Before coming to Japan I always pictured teaching English here as working with kids in a Japanese school as an assistant language teacher (ALT) or outside of school at an eikaiwa (English conversation school) but there are plenty of Japanese adults who are in need of English lessons, as well.
Having a good command of English in the business world can lead to promotions and opportunities abroad for Japanese workers. Many large companies offer help for employees to improve their English by hiring teachers to come to their offices and educate staff on site. The lack of screaming kids, high English levels and more lucrative pay attracts plenty of teachers (including myself). Although it’s an interesting career, there are a a few things I wish I had known before diving into the world of company classes.
1. The pay can only get you so far
Depending on the company that hires you, pay varies from around ¥3,000 to ¥20,000 for one lesson.
Some companies employ teachers directly as freelance English teachers and tend to pay higher rates — though these jobs can be rare and hard to find (much like working as a “direct hire” ALT). Others are dispatch companies — such as Aeon or CTS — that match English teachers with businesses in need of them. These agencies act as a middleman and pay teachers much smaller hourly wages, but they can offer more than enough classes to provide a decent overall monthly wage.
This is important because when you’re hired directly, while the payment for a single class will be bigger it’s not enough to live off on its own. Most direct hire English instructors have to juggle multiple company classes and always have to be networking with higher ups in local businesses. It can get very complicated just hustling for new contracts plus these teachers will need to supply their own visas.
You can regularly see these jobs advertised on the GaijinPot Jobs board with a wide range of salaries depending on the company and location. One key thing to watch out for, though, is whether travel expenses are covered or not. Often, these companies are outside of the main cities and can be a bit expensive to get to. I once taught at a company that had two offices to which I could easily walk and a third that was a frustrating ¥2,000 bus ride away. The company wanted one person to teach at all three locations.
In my case — and most others — travel expenses were reimbursed at the end of the month. If, for some reason, these costs aren’t covered, make sure to think about whether or not the unpaid commuting times and costs are worth the salary.
2. Adults are well behaved — but not perfect
One of the main fears people seem to have before starting a teaching job is classroom control. With company classes you won’t have to roll around on the floor with snot-nosed kids or listen to teenagers giggle about you at the back of the classroom. There are other hazards, though.
Obviously, adult students are more mature and not about to risk getting fired by crying their eyes out after losing a silly game. Most students in company classes are happy to listen to you and try their best. That being said, a minority will still cause problems. Many English teachers in Japan are in their 20s and thus might end up teaching students twice their age — and this can cause some serious power dynamic problems.
This happened to me with a class after they learned that I was 22 years old.
Once they discovered this piece of information, the lessons became a lot more casual and I became less in control of the topics. They lost interest in the textbook and just wanted to treat me like some kind of search engine on all things foreign.
This made the classes arguably more interesting for the students but when it came time for the company TOEIC tests, we had not managed to cover all of the material.
So watch out for students who might try and hijack your lessons. The only ways I found to get them back on track was to be so enthused about the textbook that I could sometimes trick them into being engaged in it as well or by using their low test scores to guilt them into studying more.
… students were often guilt tripped into coming by overbearing bosses or peer pressure.
3. Students don’t always want to learn
While it might be quite pleasant to have your classes derailed by students who are interested in learning about your culture, sometimes you’re faced with the opposite problem. For example, all of the classes I taught were optional for employees. Students only came if they wanted to improve their employment prospects and possibly get a promotion within the company (at least theoretically).
In reality, students were often guilt tripped into coming by overbearing bosses or peer pressure. Sometimes there were rewards for attending and receiving certain grade metrics, such as a slight pay raise or the chance of a business trip abroad, but more often than not it students seemed to come because of the fear of disappointing others. This lead to many annoyed Japanese people who thought that they escaped English classes only to be pulled back in to them. A lot of the students I taught had very low level English skills and were barely able to communicate their names when asked. They had no interest in learning English, found it too difficult and often had no idea what was going on in class.
On the other hand, there are students who don’t want to learn because they already feel that their English-language skills are excellent. They only want to go through things they already understand and are repulsed by the idea of learning anything new. With difficult students like these, just try and encourage them as much as possible and tailor the material they dislike to match their interests.
4. You can’t discipline anyone
When I figured out that not all students were interested in learning — or at least not interested in learning from a textbook — I struggled to think how to keep control of my English classes.
I once tried to knuckle down with some advanced students in my early days of company classes and really pushed them to learn. I then received complaints that the classes were too serious and that they would rather I just told them about my home country’s culture. I was even told by my boss to teach them less and entertain them more. On top of this, I was instructed to not mention lateness, call on quieter students or wake anyone sleeping through my classes.
I found most classes didn’t require discipline and were full of polite students. Some classes were still unproductive and I worried that the lack of discipline was to blame, but after a few months I discovered that their problems stemmed from situations outside the classroom.
5. You experience authentic Japanese work culture
As a business English teacher, you will end up in all sorts of fascinating places.
You will probably teach classes at offices and factories, but more interesting locations like TV stations, museums and even military bases may end up on your itinerary. If you can think of an occupation there is probably some English teacher who runs company classes for them. Going to these locations can give you a lot of great experiences — not just for your resume, but for life in general. You’ll get a chance to see real Japanese work environments outside of the education system and to a fresh-off-the-boat English teacher, this can be pretty novel, indeed.
Not only did I get the chance to observe the different hierarchies and social structures of a Japanese office, but in the English-only environment staff were so comfortable that they started speaking about topics that were taboo if spoken in Japanese.
Many students used the phrase “how are you?” as an opportunity to turn the lesson into a kind of therapy session. They would reveal to me how they were working unpaid overtime, were scheduled for 13-hour days or how their bosses were abusing and underpaying them. It was pretty horrible stuff that they couldn’t talk about anywhere else.
Over time, I also came to learn why some were sleeping through class and always showing up late — it was because of the massive amounts of work they were expected to undertake. I tried to keep the classes professional but asking “how are you” did lead to more than a few tears and aggressive outbursts.
6. You have to avoid romance
Since all of the students at these companies are adults, romances between students and teachers are not uncommon. There is less of a social taboo, as well, since nobody is under age.
Whether you consider it morally acceptable or not, no company considers it professional to date your students. I had a few students who seemed to flirt with me before or after class but nothing more than that.
One problem I had was when I told my boss that one of my students had cried during my lesson because of her relationship troubles. I mentioned it in the naive hope that he could put the student in touch with someone to talk to but I was instead told to avoid her at all costs in case she tried to seduce me. My boss then went into a panic and told me a cautionary tale of how a teacher and student fell in love at the very same company, then got divorced! Shortly after, I was moved to another class without explanation. I was lucky in this situation but could have easily lost my job — not to mention anything that might have happened to the poor student.
Being a company English teacher is a complicated job — it’s part educator, part entertainer, part therapist. This type of opportunity is for those who are confident in their teaching skills, want to learn a little more about Japanese culture and hopefully brighten up a few students days. I wouldn’t recommend teaching company classes if you’re passionate about getting your students high test results or working on their weak points.
Have you taught these types of company classes? If so, were they a valuable experience? What advice would you offer to those considering doing it? Let us know in the comments!