Teaching English in Japan! Tips? Advice?

So it’s been a life-long dream to a) live and b) work in an overseas country, and considering my various links to Japan (friends and some relatives, plus some high school exchange experience), it seemed like a natural choice. Not surprisingly perhaps (as in, the choice of job I will be doing), I have been accepted as an assistant English teacher and posted to a country city.

I’ve been trying to do my homework about the place, and I recently contacted someone who was posted there as to his opinions about teaching in that area. His response was surprisingly frank and often negative, at one point making it sound like I’ve been posted to a junior high school in, say, Compton (or something along the lines of having nightmare students) :eek:. I’m still keeping an open mind as everyone’s experiences are different (plus discipline is not one of my responsibilities). Still though, does anyone have tips or advice on how one should handle a classroom of such kids (12 - 15) in Japan - conflict resolution, that sort of thing?

On a more lighter (but no less stressful) note, the subject of gift-giving or omiyage. I know I’m over-thinking this, but I’ve been obsessed with what kind of gifts, the number of gifts to give a) my supervisors, b) principle and vice principle, c) the teachers in the staff room and/or the teacher I’ll be assisting and d) 12-15 year old Japanese teenagers (whether or not they be delinquents).

As you can imagine, I’m brimming over with excitement :), questions :confused: and anxieties :(. I’ll be leaving in 4 weeks.

Thanks all!

Oh, so you’re doing the JET program too? Cool. I’m also starting that in 4 weeks. I’ll be going off to Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture. I might be able to give you advice about your city if I knew what it is.

For the 2 weeks I taught at a summer camp with elementary Japanese kids, FWIW the best advice about handling a classroom is to stay cool and in control. If the kids see you start to crack, they will take advantage of it. Kids are arguably better about picking up minute emotional signals than adults. But, on the plus side, if you stay confident and in control, the kids will respect you more for it. Buddy-buddy moments can be fine, but the kids don’t need or want a buddy, they want a teacher and a role model. I didn’t do as good as I could have, but I did better than some…Japanese kids can be shitstain-rascals as much as kids anywhere. One last thing is that it can vary drastically from school to school, so don’t be too disheartened by horror stories. Then again, you might go teach at those terrible schools :wink:

All in all though, we are trained English-monkeys. Our job is to assist in whatever way we can without disrupting anything too much. How far that cynical assessment is from reality will vary depending on your supervisor, your school(s), and your location. Still, my point is really that discipline and classroom management are not your biggest concern. Those things will come in time. Your biggest concern now should be about smoothly making the transition. Personally, I still need to send in my VISA application -_-;

As for omiyage, I’d only bring a few medium-priced gifts for your neighbors, your supervisor, and your principal. Don’t give them anything too expensive, or they will feel embarrassed. For everyone else, just try to bring as many cheap trinkets as you can. They will be happy to get anything American, especially if it’s from your home city.

By the way, is your JET coordinator, your predecessor, or your JET city advisor not around to be contacted? They can handle these questions in much more specifics than any of us dopers can.

Anyway, let’s hang out during Tokyo Orientation :slight_smile:

I believe this is mandatory reading:
http://classic.dryang.org/japanese/index.shtml .

How could I forget?! Here are some newer articles: http://outpostnine.com/gaijin_smash/

And here is his newest blog: http://gaijinchronicles.com

While they stopped being about teaching kids a few years ago, all are funny and worth reading.

Aww man, you guys are JETs? I did that a long long time ago. Yay! Are they still putting everyone up at the Keio Plaza Hotel for orientation? That’s where we were, lo some 20 years ago, and you’ll be pleased to know that nearly no renovations have been made since then!

I work not a stone’s throw from the Keio (no, no, not Kabuki-cho or 3-chome) so would love to say hello if I’m at work and you guys have some free time during orientation.

I have nothing to say to you and Auto except good luck and enjoy it! I came to Japan on a JET contract in 1991 and am clocking up 19 years here this summer. So I enjoyed it! I met and married my husband here, now have two kids, a house, a business and a whole mess of inlaws.

Oh, I do have something to say to you! SAVE as much as you can whilst still allowing yourself to have a good time. The pay is not great compared to other jobs these days but it is still good and it’s one to three years of a time in your life when you have very few other outgoings. I saved a lot but blew (?) it on marriage and some pretty good trips to other countries. Other friends managed to accumulate most of the deposit for a house or paid off huge chunks of their student loans in their time here and it helped them immensely.

And try to learn and USE Japanese. I didn’t try hard enough the first couple of years and I was more isolated as a result. If you go an inch in their directions, most Japanese people will come running a mile in yours.

www.eslcafe.com has a lot of expats.

