Student Classroom Desks

Teaching English as a second language in Japan is a different ball game to teaching in your native country, or even other countries where English is a second language. Veteran teachers will still struggle when they first pursue a teaching career in Japanese schools. Here, we will go over some things that teachers should be aware of so as not to be put in the deep end upon arrival.

Private vs Public Schools

​The image of private schools are very different depending on where you are from and what teaching experience you have. Private schools in Japan are attended by students whose parents pay for their child's education. This however, does not necessarily mean that the students are well behaved or good at studying! There are many types and academic levels of private schools, but generally speaking each school has a philosophy and goal for their students. There is a wide choice of different types of private schools and it is worth researching your school before you decide on accepting a job offer or not. Most private schools have more time within the timetable for English classes, meaning that there is generally a standalone English communications class within the timetable providing employment opportunities for native teachers. Contracts are made with the school, and if it's a full time position, you'll be at the same school for the duration of the contract. However depending on your contract type (direct with the school or through a dispatch agency) conditions are subject to change. If you are a professional, dedicated teacher who likes the stability of only being in one school, then a contract with a private school could be the right choice for you. Japanese public schools vary drastically depending on location. It is reasonable to expect students' academic level and goals to be very different within the same class. Public schools are the most common form of education in Japan, and are required by law to use government approved textbooks. Contracts are often made directly between the Board of Education and the teacher or through a dispatch agency who decides where to place you. Public schools are controlled by the Board of Education. You may have heard of the JET program which specialises in Board of Education contracts. They are one of the biggest organisations dispatching teachers to public schools. If you are in a rural area, due to small classes as well as the lack of class hours set aside for English, there is a possibility you will be required to teach at different schools in your weekly schedule, possibly even at different levels of school such as primary, middle, and high school. Board of Education budgets are strictly set for the year and are very tight, meaning that no matter how good a teacher you are, you may not be financially rewarded in the way you might expect. If you are the kind of teacher who likes to teach a variety of students but wants to keep some free time, wants to experience Japanese rural life, or study Japanese, a public school could be for you.

Solo vs Team Teaching

​We all have different ideas of what “team teaching” means. One extreme is the stereotypical “Assistant Language Teacher” role as the human tape recorder while the Japanese teacher conducts the entire lesson. The other extreme of is a situation where the native teacher plans, conducts and grades the lesson with minimal participation from the Japanese teacher. In between these extremes there are varying roles in the classroom of both the native and Japanese teacher. Team teaching can be great for those who like to share planning, classroom management responsibility, and have some influence in the class. Involvement with the Japanese teacher can also help communication between you and the students. Sharing ideas can be one of the benefits of team teaching, but if you are the kind of person who likes to run the whole show, “solo teaching” could be the answer. Solo teaching involves taking responsibility for the entire class. You will be expected to create curiculla, plan lessons, conduct classes, create and grade tests and assessments, amongst other responsibilities. Solo teaching does not necessarily mean that you are the only native English teacher in the school. Often it is necessary to coordinate with your fellow native teachers and the Japanese teachers to make the best possible curriculum. Classroom management and discipline will also be completely up to you, with classes of up to 40 students this can be a challenge. In terms of planning, it is not a case of turning up to school 5 minutes before class and deciding what you are going to teach. Daily, semester and yearly plans are part of being a solo teacher. Your responsibilities will not finish with the end of class bell. In fact it is common for teachers to be asked to prepare or check school entrance exams if the school is a private school, or even participate in after-school activities. Another thing to keep in mind is that even solo teachers are required to “fit in” with the school philosophy or their way of running things. Teachers with their own “classroom philosophy” are particularly welcome for solo teaching positions, and schools often strongly favour teachers with school experience in their home countries.

Direct vs Dispatch Contracts

​There are many misconceptions between contract types, so let's clear that up! Direct hire means you have a contract directly with the school itself or the Board of Education, with no company as the middle man. There are benefits associated with direct hire, such as not having to report to a company to make decisions, and being able to negotiate your own work conditions. Work conditions vary greatly from school to school, so it is important to check all details before you agree to sign a contract. While you may be expecting a higher salary than going through a dispatch agency, this may not be the case. The school may not provide the benefits you expect. Within Japanese schools there are different types of teachers - Sennin, Jokin, and Hijokin. These roughly translates to: -Sennin - "full time, full responsibility" -Jokin - "full time but without the benefits or responsibility of the Sennin" -Hijokin - "part time" If you are offered a direct contract, it is vital to check what kind of teacher you will be employed as. EduCareer aims to provide direct hire introduction services for teachers to private schools as we believe this to be the best partnership for teachers, schools, and students alike. As we are all aware, there are many dispatch companies in Japan that all have different operating styles and different types of schools as clients. Some dispatch companies specialise in Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) positions, whereas others may also have solo teaching positions. Some require reports to be written and submitted on a regular basis, whereas others do not. It is also worth remembering that all these companies often have very different pay scales and benefits packages. So it is worth checking before you agree to sign anything. Benefits of using a dispatch agency include the company’s ability to negotiate with the school on your behalf and provide support for you and the school, possibly making your life a little easier. Dispatch agencies also have a number of part time or summer positions that will be introduced to you if you can create a good working relationship. Dispatch agencies can be a good place to start your career, or a stopgap between schools.

