You Want to Teach English in Japan?


You better listen, 'cause you're about to get skooled.

Now that I’ve been doing the Eikaiwa school gig for a month now I can finally give a (wo)man-on-the inside account of what it’s like, and what you, the  hopefuls should be aware of before deciding it would be a good idea to leave it all behind in your home country and experience Japan while teaching English to pay the rent.

Are you introverted? That’s not good. You’d better start learning to like talking to people because you’ll be doing that all day. If you want to work at an English conversation school, you should probably be somewhat good at having a conversation…in English.  I had an interesting talk with one of the teachers at my school, who was talking with another teacher who was soon leaving. The teacher who was soon to be going said to him “I don’t like talking to people,” to which his reaction was “then why are you here?” As an English conversation teacher you need to kind of direct and moderate the flow of conversation, to get your students talking and practicing their English. At my company, there are textbooks but at the higher levels there’s a lot more free conversation — same deal if you want to teach private lessons. You gotta be able to talk. You don’t have to be Mr. or Mrs. Chatterbox but you should at least be able to turn it on when you need to.

Do you hate kids? That’s not good. I can’t speak for every school, but at mine you will definitely end up teaching kids: Squirmy, easily distracted, bored-every-five-minutes kids… usually as their parents watch. Here it helps if you have the ability to throw all sense of pride and dignity out the door and just make a fool of yourself for an hour. With the kids you need to go big or go home. Use big animated expressions, silly voices, dances, anything to manipulate the little  darlings into actually learning something. In my (limited) experience they seem to like games that involve running and jumping. If you do it right, teaching kids can be really rewarding, because most of them are smart little buggers, and if you can get them to listen they pick up the English really quick.

Are you lazy? That’s not good. Be honest with yourself, because this is still a job, no matter how easy you might have heard that it can be.  And if you’re a lazy mofo who puts in all the effort of a glacier well, you might not got fired, however students and school directors will complain about you and guess what, you’ll get sent to all the schools way out in the bush like two hours away from where you live that no one wants to go to. So bring your shining examples of great work ethic ladies and gentlemen.

Do you easily lose your patience? That’s not good. Being any kind of teacher requires extreme patience, because you’ll be doing the same thing over, and over, and sometimes students just. don’t. GET IT! At this point you must resist the urge to bang your head, or worse theirs, on the table in pure, unfiltered frustration and despair. No, no, you must smile and explain again and again in different ways until they do understand, because that’s your job.

So, by now I’ve probably scared a few people off. Trust me I’ve done you, and anyone who would have had to work with you, a favor. I’ll end by saying although I’ve brought up a lot of the challenges about teaching at an English conversation school, it’s still the least stressful job I’ve ever had. The students, having paid quite a bit to take the courses, are usually willing to learn. You’re not stuck behind a desk, and you can meet interesting people and learn a lot of things about Japan from your students. But if you’re a lazy introvert with no patience who hates kids, please just stay where you are. You’ll be happier I promise you.

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15 Responses to You Want to Teach English in Japan?

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  2. Chris Davis says:

    I’m a bit introverted but I wouldn’t say that needs to be the end of it. I mean, you do have a lesson structure to work with, and every conversation lesson I ever teach is filed away in my brain as potential future chitchat. Also, you just learn more about Japan the longer you live here so it makes it easier to raise or contribute to conversation topics that your students are likely to find interesting. Basically, I’m probably miles better at chitchat than I was before I came to Japan :-) .

    Yeah, I don’t mind kids, and Japanese kids are certainly more likeable than the ones I remember from back home. Until they get to JHS age that is, well some of them ;-) . You won’t need to always use the over the top approach. I took over a teacher’s class who couldn’t understand why their kids were always out of control. The problem was that these kids were already bouncing around the room and they were applying the in-your-face loud style that was just escalating things further. In this case I just needed to sit the kids down, look each of them in the eye, and get on with a book exercise. From that point they were pretty focused.

    Lazy teachers = boooo!

    Being patient is a funny thing. I get irritated when my mum forgets something for the millionth time but somehow, in class, I almost never get irritated. I can’t necessarily explain how I give more leeway to a student than a loved one but that’s just how it is.

    • Amanda says:

      I think it’s because there’s less to lose with the loved one. They will still love you if you get a bit impatient, whereas a student will compain about you or quit — there’s actually consequences.

      • Chris Davis says:

        I think that’s close, certainly we are more likely to show our true faces to our loved ones. Still, being patient doesn’t feel as forced as I might expect. Not to say that there aren’t occasionally students I want to slap silly but it’s pretty rare.

  3. Chris B says:

    “So, by now I’ve probably scared a few people off.”

    No no no, a dose of reality is sorely needed. Good on you for taking the time to point some things out. It ain’t as easy as some people think. You got it…or you don’t.

  4. Jay Dee says:

    Actually, I’m introverted. Being introverted doesn’t mean you can’t do the job. The problem is being shy. I’m an outgoing introvert, I guess you could say. I’m quiet, but I know how to talk to people. I should, I’ve been doing this teaching thing for nearly 6 years now.

  5. Chris B says:

    @Jay Dee
    You are “Old Skool” all the way. 6 years…nuff said!!

  6. Kenan Lucas says:

    I am set to move to Japan to teach English in April. This article helped a lot and served as a mental checklist for all the qualities one would need to be a successful English teacher. Luckily, I feel I meet all of that criteria!

    It is only 5 or so weeks to go until I arrive in Tokyo and I am so excited :)

  7. Susan Kelly says:

    I chuckled when I read this because at the last job I had half the people who taught conversation were so anti-social. You are right, this job is best for friendly types.

    • Amanda says:

      Yeah actually sometimes you meet some bitter dudes working in this business. I think sometimes people get “stuck” here because they don’t know what else to do.

  8. Nicholas says:

    In addition, if you go the eikaiwa route, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s more of a business than it is a school. Of course the main goals is to facilitate the students’ English abilities. However, you will come into situations where the management will sacrifice the quality of education if it conflicts with finances (depending on how frugal the owners are). One small example of this is that I’m constantly asked by my employers to not photocopy extra homework for the kids because the paper costs too much money. I’ve worked in private schools in Japan and Korea, and this is not an uncommon theme. Bottom line is that if you go in to the job thinking that you’re in a public school and not a business, then you’re in for some unpleasant surprises.

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