Saturday, June 17, 2006

Think it over

You want to come to Japan to "teach" English? Really? Why? If you have a year or two to throw away, it might be OK. You can enjoy a different culture, learn a few things and perhaps somehow find that you like the pretend version of TESOL so much that you go back home and get teaching credentials in it and the hope to get one of the few openings teaching English as a second language in the states.

Or perhaps you are interested in learning Japanese, or want to gain some overseas experience for a future business career (teaching English?).

A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal had an article on the changing reasons that American students were studying Japanese. Whereas in the late 80s-early 90s when I went through college, it was mostly for business---anyone remember the horsemanure then about how Americans had to learn about Japanese culture and the Japanese language because Japan was the future? I was a sucker who fell for that b.s.----now it is mostly manga fans. Or, as was stated by someone interviewed in the article, "It's guys who want to go to Japan and find a girlfriend with purple hair."

Anyway, as is well-known, this is not a career for achievers. It is a deadend. Do you really want to look back on your life at 75 and tell your grandkids that you spent your whole life sitting around and chatting doing a job that as is commonly practiced in Japan, requires no education, specialized or not, and does not even require a college degree? (Just ask Berlitz.) In fact, I would argue that it does not even require a high school diploma. You gain few transferable skills, most Japanese do not even respect the job, assuming that anyone could do it and that it is just sitting around and talking. Many expect you to be the stereotypical foreign weirdo clown for them too. (All foreigners are basically weirdos to many.)

Well, when you are with people who don't study, make few efforts, and mainly just want you to do nothing but correct their grammar (100%), it doesn't take much. In fact, under these conditions and with these types of students, actually doing more is just frustrating and a waste of your time.

I came over here to work for a small Japanese company in Toyama City in 1991. That was only a 6 month job, and afterwards I went to the YMCA to "teach." I knew the job had a reputation of being a joke (teaching English in Japan), but I wanted to stay and learn about Japan and the Japanese. I absolutely hated every second of it. It was, I thought, the dumbest job I had ever done.

After about a year of that, I went back to the US. My wife stayed in Japan with her mother who had developed a sudden serious illness. She soon found a good job here, and wanted me to return. I refused, because I had sworn never to teach English in Japan again. Besides, I had a good job with a good salary in a nice company in the States.

This separation lasted five years. Finally, it was either come back or get divorced, so I decided to return. Before returning, I went back to college full-time for a year to get a TESOL endorsement for Washington state. I wanted to know what I was doing before teaching again. However, I did not want to be teaching very long.

The education helped some, but I don't really get a chance to use much of it. In fact, I have forgotten tons of it. I have almost completely forgotten assessing (not the quicky simplistic level checks or "assessments" done here to find out what book to use with a student). I can still enjoy reading some of the journals that come out, and some of the studies though. Don't really get to put much into practice, because it would take the cooperation and effort of my students to do that. Frankly, had I to do it over again, I would have gotten a CELTA. It is more than one needs in Japan. Even the Berlitz 5-day basic instructor training course is plenty---too bad it was not well-understood nor followed there.

As a rule, I expect little effort. Any is a shock and makes me think the student is really good, when in a classroom in the States or most other places it would just be the normal thing.

Did I mention the big bucks? Yep, at best you will make 4-4.5 million per year. Yen. Perhaps $35,000 for 12 months work. You will start at about $24,000 or less. That is not considering the absurd cost of living here. In actuality, you are making much less.

You will likely work weekends, maybe holidays, probably split shifts, have little or no opportunity for further education or training (Berlitz may give you that chance. Training often consists of studying the text you will use for 40 minutes, or else having someone explain to you how to use that text in a 40-minute "method.") Now, what kind of job in the US could a college graduate get for $24,000? One with a future.

I don't hate the job like I did in Toyama. In some rare cases, it has been somewhat rewarding. It can sometimes be enjoyable. But it is not something to aspire to, it is something that probably 90% would leave for another job were they given the opportunity. (The best thing I ever did while here was start doing most of it on my own, not working for a company. At least I can enjoy selling or marketing, and can select my students. I still hope to get completely out of it; to use this marketing experience to gain better knowledge and using it for something else.)

This has turned into a rambling rant. Probably the skill I have developed more than any other as a teacher in Japan. Come on over, you can do that too.

(You could get a masters in TESOL and work at a university. The pay is a little higher, the workload lighter, and the job security nil.)

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