ESL vs Immersion Classes

Teaching "oral communication ESL" at a Japanese school is definitely not the same as teaching English conversation at an eikaiwa school. Class sizes will vary between 20 and 40 kids. Have you ever thought about how you would teach a class that size? There are many styles and methods of teaching oral communication, and these will vary according to teacher and schools. Some schools prefer to focus on university entrance exams, therefore listening to correct English and using appropriate grammar and vocabulary is their focus. Some schools encourage the actual act of communication in English between students. Others focus on "useful" English that can be used in real life settings such as travel and shopping. Before you agree to any kind of position you will need to find out what the school places emphasis on, and think about if you are willing and able to fit around that. If you have a TEFL or TESL qualification, oral communication may be the perfect subject for you. It will give you an opportunity to use your training and experience, and teach your students something that could be genuinely useful for their future. There is also much more choice of school types and positions with oral communication positions than specialised subject teaching, and thus higher chance for you to acquire a teaching position. There are a number of qualified teachers in Japan who are qualified or licensed to teach subjects other than oral communication. One of our aims at EduCareer is to allow teachers to use their specialised skills to teach immersion classes, ie. teaching regular subjects in English. Whether your specialised subject is art, music, science, math, etc. we may have the perfect position waiting for you. Teaching your own subject is likely to be what every teacher wants to do, and it will give you a chance to really use your teaching skills and communicate your enthusiasm with the students. Most immersion teaching positions can only be found in private schools, often with international courses or returnee students. It is important to remember that the actual English ability of the students also varies from school to school and student to student, so teaching your subject will likely involve a certain amount of ESL teaching too, unless you opt to teach returnee students.

Domestic vs International Students

"Domestic students?” you may be asking. It means students who are regular Japanese students and have never lived abroad or are not bilingual. This varies depending on the school, but these students often take the same standard classes and do not have special English classes. So why is it a category here? Students vary greatly in regards to motivation and academic levels, but the one thing they have in common is that they are all required to study English at school. Of course, being required to study English does not necessarily mean they are motivated to study! Teaching students from scratch is a rewarding process, and watching the progress of students over the years is a draw for many teachers. Some schools have immersion classes in English, so you can combine specialied subject and ESL teaching techniques. Some schools even have a special "International Course" and students who have a special interest in English will be a part of. Some schools also cater to returnee students (those who have spent time living abroad). These types of positions are only found in private schools, EduCareer's niche clientel. If you like a challenge and enjoy watching your students' progress, domestic students could be for you. If you are a qualified teacher but not necessarily in ESL, perhaps a school with an immersion course, international course, or returnee classes may be for you.

Urban vs Rural Life

​If you are the kind of person who likes to like to go out, have a few drinks and pop down to the nearest club then let’s face it, the urban area is the only place to be. If being in the middle of nowhere is not your idea of fun then rural Japan is definitely not for you. In regards to schools and teaching positions, the variety and sheer number of schools is vast in urban areas. The variety of schools coupled with ease of access and available amenities means that you can live with the minimum amount of disruption, and even have a social life as well! However, as anyone who has lived in Tokyo will tell you the cost of living here will often outweigh the salary benefits of living in the city. Rent, commute, and meals are just three areas where your salary will simply melt away. Money is not the only thing that will disappear. It is not uncommon for people to commute for an hour or longer to get to work on a crowded train during rush hour. On top of that you must remember that while you may like the hustle and bustle of the city when you are in the mood to party, it may not be so great when all you want is a moment of peace and quiet, and a good rest. If you think that taking a walk in the countryside can fix the stress of city life, unless you are prepared to travel for a good hour or two on the train before you even see any semblance of a rural area, maybe you won’t like the urban area as much as you think. Rural Japan offers some of the most unique teaching experiences and environments in which to live in. The pace of life is vastly different to big urban areas. Teachers and schools often have a different atmosphere to those in the city. While there are relatively few private schools in rural areas, there are a variety of public schools. Often public schools (the Board of Education to be exact) provide housing for their teachers. Even if they don’t, compared to Tokyo or other big cities, you can often find a large apartment or even house for a fraction of the cost. Saving money is just one area where you might benefit from being in the countryside. If you like peace and quiet, being surrounded by nature or the great outdoor in general, then the rural area is definitely an option worth considering. For those studying Japanese, rural life could be a distinct benefit for making progress. Often there is a sense of community in rural areas that seems to have been somewhat lost in the city and everyone will want to talk and ask you about yourself... I guess that could also be a downside to the countryside though! Living in the countryside provides an insight to Japanese life which a lot of native teachers don't have a chance to experience during their working life, and it may just be your home-from-home.

Part Time vs Full Time Work

Part time work is quite common for teachers, especially in urban areas as it allows for a more flexible schedule for work-life balancem, as well as combining a mixture of different teaching environments and styles. Private and public schools, universities, English conversation schools, and businesses - all have part time positions available depending on the time of the year and the state of the economy. Payment systems vary greatly between dispatch companies and the schools themselves so it is important to check whether you will be paid hourly, daily or monthly. Most part time positions are "no work no pay", meaning no pay during summer vacation or when classes are cancelled. Check the small print regarding payment and responsibilities before you sign anything promising a stable salary. Part time positions tend to pop up and get filled very quickly. In fact most dispatch companies find teachers through the database of already interviewed applicants, so it might be worth registering with a company or companies for a better chance. A full time position is often the most financially secure and viable option for most native teachers. Working hours vary between schools but within the usual working day, teachers generally have free periods to use for planning or grading. Due to being at the same school for the whole working day, involvement in day to day school activities is usual and might involve participation in after school clubs or weekend school events. In private schools full time teachers are often expected to make and grade tests, as well as evaluate student performance, hence increased responsibility compared to part time teachers. Full time positions can really give you stability in terms of schedule and salary, as well as allow your school or dispatch company to be your visa sponsor. On a more personal note, being at the school full time means that you will see the students throughout the day, so it is possible to see them outside the classroom setting and get to know them better. You can also become an integrated member of the school staff easier if you are one school full time. Of course full time does have some downsides. Less flexibility, a lot of time spent in the same place, and more responsibility are just some of them. If you are looking for variety or flexibility, maybe you could consider part time.