Interac is a dispatch company that places Assistant Language Teachers in temporary English teaching positions throughout public schools in Japan. For the past 50 years and counting, Interac has acted as a middleman between the teacher and local boards of education (BOEs), recruiting native and fluent English speakers both within Japan and abroad. When it comes to the debatably-saturated ESL industry in Japan, Interac is usually one of the first names to pop up, both in terms of notoriety and infamy.
Therefore, it’s not surprising to read about the recent labor rights-related controversies within Interac, which resulted into a notable strike late last year . Demands include “wage increases, basic safety equipment and social insurance.” Full disclosure, I used to work for Interac myself; the branch I was in enrolled us in social insurance automatically, but that doesn’t seem to be the case across Japan.
With news of the strike, and the various anecdotes surrounding the company, it doesn’t take too long to understand why Interac is a controversial entity. While it does indeed help new recruits get settled in, even going so far as to assist them in housing and the like, it is severely lacking in other ways, especially with emotional support.
As such, when a recently leaked internal video from the Interac Osaka and South Central branch actively discouraged ALTs from calling in sick – in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, no less – it spurned a mass response filled with outrage, derision, and bemusement. The video has since been taken down from YouTube, with Interac filing a copyright strike. However, it’s still very much worth discussing.
Here are just some of the many logical fallacies and microaggressions that take place in the video:
1. They accuse ALTs of simply playing hooky instead of being sick.
While the video claims their goal is to show teachers the administrative process that happens after teachers call in sick, it’s immediately undercut by a fictional scenario of a teacher calling in sick because he was up all night playing video games and was too tired to go to work. Not only is this a microaggression that accuses ALTs of lying, but even if someone was indeed playing hooky, especially for such a trivial reason, they would never admit it to administration. This hypothetical scenario helps no one, and sows more distrust than foreign employees already experience.
2. The JTE workflow is systemically inept.
The video heavily relies on anecdotes, attempting to use these as evidence that teachers calling in sick inconveniences both the administration and the school. While the tediousness of rescheduling is a fair gripe to have, JTEs complaining about how they now have to do class preparation is not.
One of the junior high JTEs laments about how when an ALT suddenly called in sick, she had no lesson plan to work off of, so she had to assign worksheets at the last minute. To make matters worse, the students didn’t pay attention because the ALT wasn’t there–her opinion–and therefore class didn’t go well.
Quite frankly, this is alarming.
Back to my own experience. I did work as an elementary ALT for Interac eight years ago, and while my overall experience ranged from mixed to positive, I can say without a doubt that my JTEs and I always discussed the lesson plans together. We were always mutually aware of what was going on. If either one of us was absent, the other could run the class with little to no issue.
While the arrangement may be different in junior high, i.e. there is no extra homeroom teacher on hand to help with classroom control–the JTE should always be aware of what is being taught in class. ALT stands for assistant language teacher, and as such, it is not their job to bear the burden of workload and discipline. If a class cannot be controlled without the ALT being present, that is a result of the JTE’s overall lack of engagement and poor discipline, not the ALT’s absence. This ties into my next point.
3. ALTs are educators, not objects for happiness.
This may seem like a provocative point, so allow me to elaborate. There is a huge difference between being a consummate professional, and acting as a fulcrum for everyone’s happiness. Toxic positivity is weaved throughout this video, from the awkward motto of “Let’s Make a Happy Circle” and the insistence that perfect attendance from ALTs, makes everyone–the school, the BOE, and especially the students very happy.
Another anecdote from a JTE involves an autistic student, and how he’s hard to control, but he only pays attention during English class because the ALT is present. When the ALT is absent, he’s less engaged and interested in Japanese. Again, this is not the ALT’s burden to bear. Not only is the ALT not licensed for general education, but they are also especially not licensed for special education.
This is also coupled with manipulative “interviews” at the end of the video with children saying how sad they are when ALTs are out sick and that “they’re waiting for them [to return]}.” This further exhibits a major disconnect between the expectations of the ALT and the expectations of the BOE.
4. Perfect health is not guaranteed to anyone.
A common fallacy is the idea that if you eat the right foods, get enough sleep and exercise, then you’ll rarely get sick. While exercise and healthy eating habits can improve your immune health, literally anything can go wrong at any time for whatever reason. You can get enough sleep and still get food poisoning. You can eat all the healthy foods and still catch the flu. And you can be triple-vaccinated, mask up, and still contract COVID-19.
The irrational insistence that ALTs must always make their classes, coupled with yet another anecdotal message given by an ALT who is claimed to have perfect attendance is harmful rhetoric that can affect public health. On top of that, the coordinators complaining that they have to call the school and BOE and apologize seems somewhat disingenuous. Similar to the JTEs mentioned earlier, most of the laments seem to circle around people having to do the work that they are already expected to do.
5. The overall presentation is questionable.
From the numerous typos, grammatical errors, and patronizing, slow-paced voiceover, the viewer is made to feel more like a scolded child than an employee. The previously stated complaints about coordinators having to coordinate and JTE teachers having to teach in the ALT’s absence makes the tone of this video all the more concerning. The producers and cast of this video posit ALTs as the backbone of the English program and also everyone’s happiness, yet couldn’t even be bothered to give the video a once-over before presenting it.
Overall, the video was unsurprisingly panned by the foreign community, and further exhibits the cognitive dissonance between the disposability of ESL teachers in Japan and the mandated attendance and appeasing required of them, come hell or high water. Interac has yet to address this tone-deaf video, but considering the piling criticism, they have received over the past few months and beyond, one doubts they are ever likely to address it at all.
 (November 28, 2021. )“With greater numbers we have more power”: An interview with striking ELT workers in Japan. Teflworkersunion.