So you aspire to work as a teacher in Japan or perhaps is already one; the idea of living and making a living in a country full of surprises is an experience worth the distance from your home country. It’s something that you just have to try for yourself to see what and where it could take you next.
For two years I’ve worked as an English teacher for both in public elementary and junior high school in the town where I live. Although technically I’m a foreigner permanently residing here, I do still share the same sentiments with foreigners coming here for work since I myself is not that fluent when it comes to speaking Japanese. But one thing I can say for sure, deciding to work here as a teacher is one of the best decision I’ve ever made and I’m sure to those who had the same career path as me, they will tell you the same thing. Of course it varies over all but let me share with you some events that highlighted my teaching job, the things I have learned along the way and some footnotes for you to remember if you ever aspire to be one.
You will always be different and that’s okay.
This is not only because of how you look (especially for western people). Well although that plays a major part of why you feel very different towards your co workers, your students or the town where you live, that’s not only the case. It could also because of your cultural norms.
Bottom line is being different doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing, rather you can use it to your own advantage. Some people are more than welcome to explain things to you like activities at school or how things are done inside the office. As for my experience, that’s how I ended up making friends who as of now I considered to be the closest people I know. In conclusion, don’t be afraid to not know anything about Japanese culture, ask questions or make mistakes. In the entire school, big chances are you are the only foreigner. If you have little to no Japanese speaking skill you probably have almost no one to converse with except some teachers who can speak English.
Being different is okay and could also be a great thing to some extent but, don’t be indifferent and instead immerse to your job and with people around you uniquely.
The thing about Japanese School Lunch.
Japanese school lunch has a reputation for being healthy. After all, they do hire a school nutritionist who plans and decide the school menu every single day. It is not mandatory to avail the school lunch, but if you are on a budget, it’s a really good deal. For 300-400 Yen (more or less 2-3 dollars) you can eat a full set meal. Some schools also require you to eat with the students to encourage them to converse with you in English outside their English lessons. Most of these kids had never encountered with a foreigner before so just know that you have to make the move and talk to them first (hint: body gestures are a life saver). It could get very exhausting sometimes but do believe that they always look forward to see you having meal with them while sitting on that tiny desk.
Your lessons will not always go as plan so be flexible.
Now you are very excited to teach and have so many ideas and cool activities for the lesson. Well let me tell you now, it won’t always turn up the way you carefully thread it out to be or worse, you don’t get to plan anything. This highly depends on the school but you’ll always have a designated English leader who gets the final say. I can’t speak to this generally because my experience also varied to every lesson I thought. So the English leader will give you the lesson plan on what to teach and even how to teach it. Some cases they give you nothing at all and have you plan everything from scratch. In every lesson is a team up lesson with the home room teacher who translates English to Japanese instructions if necessary. To begin with, most of the teachers have little to no English skill. That alone is a challenge. My advise is to keep everything as simple as you can, remember that your job is to teach and not to discipline (leave that to the home room teacher) and be very- very patient.
Your work relationship inside the teacher’s room.
Now about your co workers, it’s either from hanging out with them outside of work to not knowing their full names at all. Both could happened. In Japan, almost all teachers move to a different school every year. Same with English teachers especially that the job is contractual. I must say that learning a little bit of Japanese can really help you through. Some try their best to make conversations with you and while some do everything to avoid it. At first, I’ve wondered if I did something wrong but then I learned that it’s nothing really personal. Most Japanese do not have the confidence to speak English. It’s a fact that you have to accept by the time you landed here. I started with zero Japanese at all then gradually picking up some words and practiced myself to be at ease in saying it. Learning some key words could make a difference from saying good morning ”ohayo gozaimasu” , thank you ”arigatou gozaimasu” to saying ”otsukaresama desu” which is an appreciation for working hard and is often heard among colleagues. Learn it by heart and your co workers will surely appreciate it.
Like any other jobs there are highs and lows but it’s a great exchange of culture. You learn while you also teach. Moreover, there will be things that you don’t agree with but try to understand and respect the differences. After all, what makes this job exciting is the diversity of it.