Ask the English Teacher in Japan - Autolycus Edition!

First off, I must apologize to lynkster for not posting in her previous thread about this a few months ago. That can be found here. I was kinda on a dope hiatus. Rather than bump that thread, I decided to post my own version.

So, I have also just started teaching here in Japan about 6 months ago. I’m a 27 year old male living in Aomori City, about 4 hours north of Japan by the bullet train. It’s known for its yearly Nebuta festival, apples, and the world’s highest snowfall for a town with over 300K population. All in all, I love it here.

So, ask away, about anything! どうぞう、ご縁量なくきいてください ^^

What type of school(s) do you teach at and how often do you see each class?
Which textbook(s) do you use and what do you think of it/them?
Do you find that JToE have low expectations of ALT’s?
Have you found it hard to be useful to teachers?
Do you feel weird working normal hours when the teachers practically live at school?
Are the students at your school incredibly polite, hard working and honest compared to Western kids?
Did you have record snowfall this year? Yamagata wasn’t too bad but everyone in Akita was saying it was the most they had had for decades.
What are your favourite school lunches?

Are they receptive to have their ‘engrish’ corrected?
Is the society still very traditional?

Did you need a four-year university degree to teach? Did it have to relate to teaching? Do you get holidays? Do you get to go home, wherever home is? Do you have a social life with the Japanese, or are you regarded as a Martian (in other words, too different or foreign)? Is there interest in American or French comics, and, if so, is it a minority taste like anime is in the west? Do you take part in local festivals?

What do you mean “north of Japan”?

What is the ratio of male and female long-term (past two years) foreign English teachers in Japan, and what differences do you see in how male and female foreign English teachers react to gender roles?

He meant to say north of Tokyo, I am pretty sure.

Who are the big Eikaiwa players these days?

A question I ask any white guys who’ve been in Japan (and even started a thread about): Do Japanese girls like white guys? How much less would they like you if you didn’t speak Japanese at all?

My trip’s gonna happen one day, God damn it.
It’ll happen.

Great questions!

I teach at 9 schools. I go to 4 middle schools and 5 elementary schools. At the elementary schools I usually teach 5th and 6th graders. I see each school about twice a month on average. For the middle schools I go in blocks of three days and the elementary I usually see just one, maybe two days in a row.

I use Eigo Note for elementary and New Crown for middle school. Ummm… honestly I am not a huge fan. The Eigo Note is just a collection of games, speaking, and listening exercises grouped around a rough theme. They provide an excellent basis for lesson plans but are super-dry and boring if they are the only material used. New Crown on the other hand does a lot of grammar and reading, but very little conversation. It manages to be even more boring than Eigo Note. The main reason they are used is because they are good for teaching to the test. IME it’s all about teaching to the test. Communication is a distant second.

As for JtoEs (Japanese Teacher of English), it varies. Because I can speak conversational Japanese, they know that while I understand and respect the need for teaching to the test, I really want to get the kids thinking and communicating more. While my actual usage rate varies, I am respected by almost all my teachers I’d say. Sometimes I’m an English monkey, while sometimes I lead a whole class (especially in elementary). Something to keep in mind for this is that I get my lesson plans faxed to me to my office at the city board of education. I am still figuring out the Japanese way to increase my usage in the classroom without stepping on any toes. Things are getting better with time.

I do feel strange when I compare myself to an average teacher. Mostly I feel bad for them… Their job is so much harder than mine… I just try to be that much extra genki and energetic in class.

Are my students polite? Hahahahaha. Naw, I’d say their behavior is pretty similiar to what I remember school being like for me in the States. In fact the older middle school kids have worse behavior. Some talk back to the teacher, actively refuse to participate in class, wrestle in the halls during break, and other shenanigans. Nothing major though. With that said, on the most part the kids are nice. Because I rotate schools, I am usually treated like a celebrity by the vast majority of students. Even the punky kids treat me well haha.

School life definitely is more formal here. Class always begins and ends with a formal greeting.

Another thing that is different is that while teachers can insult or lightly hit kids, their is no actual punishment beyond that, other than maybe yelling at them in the hallway after class. There is no detention, there is almost never a trip to the principal’s office, and apparently suspension is extreeemely rare. Kids who do want to behave like little shits can pretty much get away with it… No clue if this is different in high school.

Were you there for Nebuta? I did that in 1989 and had a GREAT time. What a cool festival. I also caught the Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri and a different one in Hachinohe. I highly recommend that you spend a few weeks in the summer doing various matsuri festivals in the area.

Are you on the JET program?

The kids might study harder than Western counterparts, but I haven’t noticed any difference in honesty or other behaviors such as gossip, bullying etc.

The snowfall here was rough this year apparently, but I am shy on the details. Honestly it didn’t really bother me that much. I am not allowed to drive to work, and my mansion has a snow-cleaning service, so the only annoyances were late busses and an inability to bicycle to some local shops and bars. Now the snow is already mostly melted on the roads. What really surprised me this winter is that Hiroshima got a shit-ton of snow apparently. Hiroshima!

On to Crowbar’s questions:

Hmmm… The students of course don’t mind being corrected, but for the teachers it’s really a case-by-case situation. Some I can tell they wouldn’t like it so I don’t. Some I correct quietly during some down-time in class and some don’t mind being corrected whenever. It also depends of course on the gravity of the mistake. Improperly conjugating a verb? I’ll try to somehow speak up. Forgetting an article? Meh.

