The Dark Side of Teaching English in Japan

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Before you decide to pack up your life and teach in Japan, you should know what you’re in for.

This article over at the Japan Times explores one of the biggest issues expats, especially women, face as English teachers is Japan: Harassment. Some highlights include a student masturbating in class, a student telling a teacher he wanted to drink her breast milk, and a teacher getting negative reviews from a students she refused to date, which affected her raise and chance at contract renewal.

In Japan, generally, Okyakusama wa kamisama, or, the customer is God, and this attitude can leave teachers high and dry when it comes to issues with students. Sorry to say it, but money will usually trump a teacher’s comfort and sometimes even safety. Every English teacher has their horror stories or their stalkers, men and women alike.

At my school Ko Seto is the name that strikes terror into the hearts of teachers whenever it appears on the student’s lists. He’s been coming for like ten years, and goes to every branch booking lessons with all the female teachers. But even the men don’t want to teach him because his constant giggling and shifty eyes freak them out. I don’t know if he has a form of autism or what, but the fact that he only ever wants female teachers rubs people the wrong way.

Then there was the old man who told my somewhat busty coworker that she needed to be screened for breast cancer. Somehow I just can’t believe he was that concerned about her health.

I know another teacher who had a student who would wait for her after every shift so he could walk with her to the train, even after she asked him not to.

One male teacher refused to teach a girl after she gushed about how much she liked him and made him feel really uncomfortable.

As for me, I’ve been lucky so far. Aside from some awkward lessons with Ko Seto, I’ve had nothing more than guys asking if I had a boyfriend, or asking me to dinner or movies.

The most frustrating part is that it’s just an accepted part of life as an English teacher. Unless things get really out of hand, there isn’t much support just because you feel uncomfortable.

One day, I walked into the teacher’s room to see a note on my student’s list saying “stranger”, which another teacher corrected to “strange person”. Apparently, this guy had showed up at the school and harassed one of the staff for three hours, refusing to leave and let her get her work done, so he was banned from signing up for lessons. So he simply went to the school across town and signed up there.

Guess who got to teach him?

And yes he was certainly a “stranger”, making inappropriate comments and not giving the other students a chance to speak.  I’m just glad there were two other students that day, and I told the staff not to sign him up for my lessons anymore. Luckily, he didn’t turn stalker on me.

And I’d like to note that as bad as the teachers get it, the primarily young and female staff have it worse. We can escape to another class, but they have to talk to the students for as long as they stick around.

At one of my old schools, there was this notoriously racist guy who made a Chinese student in the lesson really angry with his anti-Chinese sentiments. But, he was paying a lot of money so shogannai–what can you do? He still takes lessons to this day as far as I know. So when a student still isn’t banned after his harassment affects other students, a.k.a other sources of money, what hope do you, the teacher that is actually leeching money from the company as a salaried employee, have of being supported?

So if you are determined to come over to Japan as an English teacher, by all means come, but know what you’re getting into, and know that if you have issues with a student, there’s a good chance the school will take the student’s side over yours.

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4 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Teaching English in Japan

  1. Pingback: Why Can’t Japanese People Speak English? | R.B.Bailey Jr

  2. Jason

    Oh no ! Poor you ! HORROR stories indeed ! Meanwhile the rest of the world is holding hands and singing and getting along just fine.

    Reply

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