When preparing for interviews, many beginning English teachers often ask us what the large English language schools are looking for in their teachers.
Whether you’re considering teaching for any of the chain schools like Aeon, Nova Holdings, ECC, or the JET Program, they are all looking for basically the same thing...
a positive cultural experience for their students
So what does this mean? It means they’re more concerned about the teacher being optimistic, bubbly, fun and dedicated than anything else. Knowing grammar, having top-crank writing skills and experience won’t help you as much as being fired-up about teaching English in Japan.
There is a long running joke that you the visitor might find amusing and sheds quite a bit of light on the eikaiwa scene and here it is. Teaching in Japan is coined "edutainment" by many veteran teachers. Why? Because it is considered half entertainment and half education. Speaks volumes does it not?
Note: We are saying this about entry level English positions in which the teacher with little or no experience who in accordance with their level of experience are merely looking to get their foot in the door and thus are hired by schools shopping for "edutainment" style teachers.
Not schools looking for TEFL certified teachers working at the university level or at prestigious private academies who have been here 10 years or more, have some publications under their belts and are more than likely married with kids.
If ESL teaching experience were a prerequisite for getting a job as an ESL teacher for large chain schools, they wouldn’t hire English teachers fresh out of college with little or no teaching experience who major in music or political science. But they do. In fact, the bulk of the industry runs on them.
So being cheerful during your interview is much more important than any demonstration of knowledge. In fact, acting like you’ve been there and done that is often received poorly by many recruiters and English school owners. Especially school owners who have their curriculum set up and don't need nor want someone monkeying around with it. Click here for interview tips for English teachers.
Flexibility & Openness
Another trait they like in English teachers is flexibility or openness. Why? Because their curriculums are generally fixed. They want English teachers who will teach their curriculums the way they want them taught. Not the way you want to or think it should be taught. Basically if you're looking to work for the big 4 or the JET Program don’t act like you want to reinvent the wheel when they interview you.
Simply project a positive attitude towards their teaching methods/curriculum and be enthusiastic and cooperative. Keep in mind most Japanese going to language schools do so for a unique cultural experience and fun. If the English teacher isn’t fun, the class isn’t fun. And if the class isn’t fun, the students quit. Can you guess what happens next? The school owner or administrator doesn't have to reinvent the door, they just show you it.
Not All English Schools are the Same
Are the above points true of all schools? No. Smaller schools that compete against the giant chain schools do so more on quality of teaching. (They don’t have the budget for unrelenting student recruiting like Nova Holdings etc.)
So for small ESL schools losing students poses a much bigger problem than for the giants. So they want instructors who know their stuff. This means experience, teaching and TEFL certificates definitely help in finding jobs with quality-oriented schools. They want older teachers who know classroom management etc.
Being confident, having teaching certificates and showing you know your way around the classroom are the keys to landing your English teaching job with small schools and higher-end gigs.
Youth is Key or is it?
Lastly, youth also plays a big part in hiring instructors. Many large schools don't exactly draw the line at 35 years of age but it gets tougher to compete with younger ESL teachers. This is especially true of ESL teachers working in ALT programs and who are working in the run-of-the-mill private English conversation industry like Gaba, Nova Holdings, ECC etc.
You can take this to mean whatever you like but just a second or two of reading between the lines reveals that they are shopping for younger teachers. So feel free to apply if you're quite a bit older and also please feel free to be rejected.
Although this is not as big a deciding factor as it once was, it still can’t be ignored. You might be interested to know that mandatory retirement age is 60 for Japanese nationals. Although the Japanese government is currently engaged in rolling this back to 65 years of age.
Bear in mind a youthful looking and acting 35 year old instructor and one who looks old makes a difference too. Smaller schools will hire older English teachers because they often focus more on quality of teaching and so want more experienced teachers. They also want the stability of a teacher who isn't out on the town every night and will stick around longer and build rapport with the students. If you're married to a Japanese citizen schools will usually see you as more stable, and so a potentially better hire than someone single.
We personally know of schools who hire ESL teachers in their 50’s so the bottom line is: just because you’re not fresh out of school, your age (within reason) shouldn’t deter you. One notable and frankly quite obvious point is being in good health. Some schools will ask about this when they start to see high numbers.
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