Friday, December 16, 2005

The End of My Biggest Mistake

Nearly 3 years ago, I accepted a job with Berlitz. The economy had been bad and my hours at my old company had declined. I was looking for a full-time job. Berlitz was recruiting specifically saying that qualified/certified instructors were preferred. Later, when I complained that a trained TESOL instructor would not be happy at Berlitz because he/she could not utilize much of their training, I was told that Berlitz HR did not know that they were advertising for certified instructor until I told them!!! (They did remove it from later recruitment ads in Japan.)

I had declined Berlitz two or three times in the past. I wasn't really interested in using the old, obsolete, disproved Direct method. (When I say disproved, I mean that modern science and research has shown that it was not the most effective way to teach a foreign language. Actually, I believe that it is not bad in Japan where most students want to be told how and what to think and say and expect a strict focus on accuracy and strict correction. It also seems good for those who won't study, i.e., many Japanese. Of course I am not really talking about the real Direct/Berlitz method, but the quasi-audiolinguistic approach Berlitz was using until 2004. Berlitz now uses its peculiar derivative of the communicative approach although I doubt more than 2-3 teachers have a clue what that is.) However, I decided to try it and was also curious about trying the direct method since actually trying a communicative approach was often frustrating.

I again rejected the first offer due to the poor pay and lack of a full-time contract. HR called and reassured me, so I decided to give it a try. I met my first supervisor who was pursuing a master's in linguistics and who seemed to know what he was talking about. Darn, I thought Berlitz was real. Even training was a very quick, bare bones, basic TEFL course--nothing in depth but enough to get someone started. so I thought they must really be serious.

Well, unfortunately, outside of the training section, actual knowledge is scarce. It isn't required anyway, and in fact, if you do have any knowledge it is detrimental. Most supervisors know some of the jargon, but dig about 1mm below the surface and it becomes apparent that they have little clue. In fact, I was told by two different supervisors that it makes no difference what one does in a class "as long as the students enjoy it and think that they have learned something." And that is true. That is the bottom line. That is a quality Berlitz lesson.

This is fine, because only an damned fool would think that he was really teaching in an eikaiwa chain school anyway. It would be like a hamburger flipper at McDonald's claiming to be a chef. (Not offense to McDonald's, they may not be working as a chef there, but they still have to cook something edible. Unlike an eikaiwa teacher, they can't get away with pulling some garbage out of the trash and calling it a "quality" product.)

Many eikaiwa kyoshi's try to do a good job most of the time. They get little or no real training unless they get it at their own expense. They don't really bother to try to research more effective ways to teach. An example is Berlitz pronunciation. Teaching pronunciation is not intuitive. You have to have had some training or at least made an effort to learn. A very few have. Most don't and just fake it with the Berlitz book. Why not? Berlitz won't reward any efforts in this area. Since they don't have the same students each class, it won't help the student either. Most of the teachers are decent people. Unfortunately, they really don't know of much outside of Berlitz/NOVA/GABA so they tend to believe all schools/companies in Japan are the same.

On Christmas Eve, I will go to "work" at Berlitz for the very last time. It has been only a part-time job for me for the last year, but a full-time worry. I never know where I will teach, who I will teach, or what I will teach until the night before at best. I never have any preparation time, am almost never able to use non-Berlitz materials, almost never able to use anything I learned in college about TESOL (in fact, I am required to do things I know to be detrimental).

I have had my contract hours moved so that Berlitz wouldn't have to pay for having me work outside of contract hours. (For example, my contract stated my hours as 445pm to 915. Outside of that I should have been paid an extra 1920 yen per class minimum. My supervisor, often under instruction of the director, would switch my contract to cover lessons outside of contract so they could save paying me for the extra classes. It would have been ok occasionally if they had asked first like they are required to do.)

When I informed HR, it took over a month to get partial backpay because the IS whined so much about having to check all the pay records. In the end, I gave up on some of it. For example, they would switch our lunch time (break time by our contract) and not pay us for working that time. The excuse was "well, the idea is 11 units, 5 before lunch and 6 after, or visa versa. It is all ok as long as it is 11 units." The problem was, this is not what was in the contract or on the schedule. This is not what Berlitz work rules say. And it is certainly not what I agreed to. Extend that logic---a part-time worker is required to work 20 units. Could I come to work at 4 am and wait until 6pm and claim that I was available for 20 units and take the rest of the week off with full pay? After all, the idea is 20 units per week. When the units are is not relevant. Prior notice and agreement of a schedule change is not relevant.

Oh well, I am done anyway. Before joining Berlitz, I was warned never to work in an eikaiwa chain. Now I know why.


  1. Anonymous3:31 AM

    I also will have a Masters degree in TESOL in a couple of months. I love teaching, but I have also always wanted to go to Japan. I have been thinking, for a REAL teacher, which kind of job is best... an eikaiwa, an ALT position, or...? I hear university teaching is best, but I don't know Japanese. I also don't have any published papers... what would you suggest? It seemed to me that ALT would be worse than an Eikaiwa, because Alt positions are all about grammar whereas at least an Eikaiwa teaches SOME communication. I was thinking about Aeon/Amity?

  2. I don't know how to advise you on this, I no longer work in the field except for occasional part-time projects with a company that is not related to the eikaiwa stuff. If you have a Masters in TESOL, I doubt that you'd be happy in any of them. Berlitz has a reputation that far surpasses the companies you mentioned, and as noted above, was a less than ideal place to work. Some love it though.

    Take a look at SIMUL Academy and similar places and forget eikaiwa would be my advice. Otherwise, you'll be stuck with some sort of nonsensical "method" and may end up in endless battles about other things like pay.

    I would not rule out an ALT position, as I have heard some people actually do get to teach instead of imitate a tape recorder. You might also check out universities, not all require Japanese ability or published papers. Look at JALT (Japan Association of Language Teachers) Ohayo Sensei also used to list university jobs.

    Anything but eikaiwa which is a job with no future, no present, and no past.