Here There Be Tygers
Eikaiwas | Business English | Schools/ALT | JET Program | Universities | Non-Teaching
These schools represent English as fast food: lots of customers, service with a smile and grueling shifts. Many have begun offering lessons 24 hours a day via the internet and net cameras. Most also offer lessons for elementary school children in specially designed learning centers. The curriculum is fixed and there is a lot of paper work and a high turnover among employees. Don't be surprised if your boss walks in one day and announces your contract has been changed.
The key players in the eikaiwa game are Nova, Aeon, and Geos. They have hundreds of schools all over Japan and spend a fortune on advertising and on prime office space adjacent to train stations. Although they all have high employee turnover, Nova seems to have the dodgiest reputation among former workers. It is either loved or despised, although most who've worked there agree that much depends on the location and size of the office. Other players in the game are ECC, Shane and Berlitz.
Eikawa students cover almost every walk of life: grade school and junior high school students, housewives, and mental patients whose psychiatrists have prescribed human interaction. The average level is quite low.
In general, eikawas are a common jumping off point for coming to Japan. They recruit overseas and will pay for travel to and from Japan. Some have less-than-reasonably priced dorms or apartments for their employees. At minimum, they provide work visas, training and paychecks. Many people will work at an eikaiwa for a few months until they can build up a small nest egg and then bolt for better pay and hours. However, some eikawas are beginning to tire of the revolving door policy and are taking steps to make such a plan more difficult, including cancelling work visas upon resignation.
Another common type of teaching is to work for a company that provides teachers to businesses and business employees. This type of work is usually quite well paid, with hourly wages ranging from 3500-5000+ yen. The classes can be taught at any time of day, although evenings are most common, and usually involve the teacher visiting the company and teaching in an office or meeting room. Many people teaching in schools also earn extra money teaching business classes at night.
Business students are typically well educated and quite a few are being transferred to the United States, Australia, or England. However, it's also possible to end up teaching janitorial staff, repair workers and other employees who are hard pressed to understand how a knowledge of English will impact on their lives.
Oddly, more and more employees are coming under pressure to learn English at the same time that subsidies for lessons are drying up. Many business men and women will, therefore, sign up for "at home" classes. Several companies offer the service of matching students with teachers. These classes can be taught at the teacher's home or at coffee shops.
April 2002 marked the start of regular English instruction in elementary schools via the Period for Integrated Study. This is a "free" 110 hours per year that can be split up into different lessons as the individual schools and boards of education see fit. The number one use for this time is English study, followed closely by computers and extra math instruction.
The PIS means bigger headaches for elementary school teachers and a potential source of income for teachers. In fact, many companies are now offering elementary school teaching positions.
Classes are usually team taught with an elementary school teacher who most likely speaks very little English. The amount of control the ALT has over planning varies from school to school, class to class.
Although its goals are still vague, the PIS, especially when used for English, is a truly remarkable reform designed to foster the notion that English is fun (there is no formal testing) and to foster in students a "zest for living." (That’s a direct quote from MONBUSHO’s Practical Handbook for Elementary School English Activities, page 121.)
(For more information about the PIS and Japanese education, see "Education Re-reform" in the September 2002 issue of the Crazy Japan Times.
Elementary school classes are typically a lot of fun as the students, for better and for worse, have an amazing amount of energy and are generally fearless. Teachers would do well not to wear ties or anything the students can grab onto and hang from. Men should be prepared to protect a certain tender area in their groinal regions.
Everyone should be prepared to defend their posterior against the dreaded kancho. (For the uninitiated: Fold hands together as if in prayer. Point index fingers out. Insert in teacher's posterior region while teacher's attention is directed elsewhere.)
Junior High Schools
Most of these positions feature the English teacher in the role of Assistant Language Teacher to a Japanese Teacher of English. There are as many roles for the ALT as there are teachers. Some ALT's find themselves serving as little more than game machines or tape recorders while others find themselves planning and conducting lessons.
It's important to keep in mind that the Japanese translation of Assistant Language Teacher does not actually include the word "teacher", rather it uses the word for "adviser" or "coach". The ALT will, therefore, be expected to hold the more subservient role. If the JTE doesn't want to do it, even if it's the greatest lesson plan ever, it won't be done. (In their defense, the Ministry of Education requires they teach the approved textbook to help prepare their students for the high school entrance exams. Thus, ALTs will find themselves straining for ways to incorporate obscure grammar points into dialogues.)
Also, especially in public schools, the behavior of students in the classroom can be quite apalling from a western standpoint. Students are noisy and often refuse to answer even simple questions. This is usually met with a shrug and shouganai (It can't be helped). People with a low tolerance for sassing and disrespect should steer clear of junior high schools.
