So you want to be an ESL teacher in Japan? It can be a heck of an adventure and it can be none of this. Why you want to teach in Japan is something you need to give a truckload of serious thought to.
If your motivation for going to Japan is that it sounds “cool” or you recently saw "Memoirs of a Geisha"...
you might want to think again.
Not to dissuade any future ESL teachers, but Japan is radically different from western countries in more ways than you can shake a stick at.
Remember when you land, if you can't speak and read the language, you’re illiterate! So in addition to having to adjust to different customs, work ethics, foods, currencies, transportation systems, accommodations etc., you'll have communication challenges. So thinking clearly about why you want to be an ESL teacher in Japan is a good way to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
So why do teachers go to Japan? Many flat-out have a fascination with Japan and all things Japanese. Other common reasons are: for studying the language, martial arts, making money, starting their careers in ESL - you name it. Those who are first to break contracts and gripe and complain all the way to the airport are those who didn’t really know why they went in the first place or had some fantasy about what it would be like.
Another category of the disgruntled is the ESL teacher who plans on striking it rich working for Nova. Fat money can be made but you’ll need quite a few of your own students or your own school.
Another point any would-be ESL teacher should think about is what kind of students do you want to teach? If you hate kids and plan on working for a major chain school you won’t last long. Monster schools like Nova, Geos, ECC and Aeon require teachers to teach quite a few kids classes.
If you want to teach young adults then the Jet Program or working as an ALT (assistant English teacher) in public schools would be a good choice. If adults will be your focus than teaching business English classes is worth looking into. If you have a Masters degree then teaching at the junior college or university level is something you can do.
Let Me Up I've Had Enough!!: Teachers Who Bail
The ESL teacher who can’t get to the airport fast enough usually surrounds himself with foreign teachers, can’t speak a lick and can’t figure out why Japan isn’t more like his or her home country. This type makes a hobby out of looking for faults. Believe me if you look, you’ll find. Another type of ESL teacher who winds up heading home early is the type that wishes to be accepted perfectly into the society and smarts with resentment when they aren't. If your intention is to “become Japanese,” wait for re-birth.
So which type of ESL teacher is happiest in Japan? Usually those who try to integrate into society. These teachers have both Japanese and foreign (Canadian, Australian etc.) friends. These teachers usually have hobbies and a basic appreciation for Japan. They also learn Japanese and gain some level of fluency.
Japan is a unique culture. One that offers a beginning ESL teacher a chance at a fair entry-level salary and a definite path of advancement for those who choose to make a career in ESL. But teaching in Japan isn’t for everyone. It can be the adventure of a lifetime or an object of regret. Understanding what you want out of your teaching experience and understanding your motivations for going is a critical first step and one that bears repeating.
If you're ready to take the plunge check out our ESL interview tips for a general rundown on what big eikaiwa is looking for. Aeon's interview and the dreaded grammar test with ECC.