Getting a Teaching Job in Japan

The English-Teaching Market

Japan is unique among the Asian countries where native speakers of English teach.

Clear-cut visa and tax rules make it easier for Americans to get settled than in the other Asian countries – each year several thousand visas are issued to English teachers! The Japanese are eager to learn and consider English both fashionable and useful. Students are friendly, and in most cases have a genuine respect for Americans and teachers.

China English Teacher Thumbs Up

Mastering basic English has become big business in Japan, and many larger schools have adopted a systematic approach to recruiting teachers and students. It’s not impossible to arrange a job, complete with furnished housing and paid vacations, before leaving North America.

It takes a certain type of person to thrive in Japan. First, if you don’t have at least US$2,500 and at least six months to stay, our advice is that you look elsewhere. Second, if you’re planning a whirlwind trip around Asia and merely consider teaching as a means of regenerating cash, Japan is not for you. Working in Japan requires a professional attitude, a commitment of up to a year, a neat appearance, some money for setting up housing (security deposits can be expensive), a desire to learn about a completely different culture, and in most cases a college degree.

If Japan sounds appealing, chances are you’ll have a wonderful experience and decent savings to boot.

Many teachers save US$800 to US$1,300 per month. However, the job market there is not nearly so rosy as it was even a few years ago. The Japanese economy is sluggish these days, and as a result numerous schools have either closed or cut back on staff. Furthermore, the money-making opportunities in Japan (particularly now with the yen’s value at an all-time high) are no secret. Expect to have plenty of competition for the best jobs, especially in Tokyo. We don’t mean for you to be discouraged, just prepared. If you can afford to spend some time looking for a job and are flexible about location, you should be fine.

The Work

In Japan, the study of English is compulsory for students throughout their elementary and high school education. After so much academic instruction, Japanese students know their grammar. They can read and write English with relative ease – but they still can’t speak it well. They have to put words together in ordinary conversation, and master American pronunciation and idioms, in order to use their English in the real world. A whole nation of eager yet hapless learners needs the help of native speakers like you. Some schools provide English teachers with a broad curriculum, but most classes are left for the teacher to plan and conduct. Although some teachers conduct lessons “off the cuff,” better teachers prepare for class, lest they find themselves out of ideas and scrambling for a new topic halfway through a lesson. Lessons can include formal dialogues, question-and-answer sessions, current events discussions, and explanations of American or Canadian customs and popular culture.

The most challenging part of teaching in Japan has less to do with formal English and instructional skills and more to do with empathy and understanding. Many Japanese students are embarrassed to attempt a subject publicly before mastering it privately, so teachers should be sensitive, tactful, and adept at fostering a relaxed atmosphere in which students feel comfortable speaking.

Full-time vs. Freelance

Teaching “full-time” in Japan does not mean working a forty-hour week. It typically involves a contract to work twenty-five hours (plus preparation time) per week for a single school or company.

There are several advantages to this type of job. Employers are more likely to provide guarantorship for full-time employees, and positions may include benefits such as vacation pay, meals, subsidized accommodations, telephone, and transportation allowances. Also, full-time teachers tend to develop close relationships with their students, fellow teachers, and administrators. A final advantage is that full-time teachers’ lives are relatively settled, because they have at least part of every day planned out and they spend less time commuting than those with two or more part-time jobs. The main disadvantage of full-time positions is that they often pay less per hour than freelance tutoring sessions.

Freelancing is basically teaching whenever there’s work. Freelancers give a combination of classes at various smaller schools and many also tutor individual students. Although this can be very lucrative, it also can be tiresome because of inconvenient and erratic work hours.

We’ve found that the best arrangement is a combination of full-time and freelance teaching (if it’s not a violation of your contract), or perhaps some newspaper or magazine proofreading.

The Association of Foreign Teachers in Japan

This organization provides opportunities for instructors to expand their knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture and to exchange teaching ideas and strategies. It could prove to be an invaluable resource for meeting people and for keeping up-to-date professionally. For more information, write to the following address:

Japan Association for Language Teaching

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