Teaching English in Japan

Most of my adult life I have been teaching Eglish in Japan. Straight out of college I came over and taught in a Junior high school in a mid-sized city. After doing that for four years, and with various adventures and disasters that make up teaching spirnkled in, I moved up, or perhaps over is more accurate, to the prefectural board of education. Two days a week I would teach in various special needs schools. Three days a week I was at a desk organizing training seminars, writing the occasional report, seeing how the sausage was made. And to be completely honest reading a lot of Wikipedia.

Teaching for eight years taught me two main things. The first was that I enjoyed teaching. Coming from a clans of teachers on both sides on both parents’ sides this was something I struggled against. Who wants to do the same thing as a majority of the people in your extended family? Even though I couldn’t, possibly still can’t, admit I want a career teaching I can certainly admit I enjoy it.

The other thing I learned, or at least came to believe, is that despite a three decade history of recruiting native English speakers for schools the education system is not yet prepared to make a standard career for teaching English. It is still a job. When things go well it can be a great and fulfilling job. When things go wrong it can be exploitive and humiliating.

Some of this is due to the system viewing foreign teacher’s as temporary workers meriting only limited contracts and working conditions rarely push to full time and all the mandatory benefits that entails. Some of it is due to the image, and in some cases the reality, of foreign teachers using this job for quick and easy money. 

To be fair, a majority of the teachers I have known working in Japan had no desire to work long term in Japan. There has even been a small amount of those who lived up to every negative stereotype I have heard about foreign teachers. But there are also those who would like to turn their teaching gigs into actual careers. Most often there is no real path to make this a possibility. Even the best deals rarely offer stability or growth.

Why am I writing this? Because I like my job. I like teaching. I like my workplace. I like my students. But I am about to finish the year one contract and move into the year two contract. I need to remind myself what this means. I need to keep my expectations realistic. This might be the best work situation I have had since moving here, but that doesn’t mean I can trust it being there for the long time. And when you ar trying to raise a family that can be the scariest part of teaching in Japan.

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