Surviving Summer As An ALT In Japan

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Empty Japanese school classroom.

It’s that time of year again when schools across Japan wind down for the summer break and our overworked students can finally enjoy a little respite for a few weeks. No such luck for our Japanese colleagues though. Teachers in Japan may get four or five days off during summer — if they’re lucky.

The same goes for full-time, direct hire English teachers working for city boards of education or private junior/senior high schools.

If you’re an ALT working for a dispatch company, however, you’ll probably get about six weeks off without pay, whether you asked for it or not. Some companies will offer a small stipend during this time you’re not working as part of the contract. Dispatch companies all across Japan market this as an “opportunity.” For example, the chance to go home for a few weeks to visit family, travel around Japan or visit other nearby Asian countries.

Not all companies do this. I know of at least one major ALT dispatch company that pays teachers the same salary all year round — even on summer break. But, sadly, this is the exception when I feel it should be the rule.

The reality is this isn’t a holiday being offered by dispatch companies. It’s a mandatory period of unpaid leave — and it should be advertised as such.

I know many ALTs who signed up to work in Japan and were not made aware of this circumstance until September arrived and they found their paycheck considerably lighter than usual. Especially in those first few months, when we are all struggling to find our financial footing, having almost half your salary docked, or possibly even worse, really is despicable.

Of course, there is the argument that these young, naïve teachers should have read the “small print” before signing up, but companies also have a duty of care to ensure that the full terms and conditions of their contracts are made abundantly clear to all teachers prior to signing up. Clearly, this isn’t happening now, as I outlined in a recent debate I had over on the ALT Insider podcast.

So, what is an ALT to do in this situation?

Well, let’s assume that you’re earning something in the region of ¥230,000 to ¥240,000 per month before tax. With a 40 percent deduction, once the relevant taxes, etc., have been taken out, you’re looking at a shortfall of ¥80,000 to ¥100,000 on your current net salary.

There are a few ways to make this up.

1. Summer camps

First off, consider doing a couple of summer camps. These are advertised on Gaijinpot and elsewhere on the internet, and basically, these are typically two- to three-day assignments where you often stay overnight in a countryside venue and play games or teach English classes to students.

Pay is usually in the range of ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 per day, which isn’t great, but typically, there is little to no preparation involved, meaning these assignments really are “easy money,” as they say.

2. Extra English courses

Intensive English courses offer a similar, though more demanding, option. Many of the Eikaiwa chains and business English training firms across Japan are looking for specialist teachers to go in and teach a few-day intensive courses, sometimes longer, to company workers who will soon travel abroad.

The pay for these is a bit higher, sometimes as much as ¥20,000 per day, or as much as ¥30,000 per day if it’s a business course, but it is tiring, demanding and requires a serious commitment in terms of planning.

You can also expect to be on your feet and be teaching for at least six to seven hours per day to students who may not be especially motivated. However, on the plus side, just one week of intensive teaching will pretty much make up your salary shortfall for September.

3. Part-time eikaiwa teacher

Another option, more readily available, though admittedly less attractive, is part-time Eikaiwa (English conversation school) teaching. Again, the big eikaiwa chains do, from time to time, look for additional teachers to fill in for full-timers who take a summer break, or an increase in kids’ daytime classes that comes with the school holidays.

Pay is low, hours are not guaranteed, but if nothing else, there’s usually plenty of this kind of piecemeal work available, especially if you live in or close to the larger cities.

Be aware, however, that the visa that allows ALTs to engage in work is different from the visa required for Eikaiwa work. Before you start working with an Eikaiwa you will need to get an extra document from immigration that allows you to take on this additional extra work. This is a fairly routine process that involves getting a few documents from the Eikaiwa and then submitting them to immigration.

I would advise that you don’t discuss this extra work with your dispatch company. Some of them will tell you that taking on extra work violates your contract. But such threats, as well as being totally impractical are, in practice, also legally unenforceable.

4. Become a private tutor

A final option is one that will require a bit more effort and forward planning on your part but which could ultimately reap greater rewards.

Go to local community centers, use local Facebook pages or websites and advertise yourself as a private English teacher. I typically charge ¥5,000 per hour for this, but for an entry level teacher or one who has only been in Japan a few years, probably ¥2,000 to ¥3,000 yen per hour is a good starting point. Picking up a few private students will give you some much needed extra cash in August, but also, if nurtured correctly, it can provide a very nice little side earner for the rest of the year, too.

I would advise that you don’t discuss this extra work with your dispatch company. Some of them will tell you that such extra work violates your contract. However, such threats are, in practice, legally unenforceable.

So, what do you think? Am I being too hard on the dispatch companies, or is it high time things were reformed? What tips do you have for a side income? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Zen Zen says:

    This is business as usual in China. My last job came with a 40% salary deduction in July and August, which is already generous considering that most school won’t pay you anything. Truth is International schools only will pay the same salary all year round.

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