Yep, the good ole JET program. I’ve already been in contact with my PA and supervisor, but I haven’t asked that question in case it didn’t go over too well. I’ve got very little experience dealing with teenagers but eh, I guess you can’t expect everything to go smoothly. And yes, Autolycus we should totally hang at Tokyo Orientation. Maybe I’ll call out your name until I find you. :smiley:

I’ve been told about “kancho”. There was a story I heard of a lady teacher who turned around just as a kid thrust up with his fingers… yea. Kancho ensues.

@KinkiNipponTourist: I hear “Shinjuku” as the location a lot, for where the hotel will be located (the name which escapes me for the moment). Would that be close?

Thanks to everyone for the advice as well. I went to Japan 2 years ago when the Australian dollar was high, and found it was quite cheap to live and eat (outside of Tokyo). People always reponded with an immediate “oh yes, Japan is SOOO expensive isn’t it??” whenever they heard I was going, but I think they’re just repeating what they’ve heard.

There are at least 3-4 Japanese dopers in Tokyo in August. We should try to meet up sometime on the night of the 2nd or the 3rd and all hang out, a mini-dopefest if you will :slight_smile:

My name is John, so you can try calling that out over and over again as well :wink:

Oh, and not to sound like a broken record, but where again are you posted? I’ve been to Japan in the past a few times myself, so again there might be some tidbits of advice or possibly even Facebook friends that I can point in your general direction.

Whoops. Sorry about that - Iwaki, Fukushima. I’ve joined the local Facebook Iwaki group actually, so no problem there.

I am currently working as an ALT in Yamagata city. My main advice would be to not worry too much. In my experience, Japanese teachers don’t have high expectations of ALT’s. If you are polite and follow the rules you will make a good impression. Then, if you can come up with ideas for activities that don’t make extra work for the Japanese teacher, they will love you. Even better, try to come up with ideas that save the Japanese teacher time and effort. They work ridiculously hard - really long hours.

Definitely try to learn Japanese, I have been a little slack there so far…

I found Japanese students to be amazingly polite, but maybe it is just my location. When I told one Japanese teacher that we can’t leave students unsupervised in Australia because they might fight or do something else bad she was totally confused. “But… but… why would they fight?” I try not to laugh when the Japanese teachers look really troubled and tell me about the latest scandal in their homeroom - a student bought perfume to school! Another student skipped a class. Once. It was a big deal. I thought some girls were making fun of me - turns out they were just talking about my eyes. They had never seen a person with blue eyes in real life before.

At first the students were shy and a little afraid to talk to me, but over the weeks they have become more confident. As I learn more about their hobbies, club activities, Japanese culture etc. I find more to talk about with them. But their English is really limited, so I have to be creative - use simple language, gestures, speak a little Japanese etc.

Regarding omiyage, I was told it was not necessary so I didn’t bother. Maybe it was bad, I will never know because no one would ever say anything to my face in Japan.

Anyway, I am really enjoying myself and if you work hard and make an effort to communicate with the students I think you will have a great time too. Of course, you could end up working with dickheads but that can happen anywhere.

Good luck!

ETA: Welcome to the Tōhoku region dudes!

Eh, sorry, I have no friends there and don’t know much about it. The wiki page is quite extensive, but I trust you’ve read that much and more from your Facebook group. And hey, you’re only a seven hour drive from where I am in Aomori City, lol.

How in demand are these jobs? Could a husband and wife get a job in the same city / same school? Do they pay enough to be able to take care of a child, too? I would love to live in Japan for a year (or a few), and I’d love to teach ESL. My wife and I used to talk about doing this all the time, but we just never pulled the trigger. Haven’t looked into it at all since becoming parents.

My girlfriend and I applied together and were placed in the same city, in neighboring junior high schools. So yes, you can apply as a couple.

I think JET is quite competitive, but there are lower paying alternatives (private companies). We were forced to go with the lower paying alternative because it was too hard for us to go through the JET application procedure, especially the interview in our home country. Companies apply for contracts with local boards of education. So it is likely that if they have a contract for at least one school in a town or city, they will have contracts with at least a few other schools in that town too.

The pay is enough to support a kid, but the your house / apartment will probably be much smaller than you are used to. But plenty of Japanese people do it, and maybe you can adapt. What age is your kid? Surprisingly, you may be eligible for some welfare/benefits even as a foreigner. I think public education is free / cheap too.

I say, go for it if you can!

