It’s hardly a secret. For years now Kilbey Wilson-Piper has been widely regarded as the best Assistant Language Teacher in Japan. Traditionally a much-maligned and often ridiculed occupation, the role of an ALT is largely decided by the local teacher with whom they’re assigned to teach.“Some assistants are shoved to the side and used sparingly as a human voice recorder,” said the finely groomed 47 year old from New Hampshire, who now resides in Kobe. “I’ve found that my role is the polar opposite of that. The Japanese teachers just hand over the classes to me. I can teach better than them, and they all know it. So, they’ve come to realise that any contribution they’d make would be surplus to requirements. They sit at the back of the classroom. They don’t want to, but it’s a union rule; no gaijin can take the job away from a Japanese teacher. Therefore, they aren’t allowed to lounge in the teachers room. In this case the rule is a joke, but it’s one to which we must adhere.
“Usually the Japanese teachers will just sit at the back and mark essays or tests. One female teacher texts her boyfriend. I think she’s happy with him but, deep down, I know that she’d prefer to be mine. I made a pre-emptive strike with that one though. From the start I let her know that I’m married and living in a house in Ashiya. I didn’t have to tell her about my house, of course. But, I thought that it was important that she knew that I was successful, and not like those other teacher’s assistant losers who live paycheck to paycheck, forced to supplement their income by either working at Eikaiwa in the evenings or conducting weddings on weekends. I decided, however, not to reveal that my wife contributes far more to our finances than me.
“Teaching is in my blood,” explained Wilson-Piper, perhaps wishing to further distance himself from the other teachers who do the job simply because they have no other marketable skills. “My grandfather taught English on an island in the South Pacific after World War II. Apparently he loved it there, and only left after some not-so-dark-skinned babies started to appear. He was forced to run to a ship as it headed out to sea, kind of like in a Hollywood movie. He was quite proud of the chorus of clearly pronounced threats in English that were shouted from the docks that day. For him, it was proof that his teaching methods were effective.
“My father was also a language teacher. He spent years teaching English in a Paraguayan prison after recklessly endangering the lives of bystanders during a high-speed police chase in the backstreets of Asuncion. It was all a great misunderstanding involving a faulty tail-light, after police had observed him smoking in a no-smoking zone. I don’t like to talk about it, to be honest. The pain of growing up with an absent father still runs deep, and I don’t think I can ever forgive the US Consulate staff for abandoning my father to the court system of an undeveloped country.”
Midara Kosei, one of Wilson-Piper’s Japanese colleagues (but not the aforementioned woman who texts her boyfriend from the back of the classroom) is full of praise for the immaculately presented American. “I wasn’t sure what the pecking order was for the ALTs when I started at the school. But then Kilbey took me aside and criticised all of the other assistants one-by-one behind their backs. I’m so grateful for him putting the record straight before I had a chance to get to know any of them. Some westerners are mega-ego heads, and Kilbey was there to tell me exactly who to look out for. He even went further by backstabbing some of the Japanese teachers, which was helpful, although a little disconcerting. It was actually rather brazen, considering that he’s employed by a dispatch agency.”
“Kilbey has shown that he’s down with Japan, and I love that about him,” said English Department Head Teacher Haimen Kijoi. “While other dorky assistants just go home and watch streaming services and argue on reddit, Kilbey actively goes out and gets involved in traditional, but easily-learnt, Japanese stuff like tea ceremony and calligraphy. Not much is expected of westerners in these areas so it’s basically impossible for a westerner to fail. There’s such a low participation rate in these things these days that a teacher will pass anyone who bothers to turn up and hand over some cash. Having said that, I respect Kilbey for pursuing these activities, particularly when you consider that his Japanese language ability is embarrassingly poor. I think he knows how to say the days of the week, but not much beyond that.”
But it’s not just wanky Japanese things that float Wilson-Piper’s boat. He still likes to get amongst it at his local skate bowl to pull off a gnarly ollie or two, while on weekdays he can be found chilling in the teachers room playing super hero games on his phone while ignoring students’ requests to have essays checked. “Japan has what I like to call a time-strict culture, so I’m just doing my best to fit in,” said the perfectly-coiffured veteran. “I’m often told that I’m the best teacher in Japan, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have some quality me-time when I so desire. Do I feel self-conscious that my hobbies are kind of teenager-focused? Not at all. And I resent that question, to be honest.”
That me-time doesn’t just stop at the cellphone games at lunchtime though, it extends to his hair maintenance regime and even to his extra-marital affair with a Scandinavian woman residing in an stylish waterfront apartment. Jana, a 27 year old reasonably attractive Swede with a real job, has been dating Wilson-Piper for four months now. “First of all, I’d just like to say that his wife is probably banging a wealthy manager at her company, so don’t go judging me. They are also childless and will probably stay that way too. I appreciate how much time Kilbey takes choosing his outfits and fixing his hair and beard every day, but I could never take a 47 year old assistant seriously as either a lover or a peer. I think he’s a bit slow, but he is good at his job. He should be, as he’s been doing the same thing year in and out for ten years here.”
And that’s where the real Kilbey Wilson-Piper comes to the fore. Unlike the other ALTs who have a variety of backgrounds and jobs, Wilson-Piper is employed solely as an ALT. Therefore, he’s available for more hours that anyone else, and deserves respect for dedicating his life to being an assistant, even when he’s assisting people who are 25 years younger. The students appreciate his hipster fashion sense and attention to detail in coordinating his clothes.
But, the meat of the matter is that Wilson-Piper famously takes the quality of his lessons very seriously. Japanese teachers have shared stories such as the time when Wilson-Piper berated a teacher who make him look bad in front of the kids by not giving him adequate material to cover, and the time when he wrote to the Board of Education in a bid to get a Japanese teacher fired due to a lack of positive feelings toward her. He may have spent far too much time at a job with a notoriously high-turnover rate, but he’s prepared to care more about the stuff that doesn’t matter than others care about the stuff that does. And that’s what really counts.