Teaching In Japan
Secrets On Teaching In Japan
I first came to Japan to teach in 1999. Actually, I first came to Japan in 1999. I had applied for a job from a newspaper advertisement in my local paper for a small conversation school. Before I knew it, I was on a plane heading for a country I knew not a lot about, could hardly speak the language and knew no-one there. Before I left people were telling me how brave I was, but it wasn't until I stepped on that plane that I felt the fear.
For the most part, I loved the teaching side of working in the conversation school. The school I worked in, as long as I used the text book for a large part of the lesson and followed some other curriculum, I had a lot of freedom. I taught students from two years old to those in their seventies. I taught group and company classes and private lessons.
In our school, unlike many others around, we were not only allowed, but actually encouraged to socialise with the students outside of class. I formed many friendships with my students and one of my first students remains one of my closest friends to this day.
Working in the conversation school was hard though. I worked six days a week, each day with a different schedule. Somedays, I would teach six classes (averaging an hour each) back-to-back, not finishing until 9.30pm by which time I was exhausted and starving. At different times of the year, on top of the schedule we were also obligated to work to teach "free lessons", sample lessons for potential students and that was unpaid on our day off. We only got paid for our classroom hours and not our lesson planning time. I was also expected to travel to different schools, sometime between lessons, that time wasn't paid for either. Personally, I found that job useful as an introduction to working in Japan, but wouldn't want to have done it for much more than the three years I was there.
Mind you, the different conversation schools can really vary in style and rules, so it's important that you find out their system before deciding whether to sign up with them or not.
My second job in Japan, the one that I'm in currently, is very different. I work in a private combined junior and senior high school. I found out about this job through word-of-mouth. The other teachers that started at the same time as me, applied for the position from a job advertisement on-line.
Unlike many of the public school jobs, I'm not an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). I have my own classes, plan my own lessons and create the tests. I work with three other native English-speaking teachers. I have to say, I love this job. I'm blessed to be at a high-level academic school, so the students are smart and for the most part, eager to learn. The students are mostly very friendly and will say hello when you see them outside of class, some will even call out "I love you!" In class, I find the junior high students very eager to answer questions, the older students sometimes more reluctant to do so. Right from the first class, we try to instill on the students that our lessons are not going to be like a normal Japanese class so this helps a lot.
Of course, like any job, there are good days, and bad days. The school has a very good reputation (to the point that when people find out I work at this school, they suddenly act like I'm someone important), but with that comes a rather rigid way of thinking and doing things and that can take a little getting used to.
In this job, I work from 8.15am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays. Each day, I teach an average of three classes (65 minutes each) and the rest of the time is spent doing some marking, lesson planning and administration, with admittedly, a nice amount of free time. I get school holidays off, which amounts to quite a lot over the year.
Somethings are quite different in schools in Japan. For example;
- At my school, the students are usually there from before 8.30am to 6pm. They have classes every second Saturday and often on holidays.
- At Japanese schools, there isn't a cleaner. The students (and many of the teachers) clean the classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and gardens. I believe this practice has roots in Buddhist teachings.
- In Japanese schools, the students stay in their classroom and the teachers move around for lessons.
- Most Japanese schools are very strict about hair colour. Students are not allowed to lighten or colour their hair.
- One reason why the students are at school so late is because they often have "club activities". The clubs can be anything from sports teams (baseball, handball and soccer are very popular at my school and taken very seriously), to creative clubs (photography, art, brass band), to something more academic (like the astronomy and nature science clubs).
- All of the students were slippers at school. When they arrive in the morning, they put their "outdoor shoes" into their shoe locker and change into regulation slippers. The teachers also wear "indoor shoes", but this can be anything from slippers to high heels (that's what I wear), just as long as they are deemed for in-school wear only.
- Foreign teachers can only work at the school for a maximum of three years.
- The Japanese school year starts in April and finishes in March.
Admittedly, jobs like mine are a lot harder to find and may not be offered to first-timers. I should mention that I have a Bachelor degree and post-graduate studies in Applied Linguistics, which I'm sure didn't hurt when applying for the position. I have also taught English to foreign students in a number of private schools in Australia.
My husband works in the public school system and also enjoys his job. It's quite different to mine. He is an ALT and works at three different junior high schools on a rotating schedule in the one city. He doesn't have the same planning to do, but also doesn't get to teach a class on his own often. Somedays, he feels a bit like a walking tape recorder and his schedule will differ each day. This is his first time to Japan and his first job teaching English. Had we decided to stay longer he may have been able to get a job at the school where I work now once I finished my three years.
On my blogroll there are many other people who live in Japan, but not all of them talk about teaching here. Some good ones that do are;
Present Simple writes some hilarious accounts of teaching her university students.
The Monster Flower sometimes talks about teaching private students.
If you have an interest in Japan and Japanese culture, teaching is something that I would recommend, even if teaching isn't your be-all-and-end-all. I have used my time to build a business that I will take back to Australia as well as creative inspiration and travel time. My husband has spent some of his free time learning a martial art, Iaido, that would have been difficult to do in Australia. It is no longer a place that you come to make lots of money, those days are over.
So that's all that I can think about writing for now. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask. I'd also love to hear other people's experiences of teaching here, either in the comments or as a blog post that I can add as a link to this.