Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teaching English in Japan

Here we go... almost everything I know about teaching English in Japan.

I get a load of emails from people wanting information and advice. Not just boring stuff like, "Should I teach English in Japan?", but stuff like, "Exactly how much can I earn teaching freelance English lessons at Starbucks to businessmen?" or "Should I get signed on with a big teaching school, get to Japan, and then quit with my visa still sitting pretty at 364 days?" or "What camera do you use?"

There are two schools of thought for teaching here. Of course there is a third as well. Let's look at the third one first.

Go to college and get a proper teaching degree -> land a job at an international school -> the end. You can land a pretty decent job, with benefits and all that shit. This is assuming, though, that you want to make a career out of teaching. You might be able to pull this off with a fake degree from Thailand. I have neither a real teaching degree nor a fake degree of any kind. I have a degree in computers. Moving on.

The two schools of thought are
  1. Salary. A salaried, 40 hours a week, 5 days a week job with either a major eikaiwa (English conversation school) or as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).
  2. Freelance contracts. Have a bunch of part time eikaiwa or ALT or other jobs.
Both have benefits and drawbacks. I have also done both. When I first came to Japan, I was a salaried worker for a major eikaiwa. Now in Tokyo, I do freelance style, and currently have 4 sources of income.

Salary Style.

There is a notion that anyone with a college degree (in any field) and a pulse can get a job teaching English in Asia. This is 100% totally true. Not only is it easy to land the job, but logistics are all taken care of by the company. They will often deal with visa paperwork, housing, even airfare and training. And to make matters even easier, many of them recruit overseas. What are you waiting for?

I started with a company called Amity, which is a children's eikaiwa. I interviewed in Los Angeles, was hired a couple weeks later, and spent a year and a half with them. I'm happy with the experience, though if you read some older posts, maybe I wasn't having the best time. If you selectively forget negative experiences, life is smooth. Word.

Some links of easy to get salaried teaching companies:
  • AEON - with 10 recruiting stations in the US, Canada, England, and Australia. They pay a decent salary of 270,000 yen (about 3 Gs) and give bonuses, which is a nice... bonus.
  • Amity - the children's division of AEON. You will get a better salary, but you MUST love getting punched in the nuts, grabbed on your titties, and poked in your butthole by little kids. I'm not a perv, kids in Japan do that shit every day. The salary was 285,000 yen when I worked there, and I often got about 30,000 a month in bonuses. No jobs in Tokyo though, everything is relatively countryside.
  • Nova - This is the notoriously famous eikaiwa that fucked it's employees and students, then went bankrupt, then was bought by another company. The concept of "2 big 2 fail" is out of control in Japan, and it's back to business as usual. They even kept the stupid mascot! 4 years ago, almost every foreigner in Japan was working for Nova. People talk (ed) mad shit about this school, and I miss the almost bi-weekly random news reports about Nova staff getting busted for selling coke, or blogs by Nova teachers talking about how many of their students they were laying, or stories about general nonsense. It was funny.
  • ECC - Another generic eikaiwa. I knew a lot of ECC teachers in Tokyo. Most of them were of the "party in Tokyo for a year" mentality. Huge social circles, and often the gay bar "Dragon Men" in Shinjuku would be full of ECC teachers from 7-10pm, when they have their 1000 yen all you can drink special. I'm not saying they are all queer, just broke.
  • GEOS - wait a minute.... did they just go bankrupt too?
  • Interac - Japan's number one ALT placement company. The salary is shitty, at the minimum legal rate of 250,000 yen. But if you would rather work a 8-4 public school job than a 11-8 eikaiwa job, go for it.
  • JET - The government sponsored ALT company. The salary is better, the locations more countryside, and the application process is much more involved. I don't know enough to talk about it, but I do know not to talk shit, lest a band of merry JETs descend upon me in a murderous rage in the night. They tend to dwell in packs and be very proud of their JETness. In more than 1 countryside city, I've gone to the local gaijin bar and seen a group of JETs huddles together, speaking in JET lingo, talking shit about all the other white folk in the town. Come to think of it, I've also seen the same thing with Canadians.
Each company has different policies about housing. Most will help you out. I haven't heard of any giving it for free. Some subsidize. Some put you with roommates. Check the websites.

So there you go. You'll get here, you'll make enough to survive, you'll get the same holiday weeks that all the Japanese get, and you'll have a swell time in Japan. I was actually able to save about $1000 a month, with a take home of about $2000 after taxes, rent, bills, etc. I was the only person I ever met who saved any money though, which I don't understand. Or maybe I do. My female friends all spent hella dough on clothes, and the dudes all got high maintenance girlfriends.

About vacations, each company is different. At Amity, I had the usual Japanese national holiday days off. But, most Japanese 1-day holidays are on a Monday. And the job was Tuesday to Saturday. Do some math, carry the 1, and you'll see that 90% of the national holidays fall on your regular day off. Daaaaamn. And no, it doesn't mean you get the next day off instead.

More about vacations. I also got 5 flex-time days a year. So you can essentially get an extra week vacation at one point. The manager of your school will likely be angry if you try and use these days, as the Japanese staff follows an unwritten rule that they are not to be used. But a nice trip in the off-season trumps and angry manager, for sure.

Oh, another rad bonus of this system. The bonus is bonuses. Many contracts have some sort of completion bonus. I got about a grand for a year and a half. Plus many will pay for your flight home. Plus your rent deposit might be through your company. At mine, they paid me all of that, plus my month and change in salary, all in cash on my last day. So even if I hadn't saved a yen, I got a wad of like $4000 in a nice little envelope on my last day.