In what way is it competitive? We both have college degrees-- would that help a bit or is it just, if I’m recalling correctly, a bare minimum? What was hard about the JET application? What is JET? Heh :slight_smile:

[quote=“Manwich, post:15, topic:544751”]

What age is your kid? Surprisingly, you may be eligible for some welfare/benefits even as a foreigner. I think public education is free / cheap too.
Not quite a year and a half, but we couldn’t leave for another year, so 2 and half by then.

Thank you!
It sure would be exciting. I’ve always been a bit of a Japanophile-- been there once for about 10 days and have wanted to go back for a longer stay ever since.

You can read more about the JET program on the internet, there is heaps of information. The reason we didn’t apply for JET was because the application process takes months. We were not living in Australia at the time, and couldn’t return just to do an interview. I think a degree is a minimum. From what I have heard, they don’t choose based on specific qualifications. It is more important that you come across as someone who will not freak out and want to go home, who will adapt to Japanese life and be a good ambassador for their native country.

There is not so much information about non-JET options for teaching English in Japan, so research will be more time consuming. My girlfriend and I are both qualified teachers, so we are overqualified… but we wanted to work in public schools, not international schools or private language school.

Not to be a total Debbie Downer, but according to one TEFL website I’ve read, the long of the short of it is that for entry-level ESL applicants in Japan, it’s either JET or go home. There are many other ways to get to Japan, but JET is really the only program that pays worthwhile, is not on the verge of bankruptcy, and does not have risky contracts. I’m sure there are exceptions though.

If you want to know more about JET, just ask. Manwich covered the key aspects of what the program is looking for. As long as you have a bachelors, your teaching/Japanese experience is not as important as your flexibility and your willingness to undergo new experiences and not totally flip the fuck out.

Anyway, I’m not the OP but I don’t mind if this thread serves as a Summer 2010 omni-resource for TEFL in Japan. Keep the questions coming! (Although I was serious about the prospect of a mini-dopefest).

I’d be up for a dopefest, and heartily second Autolycus’s caveats re English teaching programs here. Aside from some part-time gigs way the hell back when I was a college student, my only E teaching experience is on JET, but both anecdotal and recent news stories bear out that working for any of the language schools can be a risky proposition. Schools go bankrupt, fail to provide adequate insurance, lock teachers into unreasonable schedules and overtime, fail to honor contract obligations etc.

When I read lynkster’s OP, I must have started 5 different responses, freaking myself out as I imagined a perfectly nice doper, about to be unwittingly lured into some fly-by-night nasty shyster Satan’s spawn teaching school, doomed to live on garnished wages in tenement housing etc. etc. I’m glad that isn’t the case! Again, it’s been awhile, but I do know that JET is on the up-and-up.

I’ve no problems for this thread turning into a resource for would-be/newbie JETs. :slight_smile: I’m learning myself after all.

A friend of mine started with NOVA, a private company which imploded spectacularly last year (?), leaving stranded dozens of teachers. Many of them hadn’t been paid in months, and subsequently had no money for a ticket home. Luckily though, she had left a few months prior for a decent university job, so avoided all the stress and scandal.

I concur with everyone’s opinions so far about JET, and it is also highly regarded locally in Japan. Certainly the selection process, at least here in Australia, is rigorous. The bare minimum is that you need a university degree (in Australia - we don’t have colleges here, so check your local requirements). Stage 1 requires, in addition to form-filing, a letter/short essay about why you’re going and how you would contribute to the program, the local community etc. Stage 2 is the interview process, in front of a panel. Stage 3 (although if you get to Stage 3, it pretty much means you’re in) involves more forms, a police check and a last chance to back out if you change your mind. My friend used to work on the interview panel, and he made it pretty clear that they work hard on weeding out unsuitable candidates, those who hadn’t given serious consideration as to what it means and who aren’t prepared to do the work in getting involved with the local Japanese community. All in all, I’d say it took me about 7 months to go from application to notification of my success. It’s pretty much why I think JET has a good reputation overall.

I read somewhere (could be hearsay) that due to shrinking school budgets (JET doesn’t hire you, it’s actually the schools or institution that are your contracting employers) and ease of hiring of foreign nationals through private companies, the number of selected candidates are down this year. Not that this should stop anyone from applying however. After all, I got in. :wink: And once you’re there, you may meet ex-JETs who have stayed on to form their own companies that you may consider joining after your contract finishes.

Also, JET do try to post spouses and families together in the same location, even if it’s only one person applying to teach English and s/he is bringing his/her family over. This is extended to homosexual couples as well.

Heh - I guess I can only go and see how this school pans out, and roll with whatever comes my way. That “kancho” thing might take a bit of getting used to though. :eek: