Finding Your Place as an English Teacher
By Kelsey Leuzinger
On April 3, 2015
When you’re searching for an English teaching job in Japan, the hunt can be overwhelming. Schools are hiring, business English services need tutors, and private lesson requests are booming around graduation season. Which to choose, and why? Actually, each teaching environment is unique, and it’s important to consider your strengths before jumping into the first job you spot.
Let’s face it, some people work better with kids than others. The same goes for teenagers; some teachers are ready to pull their hair out at the end of the day in a high school, while others feel right at home. And then there are adults, who can be really intimidating if you’re not used to teaching students older than you.
The good news is, you don’t have to be intimidated or scared for your sanity when teaching English. As a learning and growing environment, the classroom should be a place where you feel comfortable, leading to the students feeling the same. If you’re sorting through all of the different job openings, take time to focus on where you would feel at ease and which age group you could help most.
In the pre-K or kindergarten classroom (that’s right, some Japanese children start learning English before Western kids know how to read!), you’ll be singing songs, repeating the alphabet, and chanting basic expressions each day. If you can’t think of a better way to make ¥2,500 an hour than to do sing-a-longs, this is your niche. For me, I don’t even sing in the shower, and I haven’t quite figured out how to tell kids “no;” so choosing this option would be a living nightmare. Rather than focusing on the money aspect, take a step back first to assess if you would be cut out for this environment.
With junior and senior high school age, just because they’re learning English doesn’t mean they’re not perpetuating the stereotype of teenagers. This can be burdensome for some teachers, while others see it as a challenge. If you enjoy motivating and bringing out higher learning levels in others, this would be a great fit.
As for the working class adult, this age group typically learns on their own time and doesn’t always have time to study. They usually use tutor services, private lessons, or online classes, and are often highly motivated to learn. But for some teachers, it’s a bit scary to think that you might have to discuss business tactics in the workplace or how to build a resumé when you aren’t even sure of those things yourself.
Don’t take on these adult students if you only foresee stress in your future, look at the other options. But if you enjoy a different kind of challenge that might be found boring or tedious at times, look into adult teaching. With this group, you also get to know your students on a more personal level and make great friendships. It’s a whole different ballgame from teaching at the kindergarten.
Lastly, the golden years of retirement age in Japan is also an age group to consider. Most often, this group chooses a teacher and sticks to them for life, or as long as you will be in Japan. It’s a long term commitment, but since it has become a hobby in their old age, the stakes and stress levels are low. Many times retired age students will meet together in groups of 3 or more with a teacher, expecting only to have conversation and tea. It’s not always easy keeping them on subject or only using English, though. So if the commitment and need of patience doesn’t scare you, look into picking up some retired students on the side.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of picking the perfectly suited teaching job the first time, especially if you’re on a deadline or have bills that need to be paid. Luckily, though, in Japan there are usually several options to choose from. As your searching for jobs this season, remember to think about your strengths before choosing an age group to work with. You can always help students best who fit closest with your personality.