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My First Time Teaching English in Japan

Your first time teaching English in Japan usually involves a lot of blood, sweat and pantomime.

By 1 min read 12

A lot of people don’t remember their first day teaching English in Japan. I can’t forget mine. It was my first time teaching, of course. I had taught Mathematics in Texas for several summers before eventually moving to Tokyo. Shortly after I was settled in, I saw a notice on Craigslist for English teaching on Saturday afternoons. The pay was pretty good and they said no experience was necessary. This is perfect, I thought.

I showed up for an interview about a week later, only to be thrust into a classroom with a dozen or so elementary school students. There was no warning, no lesson plan, and no co-teacher. I had no idea what to do. The lady said “Lessons are 50 minutes, good luck!” and… just left.


Back then, I barely spoke Japanese and the kid’s English ability was even lower. I stumbled through the hour with games, repetition, and a lot of stammering. It was so awkward. The only game that seemed to work was the “color game,” where I said a color and all the children had to run around the room and touch something that color.

At the end of the “lesson,” I took my earnings and never went back.

Talking to some of my other English teaching friends, I learned that experiences like mine are incredibly rare. Usually English schools will make you give a demo lesson to a teacher (to make sure you are comfortable teaching) or hand you a curriculum to work with (so you have an idea on how lessons are supposed to work), not just throw you in the lion’s den.

What was your first time teaching English like?

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  • ESLinsider says:

    Nice drawing. I don’t think that is unusual. I started off subbing in Taiwan. I quickly realized that kids were loud. They ignored me and I wasn’t very good at teaching! My first year was pretty stressful.

    Over the years I got better, but I encountered this kind of thing fairly often. In my experience teaching in Taiwan, Korea and China a lot of schools will just throw you into the classroom especially if it is a part time job.

    It depends, but most schools won’t offer much training aside from shadowing a teacher for a day or two. So you are on your own and I would definitely invest some time into training and learning.

    Demo lessons were pretty common in Taiwan. I never did one in Korea, but I did do one in China. Those are awkward. Sometimes they will give you some material and other times not. It depends on the school, but I think they just want to see how well you work with the kids and if they like you.

  • Leigh says:

    That sounds super awkward, well done on pushing through it! I’ve seen guys who’ve had proper training go into classrooms and totally bomb. So don’t give up. Oh, and great comic by the way! 🙂

  • Turner Wright says:

    I haven’t had this experience in Japan, but nowadays I shy away from interviews and follow up emails asking to complete a task; maybe it’s paranoia, but I just suspect recruiters or scammers on CL wait until enough people apply and then get the job done by having 50 interviewees complete 1/50 of it.

  • philnolan3d says:

    Sounds like a terrible school, I bet they didn’t last long. At least you got paid for your trouble though.

  • Diletta says:

    Hello, I m really interested in your Experience of teaching English in Japan. How did you find this vacancy in the school? And what was precisely your level in Japanese? Did you do any Japanese Language examination before? Thank you.

  • Ooakoto Ootamaka says:

    That’s the problem with most foreigners coming to Japan, they come here thinking english is enough.

  • Mikey says:

    I worked at a dodgy “International” school in Tokyo which was essentially a daycare with an immigrant. The owner used to park his motorcycle inside the classroom – and it was my job to stop the kids from stuffing toys into the tailpipe – I took a different approach and let them wreck it and get dirty so their parents would complain. Everything was easier after that ha ha

  • Heidi Cruz says:

    Haha. The same thing sort of happened to me. I was shadowing a teacher I was talking over for. Apparently she couldn’t make it her last day until later for some reason and it was not communicated well back to the head teacher. I ended up teaching elementary school kids, but the Japanese secretary who spoke English came over and helped me that day. However, that school was the best place I ended up working in Japan.

  • thejade9 says:

    Didn’t get a demo class, but the people around me said, “You’re going to do your introduction 50 times,” and they were right. I made my introduction materials, went through tons of ESL books, and thought I was prepared when my supervisor told me to do a mock introduction class. I did it, and my chief said, “The students don’t know this word, this word, and that word. Change it.” I changed it to be a simple as pie, and they said yes…but it didn’t prepare me for my first introduction class. Even with the Japanese teacher, it was scary for me. The good thing was the kids were really excited to meet me, so they would randomly scream out, “Cute! Boyfriend?! どこですんでいるの?!” And this was with a supportive network of the JET Programme.

  • Amanda says:

    Oh my gosh, that sounds like a nightmare!

  • Ronald Ivan says:

    Wow. Craigslist is shady even in Japan.

  • Dea Field says:

    haha. thankfully that didn’t happen to me, but it happened to my predecessor in my area. Ostukare though making a game first try with no experience.



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