Senior High Schools
Typically, teachers in High Schools find they have more control, and therefore more responsibility, over the content of their classes. Although some still maintain the role of ALT, others find themselves planning lessons, designing and marking exams and assigning final marks.
Also keep in mind that Japanese High Schools are ranked in order of prestige. There are "top" schools either affiliated with, or famous for placing students in big name univerisities. Then there are "low" schools which are typically either sports oriented or serve as vocational technical schools.
Arguably one of the best jobs currently available in Japan, but a stint with JET can be a curse wrapped in a blessing. A good location can lead to a great experience while a bad location can lead to a terrible experience.
Assistant Language Teacher
ALT's in the JET Program come in two basic flavors: Municipal and Prefectural. Municipal ALT's work directly for the local Board of Education and are typically assigned to work at one or two junior high schools and one or more elementary schools. The work load is usually pretty heavy and ALT's will generally be expected to participate in special events, such as the Culture Festival and Sports Day.
Prefectural ALT's work directly for the prefecture, and while they are assigned a base school, they can spend a great deal of time on the road doing "one-shot" visits to several schools in an area. Prefecturals can also be assigned to high schools. Work load varies from season to season and many prefectural ALT's complain of seemingly endless down time.
One of the main sticking points for many ALT's is that while Prefectural ALT's are directly controlled by CLAIR (Council of Local Authorities for International Relations) and its set of rules, municipals operate under a different set of rules with CLAIR acting merely as an advisor. As such, work conditions and vacation requirements can vary a great deal from town to town. The ALT in town A may get the entire summer off, while the ALT in town B just 15 minutes away, may be expected to come in to the office every day during the summer.
CIR (Coordinator of International Relations)
CIR's are typically assigned to work in prefectural offices and are required to have a strong command of Japanese. CIR is one of the few positions in JET available to people from non-English speaking countries.
Once again, work loads and requirements vary from office to office and despite the "Coordinator" moniker, CIR's may find themselves working as either the office translator or as the annual conference planner. The JET Program's own literature says that a more accurate title for this position would be "Assistant, International Division."
SEA (Sports Exchange Advisor)
SEA's are professional athletes brought in to help with the organization and execution of sports related events. For example, Nagano prefecture hired several SEA's to help with the 1998 Winter Olympics, but the local goverment's goals may not be as lofty. Once again, this is a position open to non-English speakers.
Most university positions, even for applicants with Ph.D's, are for 1-3 years with one contract renewal possible. Age limits of 35-40 are also very common. In fact, it's common to see an advertisement demanding a completed Ph.D., three years teaching experience in Asia or Japan, and an established publishing record all in a man or woman no older than 35 at the commencement of the position. It has been argued that the age limits are necessary as salary is determined by age, but this ignores the fact that the position is temporary anyway and therefore salary will not become an issue. Moreover, some universities will specify which nationality they prefer. At least one major university alternates its sole position open to foreigners between North Americans and the English in two year shifts with no possibility of a contract renewal.
Also, the fortunate few who land a tenured position with benefits and a professor's salary may show up for work one day to find out that the university has used a legal technicality to fire them, despite tenure. One standard method is to say that the class they teach is no longer needed and has been eliminated. Therefore, since the professor is no longer needed, the professor is out.
On the other hand, qualified people looking for a brief change of pace (before returning home) will find themselves in demand. Those looking to settle in for a long time, as hundreds of Japanese-born professors have done in the West, will find many obstacles.
Once again, behavior is generally appalling by western standards. Students will sleep, eat, use their cellular phones and simply not show up for class. Lately, even Japanese television stations have been reporting on the behavior. As one former university teacher described it: "I pretended to teach. They pretended to learn."
For many who come to Japan, this is the Holy Grail.
Although many non-teaching positions are advertised in numerous publications, the best positions are found through personal contacts. (In truth, the same could be said of teaching positions.) Japanese ability is a must and applicants should keep in mind that the glass ceiling for foreigners is very low indeed. Many companies, cynics have said, hire token-foreigners to deal with other foreigners. On the other hand, with the slow buying up of Japanese companies by foreign corporations, qualified foreigners are finding their options and promotion opportunities growing, especially in the insurance, banking and information technology fields.
The most common positions advertised are in copyediting, translating and other writing related work. They are usually part-time positions, and as Japan seems to attract a large number of those who would be professional writers, there's usually a lot of competition for each opening.
Also, skilled photographers can find freelance work. Once again, however, competition is fierce and contacts are everything.
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Copyright © 2003, Dwayne Lively
Created January 2003