5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

The ability to look busy even when you're bored out of your mind is an enviable talent. If you were born looking bored (even when you're literally in the middle of working), I understand your struggle because I am the exact same way.

In the US, I was mostly left to myself at my job. I had a cubicle so even if I had no work to do, there was no way for anyone to really see. But a Japanese school’s teacher’s room is an open layout plan. So, your business is everyone else’s business too.

You may be wondering why looking busy is so important as an ALT. There are a few reasons why:

  1. You’re being paid, even if you’re not working. Some of your coworkers don’t see the point in the ALT program pushed onto schools by the board of education. You sitting around and wasting their tax dollars definitely doesn’t change their views on it.

  2. Your coworkers are generally busy. While I’m sure a lot of the other teachers do busywork to look busier than they are, some teachers (especially the younger ones) are given a lot of work to do. That, plus their commitments to clubs and other extracurriculars take up all their time.

  3. It makes you (and the company, but who cares about that) look good. Take the above situations and put yourself at your desk, playing with your phone. Your school is not going to have a good impression of you.


The first piece of advice I got during training was "look busy". Unfortunately, no one ever told me how exactly to do that. But in a job where 80% of your average workday is downtime, with nothing to do but hang out in the teacher's room, it's an important skill to master.

Here are a few ways to make it look like you're always working:

1. Spend as much time out of the teacher's room as possible

5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

I'm not saying go home early (but if you can, you definitely should). The next best thing would be to hang out in your English room or another equivalent if that exists. You're more likely to have one if you teach elementary.

If you struck out on both those, how about wandering the halls of the school, either checking out the layout or popping in for a class? If you want to stay the whole class for a subject that particularly interests you (like cooking or home economics), be sure to get permission from the teacher first.

It's okay to just peek in from the back of the room most of the time and stay for a few minutes unexpectedly. I’ve noticed a lot of teachers doing this with my English classes (especially in JHS). Similarly, you could drop in the health room and hang out with the (pretend) sick kids or even the library.

If you're not comfortable with that level of socializing, you can find a private area to stay in that doesn't look too suspicious if someone wanders past (like a stairwell looks kind of suspicious). These rooms would be like the coat room or the copy room.

That way, you always look as though you could possibly be doing something. Otherwise, the bathroom is always an option if you don't mind (and don't have only squatter toilets). It does get cold there in the winter, though.


2. Work slowly

5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

Unfortunately for me, I like to work fast. My handwriting is sloppy because I'm more concerned about the thoughts leaving my head than the legibility. When grading papers, I power through them to finish the stack.

However, when you're trying to look busy, this is only works against you. Basically speaking, the more time you spend on your work, the longer you look busy. Also, if you finish teacher requests quickly, they give you more work since they know you’re capable.

However, this has backfired on me a few times, and I've actually fallen asleep multiple times from working so slowly that I've actually lost interest. So, it's definitely a delicate balance!

This will also encompass lesson planning. Even if you don’t know your future lessons, it can be in your favor to know what’s generally coming up.

3. Have a personal project and write everything down

5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

My personal project is writing and eventually publishing a novel. I'm in the process of drafting everything up. By hand. I definitely understand that this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's actually helped with the writing process a lot!

And if you're not a novelist, you can write other things down. A journal, your budget, a to-do list, meal plans for the week, a letter to your family or students... Anything really! Putting things down on paper helps you organize and look like you're busy jotting information down. It's a win-win, honestly.

Often, I’ve been so into writing things down in my notebooks that teachers have come up to ask what I was doing. It’s backfired on me, since I have to lie and say that I’m lesson planning (though I’m obviously not).

4. Study (Japanese)

5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

I should just say study, but you'll definitely get bonus points if your teachers see you studying Japanese. It also helps you make conversation with your teachers if you have nothing else to talk about. "How do you read this?" or "Could you show me how to write this kanji?" does wonders in helping you start talking to your coworkers.

Actually, some teachers have come up to me, unprompted, and offered advice or even just congratulated me on my studies. Sometimes, they’ll inquire later on about how my studies are going and I have to sheepishly say that I haven’t been studying lately…

I would save the difficult questions for your JTE or someone with a higher level of English. But, if you’re looking for a way to start conversation and not necessarily to get information, ask away!

5. Read

5 Ways To Appear Busy As An ALT (When You're Actually Really Bored)

This one may be cheating, because my list was technically how to appear busy and reading a book will definitely do more than make you just appear that way. Unless you're faking reading, but I can't think of a reason why you'd do that. (Well, I guess if you don’t like reading.)

In fact, reading is one of the things they suggest at training to make you appear busy. At my first school, I wasn't allowed computer access so I went through 3-4 books a week. I hit up Book Off almost every weekend in search for new, cheap books.

I could've used my kindle, but I figured that it wouldn't be clear enough that I was reading... And that's the whole point, right? The same goes for your phone! Most times I’m on my phone, I’m reading news articles, but it just looks like I’m playing around. Not good for appearances!


Hopefully this can give you a few ideas to look busy even when you’re not. While it’s not the most important part of being an ALT, it helps to be seen in a favorable light by your school. Unfortunately, how your school views you extends to more than just your work in the classroom.

If you’re a current or former ALT, did you ever use some of these methods? What did you do? Or did you just not care at all?