What it’s like to teach English in Japan


I’ve been teaching English here for a whiiiile now, so I’ve put together 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 shy? 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 overheard a funny conversation between two coworkers the other day. One teacher was talking to another who was leaving the company. The teacher who was leaving said, “I don’t like talking to people.” And the other teacher was like, “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, especially in Japan, where people are notoriously shy. 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. And the market for kids lessons is growing each year. 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 theirs) on the table in pure, unfiltered frustration and despair. 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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