What It’s Like To Be An English Teacher In Japan

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For a lot of people who study Japanese, one of their main goals is to live in Japan for an extended period of time. It’s a great way to finally put your skills to the test and to enhance your knowledge of the customs and culture. However, one of the difficulties we all face is having the financial means to make our dream a reality.

I don’t have any nuggets of wisdom that’ll revolutionize your life to make that dream a reality, but I will state the obvious and tell you to start out by being a Super Assistant Language Teacher. It’s the easiest position to get into and since Shinzo Abe has become the prime minister, he has made it his goal to double the amount of Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) teachers in the next three years and to have a native English teacher dispatched to every elementary, middle school and high school in the next ten years.

Needless to say, if there wasn’t already an abundant amount of English teaching jobs available in Japan, the job pool will be getting a lot bigger. In this post, I hope to share a bit of insight about what you can expect from the job if you decide to take the plunge .

Nursery, Elementary, Middle, High and Eikaiwa – Oh My!

For the majority of people, they’re main focus will either be at the elementary, junior high, or high school level with some side classes teaching eikaiwa[1] or nursery school visits. There are companies out there that focus solely on Eikaiwa classes however.

For me, I’m usually at my middle school two or three times a week and rotate between three elementary schools, visiting each one once a week. Once a month I will have a nursery school visit and a high school visit. I also do seasonal eikaiwa classes.

Nursery Schools

In Japan there are two different types of nursery schools. One is called a 保育園 (Hoikuen) and the other is called a 幼稚園 (Youchien). The difference between the two is that Hoikuens are seen somewhat like daycare centers whereas Youchiens are closer to being a preschool. Basically one is study prepatory and the other isn’t. Obviously being an Asian country, the majority of parents want to get their kids into Youchiens.

Nursery school visits are generally balls to the walls, foot on the gas, never letting up, in your face chaos. Kids there are generally freakin crazy and soul-less as they love to Kanchou[2] everyone who has their back turned. There really isn’t much preparation that goes into the classes because much of the time is spent singing songs, playing games and drawing / coloring pictures. It’s a lot of fun.

Elementary Schools

Elementary schools are great because this is where you start to see interest develop in the students, and the environments tend to be much more relaxed. In my opinion, students are just as energetic as nursery school kids but are much easier to handle. Generally, you’ll usually have to coordinate each English lesson with the homeroom teacher of the grade you’re teaching.

Because homeroom teachers practice isn’t in English education (the obvious being elementary education), much of the planning and teaching will be left to the ALT – it’s how I prefer it to be.

Junior High School

At the JHS level, this is where two roads begin to diverge. On the positive side, you’ll have students who are strongly interested in learning English and will do great. On the other hand, you’ll have problematic students where every class is like trying to drive a car without having oil in the engine. At this level, most of the classes will heavily focus on grammar and vocabulary building.

In my personal experience, all classes are planned by the Japanese English teacher and generally have a rote memorization feel. A lot of people will argue that rote memorization [3] is archaic and needs to be put out its misery, but for me personally, it is the oldest teaching method that has worked forever, but should be used sparingly in combination with other teaching techniques.

High School

At this point students are typically on the path that they’ve decided to go down. You’ll usually have classes split into two distinct camps: the motivated and the un-motivated. Classes tend to be more reading intensive. Though personally, I find the stories in the text books to be un-relatable and fairly dry.

Because I’m at the school only once a month, I usually bring activities that allow students to break away from your standard textbook / college prep style classes. However, a lot depends on the teacher you work with in the classroom and your relationship with the students.

Eikaiwa

This is where an ALT has the opportunity to shine. You’ll generally work with smaller class sizes and all planning will be left up to you. If you work for an eikaiwa school, the down side will be that companies are somewhat notorious for overworking their employees by cramming multiple classes together in direct succession.

For me personally, I’ll teach a set of five eikaiwa classes once a year. They’ll be split up into elementary school kids and JHS to adult. They do add more work to my schedule, but I do find them to be enjoyable as I can be free to relate to my students without having the confines of a school year and testing dates to adhere to.

Conclusion

One of the thoughts you may have is, “But Mr. Kuma Sensei, I don’t really care for teaching. I want to do something else while fulfilling my dream of living in Japan for an extended period of time.”

I get it.  I really do. Unless you have a really strong Japanese speaking ability (not always a guarantee to finding a nice cushy job) or advanced knowledge in another field, it’ll be very difficult to find work outside of teaching. The other thing about teaching English in Japan is that it is a temporary job for about 99% of people.

What that means is that a lot of people use the time on JET or other teaching organizations as a career starter. It’s more likely people will start out teaching English for a number years only to transition into a professional line of work. You have to start somewhere and choosing to teach in Japan is a great way to get your foot in the door.

If you have any questions about the job or have some great stories to share please leave your comments in the section below.

Sources
LDP looks to double JET’s ranks in three years
JET alumni advocates for Japan
Rote Learning

Photo Source
Passive Ninja

Footnotes
1. Eikaiwa translates into English conversation classes. They’re mainly ran through private companies outside of the education sector. Generally their goal caters to adults and children looking to boost speaking abilities.
2. Kanchou is a prank where the anal region of another person is poked with the index finger of another. I have no idea why this acceptable.
3. Rote Memory is the act of learning by constant repetition. It has a bad reputation as being boring and un-motivational.

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