23 November 2013

Making it as an English Teacher Abroad

I’m coming up to my last month in Japan, where I’ve spent my time working as an English teacher. If English is your mother tongue, then you’ll find it quite easy to get an English speaking job as a lot of countries have the need for English teachers. Whether you are looking for an au pair job in Europe or wanting to work in a high school in China, you’re bound to find it quite easy to get employment.
When I first left the Japanese ski resort, I began the search for jobs in Japan. I first looked on Craig’s List and the popular Japanese foreign job site Gaijin Pot. The majority of jobs ask for teaching experience, but as these sites don’t ask for any references or any profile checks, you can just exaggerate or make it up. Obviously don’t write you have teaching qualifications, and that you taught English to the French President, just say you’ve had some kind of teaching experience, even if that was teaching dance at a summer camp.

With a successful CV and cover letter you can get a number of jobs, just like the three I did:
  • Working in a high school as an English teaching assistant
  • Working for a cooperate language school, where you teach exercises out of a textbook
  • Working for an advanced English conversation school

Japanese High School Life

This job was crazy easy to get. Usually the school won’t interview you, but rather a company hired by the Education Board. The interviewer asked me if I had experience, but then didn’t ask for any details or examples. She then asked for my availability, and wa la I got the job with sponsorship for a working visa, so I technically could stay in Japan forever if I carried on with this company.

Working in the High School is a bit of a joke sometimes. I work twice a week (six hour days) and I barely have to teach. I’ve heard from other English teachers that they have to plan lessons extensively, but for me it wasn't the case. I’ve found that working in an actual school involves as much effort as you want to put in to it, therefore it can be a challenge and quite rewarding if you really want to get involved. However, I only plan some of my lessons with my Japanese teachers (who speak fluent English and always lead the class whereas I stand on the side), but they have the syllabus and plan most of the work. I teach eight classes a week, all the same lesson, which is pretty much reading out a listening exercise then helping the kids with any grammar or translations. But as I don’t speak Japanese, the kids can’t use me as much as they like, so I do stand around a lot. Also, there are many days where I don’t have to teach due to exams/school trips but I still have to be in school because it’s on the schedule provided by the Education Board, so a lot of my time is sat at my desk watching movies on my laptop.

Corporate Language School

I hate this job. There are many companies in Japan who provide this kind of language service, which involves teaching slots of 40-50 minutes and has students starting from as young as 14 years old. My company has eight lesson days (40 mins each, a ten minute break between each) where I teach classes from 1-4 people out of a textbook. The levels range from complete beginner to what I would consider almost fluent. I think it’s a bad way to teach as we aren't allowed to speak any Japanese to the students; therefore time is often wasted explaining a word or a grammar point, where a simple translation would have been far easier and quicker. Also, as the lessons are out of a textbook (usually involving “please listen and repeat”) I find this dull and honestly not a fantastic way to teach or learn.
However, I’ve met teachers who teach full time and have done for over ten years, who love this job, but I prefer more of a challenge and input, so it’s not really for me. Also, as the companies are very corporate, you don’t get paid the greatest wage. If a student doesn’t turn up to your lesson you don’t get paid, but yet the company still receive the money off their booking. However, these companies tend to interview you on Skype, and from your home country. Then they will sort out your visa/accommodation/bank account, so a plus side to this job is that they make it easy for you to get to Japan and be instantly sorted.

Advanced Conversation Class

The third and most enjoyable job I have is working at an advanced conversation class. This is a two hour class which can range from 1 to 8 people, but usually the same people take my lesson each week, so I get about a 6 person class. It is entirely up to me what I talk about, and my boss encouraged me to talk about things which interest me. As my interests of drinking, movies and travelling were covered in the first few weeks, I got stuck on what to discuss next, so I looked online at advanced teaching topics and found a number of different discussions which ranged from the environment to violence and society. These provide a base for my lesson and then I come up with questions surrounding the topics to discuss with my class. As it is an advanced English class, I simply speak in my normal pace and tone and use my everyday vocabulary. The class can speak at my rate, and I simply correct any grammatical mistakes, or explain any words or phrases they aren’t too sure of.

The three jobs vary massively and they cover a great range of what a typical English job in Japan requires. Some of my friends have carried out similar jobs abroad, especially with JET programmes and the like, but I’ve found these programmes cost a lot of money to do, whereas my jobs pays me a lot of money instead. Overall, any of these kinds of jobs are a good way to earn an income if you want to stay in an expensive country like Japan for more than a few months. You can choose just to work a few days a week and this should cover your expenses but still allows you plenty of time to sightsee and drink like me.

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