Do you have it takes to be an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in Japan? Here are four tips you can do to make your students and employer happy. Knowing these can give you a valuable head start in your teaching career.
1. Being Punctual
An important expectation in Japan is that you will always show up to work on time. Some things can be overlooked, but consistent lateness is not usually one of them. It costs you and your employer money, damages the school’s reputation, and will be seen as disrespectful to the students.
Teachers who show up ready and on time demonstrate that they take themselves and their responsibilities seriously. If you slack off in showing up on time, you’ll have dissatisfied students, will get minimal pay raises, and won’t get any consideration for a promotion.
A reputation for being a latecomer or a no show is very hard to shake, so don’t get one, no matter how tempting another round of shots may be at 3:00 a.m.!
Tip – find out how early you are expected to arrive and get there five minutes before that.
2. Showing Patience
When the students are motivated, the lesson material strikes a chord and the atmosphere is good, teaching can be the best job in the world. Other days though things won’t go so smoothly. When students are having trouble, pull back and try to find a way around the difficulty. Could you present the material in a more accessible manner? If it’s a grammar issue, would slowing it down and giving more examples help?
If it’s a classroom management issue, have the students understood your instructions properly? If not, can you make the instructions simpler? If frustration is evident, would doing rather than telling help to change the mood?
Whatever the situation, an irritated teacher will only make things worse. Be patient. Understanding, encouragement and a willingness to change the script when necessary will allow you to cope with most classroom difficulties.
Tip – take a deep breath and try to see things from the students’ perspective.
3. Being Organized
Being prepared is not only having your vocabulary sheets, role play cards or multimedia aids sorted out, it’s also about understanding the lesson material and knowing how you are going to implement it. Have the lesson plan on paper or in your head and make sure that you’ve got all the materials you need where you need them.
Few things scream ‘panic!’ more than a long streak of teacher frantically rummaging through books and bags at the last minute. Organization allows you to assume an air of calmness, and everyone feels more comfortable with a teacher who appears to be in control.
Note that while a fortunate few can wing lessons with confidence, this is because they have taught before, know the patterns and can improvise on them. Not many of us can count on being able to display such virtuosity when we are just starting out, so don’t try to.
Tip – have some activities in reserve for the back end of the lesson. It can be hard work if you’ve finished all of your prepared material ten minutes ahead of time.
4. Being Enthusiastic
Seeing people learn is a rewarding experience and teachers should remember to enjoy it. Keep a smile on your face. Praise the students when they do well; lend encouragement when they don’t. Engage them with words, gestures, humor and attitude. Let your own enthusiasm be infectious and the classroom will be a much better place for it.
Tip – always start and finish your lessons with a positive word. Learning a language takes time and persistence and part of our job is to brighten the path.
So there we have it: punctuality, patience, organization and enthusiasm. Cultivating these habits will go a long way towards making you, your students and your employer happier.
I’d say that in Eikaiwa (conversation schools), state schools and privately run schools (basically anything that isn’t really official EFL) in Japan, then (Japanese-style) customer service skills are more important than teaching skills.
In my experience, the top tips are:
1/ Always be positive and give praise to learners. This ties in with being enthusiastic.
2/ Never disagree with customers, learners, parents or (Japanese) staff (or staff of the main ethnicity controlling the school). The chances are that they are, no matter their job position, considered higher than you in the pecking order. Always be polite and be ready to…
3/ Change and be “flexible”. Be prepared (at least in mind) to change your teaching aims, lesson plan , curriculum and classroom management at the drop of a hat. If your DOS, line manager, parent, school owner, etc, tells you to set fire to your books and paint all of the kids blue, then do it. If you are blamed for the outcome, simply act politely confused, state that you were asked to do so and then ask what you SHOULD do.
4/ Avoid disciplining young learners. Although many parents may agree and support you, it only takes one irate, monster parent to threaten your school with pulling their beloved little ” Kuntaro” out of class until you are banished to the seventh layer of Hell, for your school to either give you a telling-off or dropping you like a hot potato.
And, to sum it all up, my motto (which I forget to follow myself sometimes) is:
“If in doubt, leave it out”.
Basically, if you’re not sure you should do something extra, without getting in trouble, (be it bringing in a board game from home for the kids, bringing a problem up with staff or management (Like missing books or faulty equipment/rules), trying to fix problems without speaking to someone first, using some multimedia teaching app on your ipad, ensuring the safety of your young learners outside class, disciplining them, preparing food snacks for older learners, etc), then don’t do it.
You can’t lose your job for not doing something you’ve not been asked to do, but you CAN if you act like a “nail sticking out of the wood”. Err on the side of caution and bring new ideas very slowly, after taking care and time to research if it’s really ok to do, and worth the risk if you get in trouble and your managers (even of they are western ones) don’t back you up.
It’s hard to be enthusiastic when you have no sick days for an entire year… If you are sick you lose 15000 yen for each day you are not at work.. I love teaching…I love working with kids….”sigh”
I was deployed to Japan for six months teaching English to 200 JASDF pilots and aircrew; these are all great qualities for any teacher to have. Enthusiasm / appreciation for Japanese culture (and some attempt to use the language) goes a long way too.
Wait, does that mean that you don’t actually have to know how to speak Japanese, to be an English teacher there?
In my case no, but I had a minor in Japanese and had studied on my own. Knowing Japanese was not a requirement or a prerequisite, nor was I given any language training beforehand.
you don’t need to know Japanese. Some jobs will ask for a degree, a CELTA or Trinity qualification and a decent understanding of English grammar. I’m moving to Japanenext week and I only know basic Japanese.
This is really great! So true if you’re an ESL teacher anywhere, but especially Japan. I wish I had read this before I started teaching 😉