Teaching English in Japan Q&A for Filipinos and other Non-Native Speakers
I’ve been getting tons of questions and emails regarding teaching in Japan. It seems like many people from back home aspire to teach in this country. I’ve made this into an easy Q&A format.
Q: What are the minimum requirements to teach English in Japan?
A : The answer is it depends.
In order to work as an ALT, I think the only requirement is to have a visa that allows you to work, and speak more English than the average Japanese (which isn’t much). One of my co-teachers at an ALT dispatch company was a Chinese lady with minimum English skills.
In order to work as an eikaiwa teacher, most companies require that a person speak(1) native English (2) or close to native-level English. Other requirements are : (3) a bachelor’s degree in any field (4)visa that allows you to work in Japan (for non-full timers). I cannot reiterate the importance of speaking native-level English : understand that you are competing against native speakers. During the group interview, you’ll realize you’re the only [Southeast] Asian face in the room. There is no b*llshitting your way around it : if you can’t speak the language like a native, or if you can’t answer the interviewer’s question in straight, correct English, then maybe this isn’t the job for you. I am not scaring you away, but at the same time, I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. I’m saying how it is. The interviewers are mostly native English speakers and they can TELL. During my interview, I was the only Filipino in a group of twenty. I am also the only Filipino in my branch. My English isn’t perfect : I do make mistakes from time to time, but they are minimal and not glaring. If you can’t speak native-level English or are not confident enough, then I suggest you try working as an ALT instead. I also know there is a network of Filipino English teachers in Japan (FETJ). They maybe able to help you ( I am not connected with them). Just Google and you shall find!
Q: Do I need teaching experience?
A : The answer is, in most cases, is no. But your best bet is to read the school’s job ad.
Q: Do I need CELTA? TEFL?
A: In most cases, no.
Q: Which school accepts Filipinos ( or other non-native speakers)?
A : Among the big chains, ECC, Berlitz, Aeon, iTTTi, NOVA all accept non-native speakers.
Q: Which eikaiwa school should I try my luck with?
A: It depends on (1) your location (2) your visa status (3) how much work you want to do (4) what you’re willing to do (5)your other priorities . Here in Japan, there are are huge, well-known Eikaiwa schools in the big and medium-sized cities. Then there are the mom-and-pop English schools in small towns whose work may include singing and dancing or changing nappies. The most well-known eikaiwas are : Gaba, Coco Juku, ECC, Berlitz, Aeon, iTTTi, NOVA. Again, you can check my other post about eikaiwa.
If schedule is your biggest priority, then Gaba maybe your best company. The per hour is lower than most, but you get to choose your schedule.
If money is the most important important, then Aeon pays the most for a full-time employee.
If you don’t want to teach kids, then I suggest stating that right away during the interview. These eikaiwas have kid-friendly branches and adults only (usually in the business district).
If location is the most important factor, then I suggest you check the big eikaiwa and the small schools around your neighborhood.
Again, I cannot answer each individual question for you. Google, research.
Q: Do eikaiwa schools sponsor visas for non-native speakers like Filipinos?
A: Yes, some of them do, but NOT ALL. I personally know two Filipinos whose visas where sponsored by the eikaiwa they are working for. But the catch is that you need to be here in Japan already for the interview. The application process is the same for visa holders, except that you need to state that you don’t have a working visa. They can then switch the visa from tourist to work visa. But you need to pass the series of interviews first, before you can demand a visa.
Q: If they sponsor my visa, what happens next ?
A: You need to put up with all their slave working conditions, such as being available to teach forever or have a minimum contract of a year. You see, there’s a big difference between having your own visa and being sponsored a visa. With the latter, the company basically owns you. For all the money they are spending getting your your visa, you get the short end of the stick. You have to be worth it.
Yet after stepping off the tarmac at Narita in August this year, William’s new life in Japan began to turn into something of a nightmare, and the source of the trouble was his new job working for Gaba as an English teacher.
According to William, his troubles began back home in the States when he was interviewed for a teaching position at Gaba by webcam.
“They told me I would be legally required to teach 160 lessons per month for visa sponsorship at a rate of ¥1,500 per lesson. But that didn’t happen.”
William says that rather than the 40 lessons he was promised, he averaged only around 25 — 30 on a good week, and sometimes as low as 10. “This was a source of conflict between myself and my management,” he says.
Despite the fact he was teaching what amounted to a part-time schedule, he had to be in the workplace 40 hours a week or more.
