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Transitioning from Public to Private School

By 5 min read

Whilst my regular readers here on Gaijinpot will know that for most of the past 3 years I have been teaching English in public schools across Osaka City, last month my time there finally came to an end.

Sadly, like all too many English teaching jobs in Japan, Osaka City chooses to pursue the utterly ridiculous process of firing all teachers once they have completed three years of service, regardless of their performance. Sadly as an increasing number of organisations in Japan seek to avoid giving employees their due entitlements, this alarming trend is moving far beyond just English teachers.

Luckily for me, through my network of contacts I have now found myself working in a private junior and senior high school, with a package that is in some ways better than what I had previously.

So, is going into a private school any better than working in the public system? That depends on the individual and their expectations of the job. Based on my initial impressions, it is certainly different in a number of ways. However, with a new job inevitably comes new challenges.

The most immediately noticeable difference is in the workload and the way the teacher finds themselves being utilized.

The most immediately noticeable difference is in the workload and the way the teacher finds him or herself being utilized. In my previous job, teachers could find themselves scheduled to teach at up to 8 different schools, depending on the district. This is spread over a schedule often in excess of 20 classes per week, with each class containing around 40 students. This means coming into contact with hundreds of different students each week, making getting to know your students next to impossible. It also leaves precious little time for effective planning or collaboration with your Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs).

In my new job, I am based in one school and my biggest class only has 24 students. When you factor in the one 90 minute seminar per week I am required to give at the adjacent junior college, my total teaching load still comes in at only 9 classes per week, less than half what I was expected to teach previously. Plus, it’s nice to finally have my own coffee mug, unrestricted internet ready computer, and a big comfy office chair in which to sit every day.

On a more serious note, this extra free time allows me to prepare much more in-depth lesson plans and far more materials for my lessons. The smaller class sizes also allow me to get to know my students better.

Sounds good so far doesn’t it?

Then there is the small matter of lunch. Given the number of different schools that a typical ALT is expected to work at getting a school lunch consistently is by no means guaranteed. Depending on where one is based, they may have no choice but to go for a convenience store bento (not exactly healthy or cost efficient). The plus point of being based in just one location is that organizing school lunch is easy, and it comes at subsidized rate too.

Ok, by this point you’re probably all thinking “right, where do I sign up?” but proceed carefully, this isn’t a job for everyone and it does have its various pitfalls.

Firstly, you have to ask yourself, how serious are you about teaching?

In my new school, as is the case in almost all private schools in Japan, the level of responsibility and direct control that you have over lessons is far greater than what one may be used to as an ALT.

Back in my previous role, as is the case with many ALTs around Japan, I often found myself relegated to the role of “human tape recorder” being called upon to recite a few pages of text per class and that was it. Easy money some of you may say, but the problem is this is not only boring, but it makes the occasions when you do actually have to do some work rather jarring.

However, in the private system you are expected to plan the lessons entirely by yourself. Depending on the particular institution, you may or may not have a JTE in the room with you but their role is purely one of support. The teaching itself is entirely down to you.

Personally, I am enjoying being given the freedom to try out new ideas and experiment with new activities in class now that I am free from the confines of a conventional textbook driven lesson, but I realise this may not be for everyone. It can seem daunting and at times confusing, especially in the beginning and one must also be prepared for those times when a class doesn’t exactly go according to plan.

Also, given that private schools are a business rather than a public service you can expect more direct accountability for your work too.

Interestingly enough, we also have to contend with a very similar gripe that befalls workers all across Japan, You will, from time to time, be required to work a bit beyond your standard working hours.

For example, although I start at 8:30 am officially, I am expected to be at school around 8:10 am in order to do the morning greeting for students.

You may also be asked once or twice per week to stay a little later to help out with the school English club or preparing for speech contests and so on. It isn’t usually any more than about 20 minutes or so beyond your finishing time and the school really will appreciate it.

Of course, if you are a particularly obliging ALT in your current public school then you may well be doing this kind of thing already. However, I would say that such behaviors are an encouraged form of “best practice” amongst public and dispatch ALTs whereas from what I understand of the private sector, for full-timers, such things are the norm.

However, my biggest reason for choosing this job wasn’t the higher salary, or the longer holidays, it was the permanence. Yes, like an ALT I will still be subject to an annual renewal based on performance, as is the industry standard. However I now have the assurance that, unlike before, so long as I continue to do what is expected of me, this job is mine for as long as I need it. That peace of mind truly is something that money can’t buy.

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