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Overseas Job Opportunities in Japan: Choosing a Course: ALT vs Eikaiwa

Overseas job opportunities often fill the gap for so many that are at major turning points in their lives.  Whether it be graduation from school and facing the daunting task of getting your first "real" job or just taking a break from it all and take a gap year to get your bearings or doing something fresh and exciting in early retirement.

Many choose to make a real change and teach English abroad for a year to just take it all in and have an adventure. A chance to get out of the rut and give life a new direction.  Thousands and thousands choose Asia to scratch that itch. And of the many possible destinations there are to teach overseas, Japan has its own unique allure for those who wish to immerse themselves in a truly unique culture.  Year after year Japan hits the top of the list  for overseas job opportunities to teach English.

Overseas Job Opportunities : ALT vs. Eikaiwa

Overseas job opportunities and making the  big jump to find English teaching jobs isn't the easiest decision. But if you are looking to teach English abroad then you should know that there are quite a few options available to you. In this article we will write from the prospective of someone who has little or no ESL teaching experience and has a 4 year college degree.

It's been noted throughout this site that a 4 year degree is a government mandate and that it is not something that potential employers are necessarily seeking. It allows for the issuance of the visa and doesn't have any bearing on ESL teaching skills. (If it did why would large eikaiwa randomly employ political science majors or music majors?)

To be honest we have spoken with quite a few hiring managers and they consider even 6 months of actual teaching experience to be of more value then the holy grail ( a four year degree).

There are merits to both of these starting points in overseas job opportunities. We'll try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The first stop on this train is working in a public school as an Assistant Language Teacher more commonly referred to an an ALT.  Like it says you will fill the roll as an assistant in general. (Although I have heard of some ALT's who have a lot of control in the classroom, it is quite rare). Working hours fall in the 8:00 to 4:00 range. Usually proper attire is required but it depends on the school. Some are slack and some are not. Student numbers are large 25 students to as many as 40.

Overseas Job OpportunitiesOverseas Job Opportunities

These teachers are employed at elementary, junior high schools and high schools throughout Japan. In elementary school settings it is often said that the ALT has more say in how the class flows whereas in junior high school the JTE pretty much runs the ship.

You will be able to enjoy the summer holidays as you share the same schedule as your students. So you have less actual contact hours then teachers who work in the English conversation area or eikaiwa.

In the capacity of an ALT, as you are an assistant you will work along side the Japanese Teacher of English also known as the JTE. The textbook and most parts of the curriculum are decided by the Board of Education who sets the standards. Most ALT's usually will aid in pronunciation work and helping to run pair work activities and games. Generally ALT's teach on average 4 classes per day with weekends off.

Another great thing about being an ALT is that your hours are set. When the kids go home you go home soon as well. (Unlike eikaiwa). This allows you to have a life because you won't be saddled with a 8:00 p.m. class when you'd rather be having dinner with friends. So in a nutshell ALT work is quite stable and allows you to schedule your private life.

  • Other notables are Westgate they have 59 schools roughly, and employ over 400 teachers. They hire from outside Japan. Although their contracts are only 3 to 4 months.  Company housing is provided along with a working visa etc.
  •  Altia - They recruit from overseas as well as in country in Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Sendai, Tokyo, Shizuoka, Okayama and Hiroshima. They employ 300 ALTs in 10 prefectures. 
  • Interacthey recruit from outside of Japan. They employ about 3,200 foreign teachers in 13 offices throughout Japan and are the largest ALT providers to the Board of Education. (BOE). 
  • Borderlink - They hire from both within and outside Japan and their focus is on children. They assist with housing and living assistance - things like opening bank accounts, using the mass transit system, paying bills and needs you run into in everyday life.

The Downside of Teaching English as an ALT

Overseas Job OpportunitiesOverseas Job Opportunities

Many ALT's will complain of the students motivational problems i.e. heads on the desk, or disruptive students. Given their age and the fact that they don't pay for the classes they are taking it should not come as a surprise. Another common complaint is that some ALT's feel like human tape recorders as decision making  and all the hard core grammar teaching is relegated to the JTE.   Note: this extends to discipline as well. So it's a hands - off thing. This especially stings if the JTE doesn't crack the whip.

Another common complaint is the low pay. ALT salaries are generally the lowest as dispatch companies who hire the teacher for the school take a cut of the teacher's pay in exchange for lining up the teachers for their jobs. This is unless the teacher is hired directly, thus cutting out the middle man or dispatch company.

Overseas Job Opportunities  
The Other Road to Teacher Employment - Eikaiwa

For those who are not so into teaching  high school children. The second road most commonly traveled road to overseas job opportunities in Japan is teaching English conversation. The hours are quite different. Start times are usually in the afternoon and will run into the early evenings. Weekend work is also common. 

The student range that attends English conversation classes (eikaiwa) are quite broad - ranging from very small children who haven't entered primary school all the way up to adults and seniors. 

The wee little ones usually have classes after lunch time and sometimes before. As you might expect, given their age the curriculum is generally learning the alphabet, singing songs dancing etc.   The younger students attend eikaiwas as a supplementary form of education after their regular school hours are over. So these classes are usually in the late afternoon and evenings. Class sizes range from private classes of a single student to up in the area of 6 to 8 or 9 students.

Overseas Job Opportunities and The Downside of Teaching at an Eikaiwa

Following this are the adults and seniors who attend classes following the work day. So you  don't have discipline problems like Alt's do -however the JTE handles this area. But the pace can be quite hectic. Some of these schools will have their English teachers teaching as many as 6 or 7 classes with only a 10 minute break or so in between each class. If you've never done it is quite a break neck pace. So you will have more contact hours than an ALT. You also won't have summer vacations off.

The salary is a bit higher which is nice. You will also have a chance of being actually able to talk with your students or do after class activities with them.  However you will have to give up a pre-determined schedule as ALT's have.

Another upside is if you like to have a say in what you teach you'll have one to some extent, whereas in ALT work you don't. It comes down to your personality type. If you like to make decisions in curriculum eikaiwa may be the better choice, however if you don't then being an ALT might be a better choice for you.

Related Articles...

Related Pages and Some of the Most Common Eikaiwas are:

  • ECC- One of the bigger schools. 171 branches that employs over 600 ESL teachers in Japan. Also does well in the ESL forums in terms of few complaints.
  • Aeon - A monster of a school. 320 branches all over Japan with around 100,000 students under their belt. They focus on adults.
  • Amity - A spin-off of Aeon. It is their children's division with less than 100 schools throughout Japan teaching from toddlers to teens.
  • ALT - The basics on on being an ESL English teacher in the public sector.
  • The Jet Program - Another ALT program. Participating  countries. do's and don'ts especially considering the application procedure.
  • More on The Jet Program - Working conditions, salary, employment locations, health insurance etc.
  • Nova - The basics on working conditions, accommodations and visas / sponsorship.
  • Salary comparison chart for large English schools in Japan. 

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