If you’re thinking of making a major detour in your life and want to try something
really different, you might consider teaching English in Japan. Because the Japanese
have an almost insatiable appetite for learning English, there is quite a lot of work
out there. But before you hop on a plane and fly 10,000 miles east you should give
some serious thought to what kind of school you want to teach for.
Before we go any further, keep in mind that smaller schools aren’t necessarily any
easier to teach for than the large chain schools. To be perfectly honest, I’ve heard
horror stories from both. (Yes, even the Jet Program.) So anything said about the
pros and cons are at best a generalization.
The Basic Types of Schools
There are basically two types of English conversation schools. The very large chain
schools with literally hundreds of locations throughout Japan like ECC, Geos and
Nova and your smaller privately owned schools. These may have only 4 or 5
branches, many have only a single branch.
Differences in Accommodations
Large ESL schools usually have accommodations for you. Generally they
pay the key money and will handle communications with your landlord if anything
breaks. Often they will rent several units in 1 apartment house, so you’ll have
friendly faces just 2 doors down. It can be very convenient not to mention make
things a whole lot easier to have colleagues next door to point you in the right
direction or help get you connected.
Smaller schools sometimes don’t offer accommodations because they
prefer to hire from within Japan. There is less risk in doing so and they simply don’t
want to fork out the key money. So many times if you want to work for a smaller
school, you may have to find your own accommodations in Japan.) No easy feat!
(This can be several thousand dollars. So be sure to ask about this and remember
finding a place to live is usually harder than finding a job in Japan. (Provided you
don’t want to live in a shared arrangement like a “gaijin” or guest house.
How ESL Schools Differ in Curriculum
Large ESL schools often won’t have any flexibility in their curriculum. You will teach
what you’re told to teach. If you don’t have experience or confidence in laying out
lesson plans and would prefer not to do it, then this inflexibility will be a
Smaller ESL schools will often be more flexible with their curriculum (if
they even have one).
So you’ll be responsible for planning your own lessons. This can give you the chance
to experiment with new ESL games, activities and texts. Ultimately it makes you a
Differences in Teaching Atmosphere
Large ESL schools tend to see their teachers as expendable. With their
massive recruiting budget and connections, they can replace teachers in the blink of
a young girl’s eye. This results in a colder atmosphere and causes faster turnover in
the staff, which again adds to a colder atmosphere because long-term bonds never
get made. Some of them also discourage contact with students after classes. Often
large schools will put a non-fraternization clause into their contracts for you to
sign. If you’re seen out with students, you may be reprimanded or fired.
Smaller ESL schools tend to treat the teacher as a part of their team and
may value your opinions and input on various school functions. They also allow you
to hangout with students after class – this helps build relationships and ads to the
whole experience. It’s nice to be able to attend a party thrown by one of your
Differences in Money
Large school salaries will all be in the 250,000 yen range. Your large chain
schools usually give some kind of bonus – whether it is a free ticket back or a
completion bonus. Generally the raises will be very small.
Smaller ESL schools often give a bit more in the salary category simple
because some of them are so far out in the country, that it’s hard to find teachers.
Often it’s easier to get raises (or bigger raises) and other perks from smaller ESL
schools than the larger ones. They don’t have such a well-oiled recruitment
machine so it’s tough and a big pain for them to replace teachers. If your quality
teaching helps build their student base, they’re often quicker to recognize your
efforts through larger contract renewal bonuses, raises and other perks.
Whether you choose a large or small school, you’ll still be afforded the opportunity
to get a first hand look at a very unique culture, make friends that last a lifetime and
get your international career off to a good start!
John Paxton is an ESL teacher living and working in central Japan.
You can find more detailed information about what to expect teaching in Japan at [http://www.all-about-teaching-english-in-japan.com].
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