In all of my working life I have never been unemployed for more than a month or so. However, as an English teacher in Japan, the possibility of losing your job can loom large on the horizon.
“It’s OK — I’m a good teacher. My students like me. This won’t happen to me.” This is the delusion from which many of us draw comfort. It is an absolute fallacy, however. In an unfortunate corporate structure that makes vindictiveness and bullying all too easy, English teachers in Japan can often find themselves cut adrift, often with very short notice and through little or no fault of their own.
I know this because it happened to me a little under two years ago. I wasn’t the only one affected, either. Around 30 other teachers — hard working, dedicated professionals — were similarly shafted.
To cut a long story short, our contracts with the Osaka City Board of Education were subject to a three-year limit that expired in March 2016. In November of 2015, we were told that our rehiring interviews would be handled by an outside agency. From my own experience, I have a natural distrust of such agencies. However, my boss at the time assured me: “You don’t need to worry.”
The interviews took place in December of that year.
After a long and agonizing wait over Christmas and New Year, and several delays from the BOE, we were finally informed of the decision by post at the beginning of February.
Some of my friends had been renewed, others had not. I was in a sort of limbo. I was placed on a “waiting list.” How long was this waiting list? They refused to say.
It soon became clear from my boss’ arrogant refusal to even meet with me to discuss the matter that whatever it was, it was personal. I had to accept, quickly, that I didn’t have a future with the Osaka BOE.
It was time to form an action plan.
My biggest source of support in those first few days, besides my family and friends, was the General Union. Through its extensive network, I was quickly presented with a number of potential job opportunities. I was able to start sending off job applications almost immediately.
‘It’s OK — I’m a good teacher. My students like me. This won’t happen to me.’ This is the delusion from which many of us draw comfort.
As per the union’s advice, I kept my anger in check, stepped back from the frontline of the fight against the BOE and channeled my energy into finding alternative employment.
Continuing to go into work for the six weeks or so after receiving that letter was hard and it was depressing.
Almost as depressing was the battle to secure a new job. At almost every turn, in addition to the usual pool of candidates, I often found myself pitted against my fellow co-workers — friends who had also been shafted by management. Even when I started getting job offers, I felt a constant sense of guilt and unease, wondering which of my friends had been rejected for this position.
In the end I accepted one of the jobs that the General Union’s network introduced to me: teaching at a private girls’ school in Sakai City.
These days, I teach not just junior but also senior high school and — from time to time — college students, too. The 50 percent lighter class load has also enabled me to devote more time to my writing and other projects.
However, the most pleasing aspect of all this came in the summer of 2016, when, no doubt having exhausted every other conceivable option, Osaka BOE called me and offered me my job back.
I cannot describe in mere words the pleasure I felt in telling them where they could shove their job and exactly why I felt that way!
My tips to move on and get a new gig
So, to summarize, here are the steps you should take if you find out you are being fired or non-renewed:
- Get notification in writing and if possible ask for written clarification. You will need to present evidence of termination of employment when you claim unemployment benefits.
- Stay calm. The decision is made, no amount of shouting will change that.
- It’s OK to be angry, but channel that anger in a positive way. Get busy updating your CV, scouring every job board you can find and firing off as many applications as possible.
- For a short time, adopt a mercenary attitude. Given the nature of teaching jobs in Japan — the bulk hiring and subsequent bulk dismissal — there’s a fair chance you may find yourself out of a job at the same time as some of your colleagues and friends. But, when it comes to securing a job, there’s little room for sentiment. It’s harsh, but when your own financial survival is at stake, you need to put yourself first.
- Attend every interview, even if you’re not too keen on the job. Again, there are two reasons for this. First, it’s good experience and practice for you to get as many interviews as you can. Second, your No. 1 priority is to get a job offer — any offer. Until you have one firm job offer, treat each application with the same degree of gravitas. After that, you can afford to be picky.
- Be polite and courteous when declining offers. You will, hopefully, receive multiple offers. When you eventually decide on which to accept, be sure to give polite replies to all offers, even the ones you don’t want. You never know when you may encounter these people again in the future.
- Always stay positive. This will be a turbulent time, and hopefully it won’t last too long, but it’s important to remain positive throughout. Job interviews are a bit like first dates. You need to put your best foot forward and remember that looking desperate gets you nowhere!
That time two years ago was one of the most challenging times I faced in my career so far and I was so lucky to have a great network of friends, family and other supporters behind me. I sincerely hope you never have to go through such a time, but if you do, hopefully this advice here today will serve you well.
Good luck — and happy hunting.
Have you had to bounce back from an unexpected job loss in Japan? What did you do to get back on your feet as quickly as possible? Share your tips and resources with us in the comments!