Each veteran teacher in Japan has stories to tell. Some stories are similar, some are different, and some are completely contrary to the norm. Even in contradiction or difference, these stories can contain important information that can be used to avoid pitfalls and achieve your goals. Why should you have to bushwhack your way to success when so many teachers have paved most of the way for you?
Well, maybe you are stubborn. I was stubborn. I didn’t even plan on teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Honestly, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I was a triple major in Geology, History, and Classics with dreams of doing Geoarchaeology. As you may have guessed from my completely unrelated course of study, this whole Japan thing was an unexpected and absolutely wonderful fluke.
I didn’t realise that Japan would become my home.
I came to Japan over 8 years ago with the intention of studying Japanese history. I was in my last semester of my final year at university and I just needed one more non-European history class to finish my history major. I expected that I would take that class, enjoy the much needed break from my complicated life back home, and then return home. I didn’t realise that Japan would become my home.
I fell in love with Japan within the first month of living here. I wanted to stay beyond my 3 month program, but I was worried. I had worked full time while studying full time just to save up enough money to get to Japan. If I wanted to stay, I was going to need a job. With my minimal Japanese skill but my native English skill, the obvious choice was to get a job teaching English.
I had nannied, done outreach programs at elementary schools, and been a computer consultant, but despite all the instructing I had done, being called a teacher was daunting for me. I thought that the title of teacher required a deep understanding of curriculum planning, class management, and educational theory. I felt a little hopeless and out of my depth. It took me a while to realize that my fear, panic, and anxiety were completely unnecessary.
In reality, most conversation schools, or eikaiwas, in Japan have their own in-house methods of instruction, their own materials, and their own system for training teachers to perfectly execute their preset lessons. While some eikaiwas allow veteran teachers to modify or amend lessons, novices can grind their teeth on the basic presets and gain experience over time.
Similarly, most Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) work is based on the lesson plans of the teacher you are assisting. Each teacher or school may have a different opinion of what team-teaching entails, but the planning and materials, unless otherwise communicated with the ALT, are the responsibility of the main teacher. As an ALT gains confidence and experience, there are always opportunities to expand the ALT responsibilities in the classroom.
Find out the difference between working as an ALT and teaching at an Eikaiwa
Now, there are always exceptions. Some eikaiwas do not have their own materials or make you hit the ground running with little training. Some jobs are advertised as ALT positions but are full language teacher positions. It is important to read job descriptions carefully and ask any questions you may have in order to determine whether the job is right for you. If you end up with a manager who is not a native English speaker, you will want to confirm and reconfirm as much information as possible in order to avoid issues down the road. If the job is not what you want, there are other jobs out there. Don’t give up. Also remember that there are plenty of teaching resources and groups online that can give you a lot of support.
As you set off on this brand new adventure, remember that fear is the mind killer. Don’t panic. Never give up, and never surrender. Everything is going to be all right.