As for how traditional Japan is or isn’t, that is a huge question, and ummm… my answer is… yes. Hah. All I say is no matter how Americanized/Westernized Japan is or seems, there are still very strong traditional ways of thinking and doing things. Honne/Tatemae, Giri, Wa, Chotto…, ‘en ga nai’, etc etc…

My work day is over (today my school visit was cancelled), so more updates to come later. Thank you everyone for the great, fast participation.  これからもよろしぐ~

Dude, you are teaching the absolute best demographic for 浣腸 (kancho, or enema). Boys (it’s always boys) fold their hands, leaving their two index fingers pointing up like a church steeple, then sneak up behind an unsuspecting fella and jab that steeple into his bum. I’ve heard cases where foreign teachers also get to experience this. So…get any yet?

A former BF said that in his class, they ruptured one kid’s colon. Yep, I clearly have great taste in men.

I taught E in 5 high schools way way back when, and I remember teachers prowling the downtown department stores and game centers, looking for students who might be–gasp–spending time there. One of my schools also had assemblies where fingernails and skirt lengths where measured. Please tell me it’s not so bad anymore.

Final question: one of my best friends is from Hachinohe. When she talks to her mom on the phone, I can barely understand her. Do teachers and students tend to stick to standard J in school? Are you picking up some local color, language-wise?

Leaving the consequential questions to others:

Do you have a high-tech toilet?

Have you bought women’s underwear from a vending machine?

Do the Japanese react badly to the sight of your tattoo(s)?

Along those lines, have you met any dudes with part of a finger missing?

There are definitely Japanese women who like the idea of a Western (which for them usually means white, but not always) man. There is a perception that Western men are politer (holding doors, pouring drinks, etc.), contrary to the conventions for Japanese men. Not speaking Japanese wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it would whittle down the pool size a bit.

My advice: hang out in Roppongi (a district in Tokyo that caters to foreigners more than most), but not on Friday nights. Even though Fridays are the busiest, it’s also when the U.S. service men are in town, and you probably don’t have their disposable income or shirt-filling-out properties to let you compete well. Saturday nights are a good choice, though.

Of course, most ex-pats who live in Tokyo revile the Roppongi scene, and it’ll certainly label you in a sense. [Shoots murderous looks at Sublight lest he reveal certain… information best kept hidden.]

Isn’t Japan one of the hardest nations to qualify as an ESL teacher? Why did you pick Japan?

What qualifications do you have to teach (certs, 4 year degree, etc)? Are you a teachers assistant or the main teacher?

Do you consider this a long term career or a short term job?

Why are you working with kids? Did you choose that, or would you prefer adults (adults seem like they’d be more cooperative and more polite to a teacher)?

Obviously I am not Auto but:

It is not too hard to get an ALT (assistant language teacher) job here if you have a Bachelor degree in any area. I hear the JET program is quite competitive but there are private companies that supply ALTs to schools too, and they are easier to get a job with (but with lower pay and less support).

Almost all ALTs are just that - assistants to the Japanese English teachers. In theory, schools can register ALTs as classroom teachers and the ALT can teach classes alone. I have only heard of that happening in a few places though.

“U Please, no threshold amount of your margin ^^”

I’m pretty sure giving financial advice in Japanese isn’t going to be very helpful here.

Ok, my question does not really have anything to do with teaching English in Japan. But, how long did you plan on staying here? What do you plan to make of your time here? Do you have a game plan in mind?

I’m curious because I also came to Japan a year ago, not to teach but to study something purely of personal interest… nothing to do with job advancement at all. It was supposed to be a “break” from a very demanding career. At first, I told myself that I was one and done, and I set that time limit for myself to figure out what I needed to figure out. But, I now find myself inching my way towards my second year here. I worked 110+ hour weeks before coming to Tokyo, and now that I have that much free time per week here, it is hard to leave :D. What I’m getting at is, I am curious as to the reasons that people come here - whether they are trying to get teaching experience, to take time off before applying to grad school or something, or to escape here to reassess their priorities…

I needed a four-year university degree to get this teaching job. I am on the JET program. I am an assistant teacher. Ummm, I work for the Aomori Board of Education. I get my lesson plans faxed to me about a week in advance. Err, kinda rambling sorry.

My degree did not relate to teaching. It wasn’t a requirement. I studied psychology.

I get holidays but they are not too frequent. I have personal days but they can only be taken on days that I do not have a school visit. Well that isn’t what is in my contract but here reality is often different than the contract IME.

I do have a social life with the locals. It helps that I speak conversational-level Japanese. It gets tedious having the same conversation a thousand times, (where are you from? Wow your Japanese is good. OMG chopsticks don’t befuddle you…nice hair etc etc), but eventually you break through it and have nice talking. Alcohol helps. It is the essential social lubricant in Japan. I think without onsens and drinking that Japan would have spontaneously combusted or had some kind of Akira-esque stress meltdown ages ago.

There are American comics and video games here, but it’s different. People think they are neat and cool, but I don’t really see any groups of people with an interest in them. Then again, I teach middle schoolers and below. For high schoolers or older, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a ‘America Club’ or an English group.