“I would be sitting around in a booth — they would call it a booth, but I would call it essentially a prison cell — and you are expected to sit there until something falls off the cart,” he says.
< japantimes.co.jp/community/2011/12/20/general/gaba-contractor-status-under-fire-from-staff-courts >
Q:If I work for an eikaiwa, what benefits do I get?
A: Aside from getting paid a bigger per hour rate than, say working at a factory or at a restaurant, you also get a ”gaijin shield”. Being a teacher with twenty other foreigners means you don’t have to subject yourself to very strict Japanese business ethics. There is no “seniority” in the Japanese sense. In my school, I don’t have to be there if I am not teaching. It is different from ALT work, which required me to be physically present for 8 hours even though I had to teach only 1 or 2 classes.
Q: How much is the salary?
A: Again, please check my other post, Comparing eikaiwa.
Q: Is my salary enough to support myself?
A: Aha. This is the big question. But I believe if there is a will, there is a way. I put the breakdown on this page.
Q: Where do I live?
A: Before you set off for Japan, understand that housing in Japan is very complicated. It works in a very exclusive way. The rule of thumb is, if you’re not Japanese, you cannot rent your own [decent] place. You need a guarantor (Japanese, of course), you need to pay key money and deposit. You need to prove your worthiness of your pad-to-be. As much as possible, they prefer a fellow Japanese because (1) Japanese understands the unwritten rules of not being meiwaku (“disturbance”) to their neighbors (2) [most]Japanese are honest and will nor run off with unpaid bills (3) if they did #2, the guarantor “guarantees” to settle all unpaid bills (4) in most cases, all documents are in Japanese (5) announcements are also all in Japanese (6) Japanese understand paying reikin or “thank you” money (equivalent to one month’s rent or more) to the landlord. As such, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t ask your friend to guarantee for you. It’s something that, I believe, families or companies should do for you but never a friend. Likewise, don’t measure your friendship based on who is willing to guarantee your housing. It’s like measuring your friendship on who’s willing to lend you money, which is unfair. It’s too heavy a burden to impose on someone who’s not related to you! Your guarantor will be legally culpable if you run away. Most Japanese have their parents as their guarantors.
Q: Which eikaiwa has housing support?
Nova – Yes. But Nova doesn’t hire non-native speakers.
Aeon – Yes
Gaba – No
Coco Juku – No
Ecc – No
Berlitz – No. But can act as guarantor in rental applications
iTTTi – Leopalace
Housing subsidy (money) :
Nova – No
Aeon – subsidy from JPY55,000
Gaba – no
Coco Juku – assistance and deposit
Ecc – No
Berlitz – No. But can act as guarantor in rental applications
iTTTi – No.
I gathered this data from the internet in March 2014. It may be outdated.
*Smaller schools will more likely not support your housing.
Q: I got accepted into **insert school name here** but there will be no housing support. Where do I live?
A: I suggest checking Sakura Guest House or other gaijin-friendly guest houses. For a price, you can even get your own completely private unit. Here is a screen cap of Sakura guest house’s listing. They’re basically all shitty apartments, costing an arm and a leg. But hey you’re in the center of the universe! What you pay in housing, you get to save in train fares.
There are also shared rooms and other shittier places to stay. Google in English.
Q: What are the students like?
A: It depends. Which school do you want to apply to? Some schools cater to all sorts- from 0 to 99 years old. It depends on the schools. It depends on the school’s location. Some specialize in kids, some specialize in business English, some specialize in English tests like TOEIC. In my case, I told them right away that I prefer not to teach kids.
Q: Do you teach group classes or private lessons?
A : Both! 70% of the time, the lessons are private(One student, one teacher). Again, if you are not comfortable teaching groups, then I suggest you apply in schools that specialize in one-on-one lessons like Gaba.
Q: Do you tell them you’re Filipino?
A : Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. I don’t like stating my (1) real name (2) nationality (3) or any other information that can make me searchable on the net (hmm.. I wonder why!). I don’t want them to add me on Facebook or read my blog (as if they can!) Of course, my real name is posted on the school board, but searching for my name on Google will yield nothing interesting. Back home, I use another name legally. I am careful about privacy! You don’t know what kind of wackos are out there!
Q : What kind of problems have you experienced while teaching English?
