ALTs and JLTs reveal a strong direct causal relationship between the meaningfulness of ALT duties and enthusiasm in team-teaching. Each group, however, formed a different link between these two variables and the issue of improvement in team-teaching. While ALTs relate favourable team-teaching environments with the desire for further improvement, JLTs make connections with the positive retrospective appraisal that team-teaching has improved. This is perhaps due to the fact that most JLTs surveyed are considerably older than the relatively youthful JET Participants, and have been team-teaching longer and with more partners than have the ALTs. As such, they may evaluate present environments with an eye to the longer history of their involvement with the Program, including its tentative beginnings (McConnell, 2000). ALTs on the other hand view their positions in briefer terms, and as such are hoping for – and expect - improvement and change to come more rapidly.


Second, both ALTs and JLTs appeared to be in strong agreement that little or no benefit arises when the former leads actual lesson delivery. This was an unexpected result, as it had been assumed that in being generally younger and fluent in the language of instruction, ALTs would have reported a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in taking the helm. However, the data indicates that neither greater enthusiasm, a sense that team-teaching is improving, nor the perception that duties are more meaningful result when ALTs take charge in the classroom. While there are of course those ALTs who dedicate themselves to enhancing team-teaching as a profession, by and large this is an unlikely explanation for the results produced in this study. Rather, the very inexperience of most ALTs, both in terms of actual time spent in classrooms and lack of teaching qualifications, as well as their official position as “assistant”, leaves them reluctant or uncomfortable in relegating their licensed partners to “helpers”.


Third, ALTs perceive that when they engage in more lesson planning than the JLT, while it does not lead directly to the improvement of team-teaching it does make for more enthusiastic lessons. JLTs however feel that when they take a back seat in lesson planning, neither enthusiasm nor better team-teaching results. This difference may again be understood in light of the JLTs’ overall seniority, and as reflecting different teaching objectives of each partner (communication versus grammatical competence) (Juppe, 1998; McConnell, 2000). JLTs on the whole are not enthusiastic about having the assistant take charge; even if lessons are livelier when team-taught, this in itself may not help their students in achieving progress on their test scores. Finally, ALTs might view enthusiasm in terms of classroom atmosphere, whereas JLTs may focus more on the particular teacher team and its performance.


ALTs and JLTs must be encouraged to reflect upon the meaning and relevance behind each lesson plan beyond the first few months of their partnership. The linkage among meaningfulness, enthusiasm and improvement, while perhaps obvious, cannot be taken for granted. Furthermore, while particular personalities, pedagogical strengths or weaknesses, experience or simple convenience can result in either partner assuming an overly dominant role, such arrangements are ultimately temporary and have questionable value in contributing to team-teaching as an evolving professional practice.




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