When I was in secondary school everyone – guidance counsellors, parents, friends – told me that I would be a teacher when I grew up. Of course, in the face of this consensus, I did the only rational thing that a strong-minded teenager could do: I totally ignored the well meaning advice, chose a totally impractical degree before pursuing various unfulfilling careers, flitting between the service industry and finance. After belatedly accepting the advice of a friend teaching in Osaka, I bit the bullet, hopped on a flight to Japan and started life as an ALT. It was a brilliant decision, and here’s why.
1) Japanese kids are fantastic
Okay, obviously not all Japanese kids are fantastic. There are of course many who get their kicks by playing up and generally being a pain in the arse, but on the whole they are wonderful. Time and time again, as I walk around the classroom and see kids diligently completing their worksheets or battling with the new conversational objective I am brought to mind of the way I and many of my classmates were at their age: sullen, cheeky, lazy; particularly if we had a new teacher.
The vast majority of kids in Japan show you the same respect as they would their regular teacher meaning that, rather than spending your time berating the difficult kids you can get on with the task of actually teaching them.
2) Teachers are fantastic too
Again, not all teachers are going to welcome you with open arms, but mostly you will find Japanese teachers a friendly bunch. They are generally overworked, stressed to the gills and be putting in 12 hour days as standard, but many of them will make the effort to make you feel welcome, and if you are new to the area or country, even going as far as to take time out of their hectic working lives to show you the local sights.
There are also the many ‘enkai’ parties, where you will eat, drink and be variously merry and, as a newcomer and thus removed from the office politics, you may be trusted with all sorts of office gossip by people wanting to welcome you into the group. Be warned though, the enkais, particularly at the year’s beginning and end, can come thick and fast, and at up to ¥7000 a pop, it can get expensive.
There is nothing to compete with that moment when the look on a student’s face goes from complete confusion to being filled with the spark of understanding.
3) Free time
Everyone knows that the one of the best things about teaching is the holidays, but this isn’t necessarily the case for most Japanese teachers. They will likely spend their vacation times with club activities or helping with festival plans, as well as getting bogged down in various other administrative obligations. But not you. You will likely have long, languorous vacations (in my first year teaching I had almost 15 weeks holiday) during which you can check out everything that this amazing country has to offer.
As an ALT you may find that you have random days off in the week, particularly during exam times, which are perfect for day trips or exploring your hometown. And the free time doesn’t stop there, as some schools don’t always require you to be working flat out, and you may end up with time here and there throughout your working day, during which you can hit your Japanese textbooks, brush up on teaching techniques, or even write blog posts telling people how great it is teaching in Japan!
4) It’s lovely to be loved
As mentioned above, I had plenty of other jobs before becoming an ALT. And while I liked some more than others, they invariably entailed me getting it regularly in the neck, with very little appreciation. Complaint handling in a call centre wasn’t exactly a barrel of monkeys, and the hours of earache I would get from business managers whose multi-million pound assets I’d frozen when working in financial crime I can never get back.
Some days were better than others, but even on dream days, not once did people high-five when I walked into the room. That happens now. All the time. I know that I have often talked on this site about the idolisation you can get working as an ALT, but it never, ever gets old. Okay, so maybe it can get a bit cloying on occasion, but at the end of the day, what would you rather, kids clamouring to talk to you, gathering round your desk and squealing with joy at even your most inane jokes? Or me and my mates at that age? Personally I’d take the adulation over the smart arsery any day of the week.
5) Job satisfaction
You knew this was coming, because that’s what everyone says about teaching: ‘oh, it’s so rewarding’, and you look at their prematurely grey hair, their stress lines and the look of the cult in their eyes, nod, and put it down to self-delusional brainwash making up for the crappy salary. But I can honestly say, in my professional life, there really is nothing to compete with that moment when the look on a student’s face goes from complete confusion to being filled with the spark of understanding.
Yes, there are many professions out there where you can earn shedloads of filthy lucre, and I have no doubt you could be happy and fulfilled. Maybe one day in the future that will happen to me. But I know without a shadow of doubt, that when it comes time for me to hang up my boots for the final time and I look back on my life’s accomplishments, top of the pile will be the time when Yuki, a lazy student, apathetic, truant and this close to dropping out of school, came running up to me in the hall, grabbed me by the shoulders and told me that she had been accepted on a English degree at university.
“And it’s because of you, Mark!” No, there are, I am sure, very few moments in a working life to surpass that unbelievable realisation that you have made such an immensely positive impact on someone else’s life. And if something does come to top it, I am sure it will be teaching here, in Japan.
As you can probably tell, the reasons above come mainly from working as an ALT, as that is where most of my experience lies. However, when you look at the vast array of opportunities out there, you will find that there are far more than five reasons why teaching in Japan is so great. Are you a teacher in Japan? Why do you think your job is so amazing? Tell us below the line.