It's an inevitable part of the ALT classroom experience. The questions that cross the boundary from innocuous to invasive or even offensive. And these questions may not be directed at just you. Here's some tips on how to handle these occurrences.


As an ALT, even though you may not technically be a teacher, as a leader in the class it's still part of your job to moderate classroom behavior. Key to leadership is confidence.

Respond with Confidence

If you know what is good and right, your response will be with confidence.

I find it's easy to project confidence in situations like this if you are sure of what is and isn't OK. The students are going to cross boundaries at some point. You just need to know where the boundaries are and you will naturally be sure when correcting the students that it is the right thing to do.

During Class

Especially if you are a new ALT in the school, if the students are ever given the opportunity to ask you questions, for example during your self-introduction, their curiosity may slowly lead them to asking some quite invasive questions.





If they are asking in Japanese through the Japanese class teacher, you can expect the teacher will shepherd questions for you. If that isn't the case, simply direct your response to the students and with a grin, deflect the question. "That's a secret."

If the students are asking you directly in English, or the class teacher continues to translate questions you find inappropriate, eventually, you will have to drop the jovial attitude. These inappropriate questions are often a result of momentum so interrupt the mood by showing some of your displeasure on your face. In addition, you'll want to redress the situation and tell that student and everyone "Sorry. That's not a good question." Somber expression and tone is important. But with the next decent question, forgive and forget.

During Activities

You may find yourself running an activity where students are asking you questions about yourself. It may also be the class teacher or a volunteer student in the hot seat. Students may take this, innocently or not, as an opportunity to ask very personal or inappropriate questions.


If they are asking you, the response explained above works well.

If they are asking the class teacher or a volunteer student, you may have to intervene. One way is to tell the class "Sorry. That's not a good question." as mentioned above before the interviewee has a chance to answer.

Alternatively, you can transfer responsibility to the class teacher and ask them, in a stage voice for the whole class to hear, "Mr. Takamatsu, is that question OK?" If the class teacher says it's not, the class is now being told by two teachers it's not OK.

To discourage further inappropriate questions during a game, remove a point or abstain from awarding a point for that question.

Outside Class

Outside class is probably the hardest time to receive inappropriate questions and your response really depends on the presence you have and the relationship you have with the students.


If the students see you as a friendly, entertaining guest rather than a teacher and role model, you're more likely to get these types of questions. As the old adage goes; Prevention is the best cure.

If you are asked something you find inappropriate outside of class, your response should be depend on the question.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" might be met with raised eyebrows, a surprised but kind tone of voice. "That's private!"

Further questions or something obnoxious should be immediately dressed down but also quickly forgiven and forgotten. A stern "Hey!" followed by a commanding "No." or similar is often enough. Leave the scene then forget about it. Don't hold student's mistakes against them - they are still learning.

We all encounter inappropriate comments or questions in class. How do you deal with it?

Liked it? Please share!
# Jared 2017-11-17 03:25
First day on the job, it wasn't even a student. The Japanese teacher asked me if I had a girlfriend right in the middle of class at junior high school.
# Gil 2018-01-10 06:52
Our lesson's about "What do you want?" To my surprise the HRT answered, she wants a boyfriend for christmas.
# Sarah 2018-03-02 02:36
Quoting Gil:
Our lesson's about "What do you want?" To my surprise the HRT answered, she wants a boyfriend for christmas.

MIne did too. She even said "a GOOD boyfriend" placing real strong emphasis on good.
# 2018-01-10 09:10
The one that still gets me is how acceptable it is to talk about drinking in class. Whether it's what (alcohol) you prefer to drink or how much you drank on the weekend, I've never been comfortable talking about it in front of students when HRTs have been very comfortable doing it.
# N 2018-02-08 15:40
Y'know that's an interesting topic. As someone from TN, I thought about mentioning Jack Daniels in my self-intro lesson, since it's made in my home state, and one of our more (for better or worse) 'iconic' things...but I know it would be a big faux pas in the US talking about booze to students.
# 2018-02-09 02:21
To me it just seems like common sense that as role models, teachers shouldn't be talking about alcohol is a way that makes it seem cool or fun or encourages drinking. If the topic comes up, it should be as part of a discussion on the effects of drinking and what is acceptable drinking behavior, etc. The joking around about alcohol should be relegated to staff room banter.
# ET 2018-04-26 00:22
I think it's good to remember that many if not most of the homeroom teachers share information that westerners find private. It's very common to talk about family, relationships and weekend activities that include drinking (obviously to an extent). I have found that embracing this aspect of the culture has allowed me to be integrated deeper into their community much more than fellow ALTs who respond with "that's private" or similar responses. I'm sure most of you have realized that school is not just used to educate students but is a second home and sometimes first home for many students. Their relationships with teachers cross into actual meaningful relationships like an uncle, aunt, older brother and sometimes even parent. Answering personal questions gives them the opportunity to trust you more. Again.... obviously some things must remain private, and do not hesitate to rebuke when needed, and do not allow the students to disrespect you... but as you said "forgive and forget" is key. However questions like "do you have a boyfriends/girlfriend" are very okay!
Give it a try.
# LS 2020-08-26 01:28
Interesting mixture of responses here. I was asked the "do you have a girlfriend" question and also "what girls do you like?" The ELT didn`t seem to mind so I was a little confused. I laughed and said it was personal.
ET`s explanation makes a lot of sense and explains why the attitude is so casual. I still think you should only share what you`re comfortable with but it`s good to have an understanding of where this attitude comes from. Thanks ET

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