What’s your type?
There are two types of English teachers in Japan. The first is simply a language teacher, usually English (or some other language), and they just happen to do it in Japan. Maybe they always wanted to live in Japan, maybe they love manga or sumo, but for some reason, they practice their craft here and are loving it. They crave to improve their skills. The tough parts of the job are just exciting challenges and they are generally doing exactly what they want to be doing. They might want more money or a better position, but being a teacher is exactly how they want to spend their time working at this point in their lives.
The second type of teacher is much more common. It’s what I call the “waiter in L.A.” teacher. I use this designation because, like the stereotype of waiters in Los Angeles, if you ask them what they do, “waiter” would be the last and most reluctant response.
I’m really an actor.” “I write screenplays.” “I’m in-between gigs.
These are much more common answers.
In Japan, those answers are usually adjusted to writer, model, or artist, but “English teacher” is rarely the first reply. The “waiter” who’s teaching English is just teaching because they have to.
For some, this may be totally fine. Perhaps they just wanted a fun year in Japan or maybe they aren’t really ready to make a career choice, but teaching is not something they specifically set out to do.
But for others, the people who have been in Japan for a long period of time, it’s more likely that they are teaching English because they believe there isn’t actually anything else they can do to earn income as a foreigner.
Preparation is key
I’d like to talk to this type of person, the person who is either happily or unhappily teaching English just to earn money while living in Japan.
If you don’t want to teach English — don’t teach English.
Let me clarify, though: I’m not advising that you quit your job and hope everything just works out. What I’m suggesting is that while you’re teaching English, prepare yourself in every way possible to be able to do what you want to do. You should only delay your progression for as long as it takes you to prepare.
You should only delay your progression for as long as it takes you to prepare.
1. Learn Japanese
For most, this will mean attacking the process of learning Japanese with your total attention. Most non-teaching jobs you might want to do require you to be at least conversant in Japanese. If you’re serious about doing something besides teaching English for the rest of your time in Japan, you quite simply must learn the language.
2. Build a network
For everyone, this will mean getting yourself firmly planted in the “world” of what you want to do. If you want to be a model, you need to get yourself in the modeling world. Using your Facebook and Twitter accounts, follow everyone on the “modeling in Japan” scene and find out how to get into modeling-related events. Want to be a writer? You better start writing a hell of a lot. A blog is the best way to get your foot in the door (and acts as your digital CV), and being published on other sites is crucial for your exposure.
Love what you do
You can see with both of those examples, teaching English isn’t anywhere on that list. For this type of person, teaching English is only what you do until you don’t have to anymore. There’s obviously no guarantee you’ll make it. The point where you don’t have to teach anymore might never come, but if teaching English is only a means to an end, make sure you’re pursuing that end. You don’t want to be a “waiter” forever.
The best English teachers love teaching English. You can still be a good teacher if it’s not exactly what you want to do, but you’ll feel most rewarded if you’re chasing down your ultimate goal in the meantime. So if you’re wishing you could be doing something else in Japan, start making it happen.
That way, you can happily answer the age-old question “What do you do?” with a confident: “I teach English… for now.”