A : I have had to block a student for being “overly” friendly. Luckily, my school understands the importance of protecting its workers – even from students. Some schools don’t let teachers block students, like Gaba. From the article, Harassers exploit Gaba’s ‘man-to-man’ lesson format posted on The Japan Times :
The first sign that Olivia’s Gaba lesson would be anything but ordinary came when her student insisted during the warmup that he didn’t like wearing clothes.
The middle-aged gentleman had previously studied English with Olivia while wearing the shortest of shorts. On this winter day in February 2012, he wore track pants.
During the lesson, Olivia could hear the client’s hand brushing against his pants. But since he constantly scratched himself due to a skin condition, she thought little of it.
“He was sitting right up to the desk so I couldn’t see what was happening down there. A few minutes before the end of the lesson, he pushed himself back and I could see he had a visible erection, and I could see he was stroking it with one hand.” When their eyes met, she says, “He looked at me in a challenging way.”
Olivia believes that if she had been asked the day before it happened, she could have told you exactly how she would’ve handled the situation. But “in the moment, I kind of just froze,” she says. “Everything flew out of my head and I really didn’t know what to do. So I just kept teaching.”
< japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/06/16/issues/harassers-exploit-gabas-man-man-lesson-format/ >
The student I had didn’t do anything like this, but (worse?) I think he was taking a video of me. Plus, he always brought the conversation to girls. It just made me feel so uncomfortable, I explained to my manager I didn’t want to teach him again. Take note that this situation is rare. I’ve taught hundreds and he’s the only one who made me feel uncomfortable.
Q: How much money did you make last month?
A : I made more than (net) JPY 300,000 Yen (roughly 3,000 USD) last month. Take note : this is not my usual salary. I put in a lot of extra hours, working 6 days a week from morning to night. And it’s not guaranteed : it just so happened there were three teachers who were on leave and I was working to buy me and my husband our plane tickets for Christmas.
Q: So do you manage to save money working as a teacher?
A: No. Unfortunately, I am heavily in debt, and still paying off my student + housing loan!
Q: What are the best and worst things about teaching in eikaiwa?
Best : (1)schedule. I can open my schedule to work more hours and close it if I don’t want to. (2) higher per hour rate than other arubaito for gaijin (3) even higher per-hour rate on certain days (4) exemption to most Japanese rules (5) no need to take the morning rush hour train
Worst : (1) no weekends. (2) dress code (3)split shifts (4) dead end job (5) not real teaching, more like hostessing (6) endless monitoring.
Q : So are you saying teaching and hostessing are the same?
A : To some extent, yes. I got feedback from a female student saying that I “didn’t smile” enough. Whaaat?
In the end, we were told to be flexible about our lessons. If the student wanted to chat instead of working on the textbook, then we chat. We give them what we want. We are instructed to praise them generously. We cannot fail them in their level checks, because if you do, they may switch to another school.
Q : What should I remember about teaching English in Japan?
A: You have to lower your standards. Japanese are not imaginative or critical thinkers. They were raised to be told what to do. You need to spoon feed them. You can’t just ask them to “make small talk”. You have to list down possible topics you can talk about and number them on the board.
Each student is different, but at the same time, they make the same mistakes. Some students believe the textbook is sacred and must be followed to the dot. Some students believe that real chatting is more important than using the textbook. Some students cry when you correct them but insist that you correct them anyway. Some students like to complain about their boss, their jobs or the promotion they never got but think they deserve. Just let them! Remember, this is a business and not real education. The company will do anything to keep the students-and that means ANYTHING!
Also, they will never tell you that they hate your or like you to your face. They are what we call back home, plastik na walastik.. maybe because they think it’s rude, or because their society favors wearing the “tatemae” mask in public. I’ve had several complaints myself, usually from males who think they are better than they think (when in reality, even after forty minutes, they still can’t use “stable” and “stability” properly in a sentence) . If that happens, just learn from it and move on. Don’t let it get to you.
And lastly, enjoy it! I like teaching (so far)! I learned I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Fully born and bred Japanese will never speak like a native. Get over it. Life is short. The teacher can usually set the tone (although some students do tend to be pretty dense). So when I start laughing at their mistakes (can’t help it), many of them tend to loosen up. And, believe it or not, I actually like teaching adult group lessons more than teaching kids group lessons.
Any other questions I haven’t answered? Please READ before asking me. I tried to cover as much as I could. Here are links to my previous articles. Warning : They’re fairly brutal. But they are my experience and I feel that I must share with the readers everything.