On top of that, when you leave you can apply to get your pension back, if you were forced to pay into the system. So that could be as much as $2000 per year. All that adds up to a nice pillow you could use to travel for a while, buy some sweet wheels, or get a ring for that girl you just knocked up. できちゃった ya'll!

What did I do with my tons of post contract scrilla? I moved to Tokyo and started...

Freelance Style Work (aka hella different job, aka living day by day, aka not for the feint of heart)

First off, let me say that I'm not going to mention particular companies that I currently work for. I just don't want 1 of the 5 people who might read this to be a boss of mine and get the wrong idea about me. Because doing freelance is a volatile situation! Let's say you have 20 days a month where you teach a couple high school classes, but there is a typhoon and school gets cancelled for a week. There goes a potential $800. Let's say a private student gets transfered to Germany. There goes triple digit $ in lost potential a month. Let's say the swine flu is back with a vengeance, there go your kids after school lessons; and there goes a cool G for the month. Let's say your camp boss reads this blog, doesn't like what you said about Saitama, and fires you. The potential loss is huge. But on the other hand...

The sky's the limit! Let's soar!
  • Gaba - I'll start with this one. If you work for Gaba, then something is wrong with you. That said, I worked for Gaba for a little over a year. Here's the deal... they hire anyone, and they let you make your own schedule (more on that in a sec). My interview with Gaba was literally a dude asking me if I had a valid visa, then hiring me. You go through some bullshit company training, which allows the company to advertise that it's instructors are certified (even the 18 year old British kid who was obsessed with manga on a working holiday visa is billed as certified). You schedule yourself in their computer system, and show up on those days. The catch is that if a student doesn't sign up for your lesson slot, you won't get paid. This is all straight forward, so it's not like you're getting tricked or anything, but if you don't work nights or weekends, you won't be getting much pay, cause no one will sign up for your class. And the pay is pathetic at $15 for a 40 minute lesson. There is opportunity for raises, but they have this whack system involving unpaid training sessions and an employee ranking system which only works if you devote 6 days a week to them. But, like I said, they hire anyone, and quick, so when I first moved to Tokyo I was suddenly making $70 a night and $150 on weekends, so it's a good place to start. In the end, I kept making my schedule less and less, and they decided to hint that I should quit by not approving my schedule of 3 hours a week. And that was the end of that. By the way, I know a few people who work full time at Gaba, supporting families with kids. They are all generally unhappy with their work, but, hey... it's a living. Oh, and they make you wear a black suit everyday, no exceptions. Thanks for listening to my rant on Gaba.
  • Part time ALT work - It's not hard, if you want to work from April to March, to get a job working at a public school as an assistant language teacher. You can find listings on gaijinpot.com, just past all the fucking Gaba ads. Of course, you can get a full time ALT gig, which might pay as little as 240,000 yen a month (should I write in yen? Usually I just take off 2 zeros and call it dollars, but of course that's wrong). Anyways, $2400 for 5 days a week of work, albeit it easy work. But more attractive, in my opinion, is part time ALT work. You earn from $70 to $150 a day, and you are off work in the afternoon, so you can go to the park or start a ramen blog or get other jobs. The point is you'll have a ton of free time. It's pretty easy to make $2000 a month off the bat and only work 3 days a week.
A quick note about money. Chances are, you're looking at these dollar amounts and thinking, "The fuck? That's hella low! I'm trying to make $80k a year." There aren't many opportunities for big money for the unqualified English teacher fresh to Japan. I could talk about free time vs. money potential and all that crap, but let's just say that I have a lot of free time and a stress free work life. But I only have enough to ride a 20 year old used motorcycle. On the other hand, a buddy of mine has a new BMW adventure bike every year, but he's a slave at his office. We're both a bit jealous of each other. Funny how that works. Back to the point...
  • Private students. This is a great way to make some extra cash on the side. You meet these English learners, people of all walks of life, at a cafe or their house, or their business and give a 1 hour lesson. Usually it's just free conversation with some textbook work thrown in. When you get some cool students, it's pretty enjoyable. You can charge anywhere from $20 an hour to $50 or so. Scheduling can be a challenge, and lately I have a few too many students, especially in the evenings. So you may have to play a juggling game... with human lives! Rad! Getting students is usually done through agencies like; findstudents.net, teacherstudent.com, eigopass.net, findateacher.net, abckara.com, plus about a dozen others I never signed up for. About half my students come from referrals though, word of mouth stuff. One note about the services. Some of them will charge your students a monthly fee and try to act like you work for them. One company, which I haven't talked to for over a year and a half, has been charging my students $40 a month for my services. It's kind of whack, because they tell the students that I'm part of the company and that we work together for their benefit and what not. But we don't. I schedule everything directly with the students. But I'm scared to say anything because I heard some of these companies have mafia ties. Oh, another note, a lot of people who teach private lessons are smooth talking guys who use it as a dating service. So if that's your thing... go for it you scumbag!

I'm kind of scattered when I write this. Actually, I've been writing this post for about 6 months, maybe spending 10 minutes at a time, often when avoiding more important things. Remember, this info is meant for someone new to the world of unqualified English teaching, with no Japanese language ability, and little or no social network in Tokyo. It should go without saying that if you've been here a few years, you should be able to upgrade things to a point. Some private schools hire teachers directly. Some rad children's programs don't advertise for new workers. Get out there, socialize and doing your thing, and think positive. Or you can just work at the eikaiwa for ten years. I know a few dudes who do that. Speaking of kids...

Kidz vs Adults (aka, gettin punches in the nuts or stinky old man breath)

I don't know where I'm going with this, I just wanted to mention that today I spent an hour with an 8 year old boy, after his grandma's English lesson, eating Thai food and talking about how to kill zombies. He hates the notion of learning English, but I got him to understand the difference between a shotgun and a machine gun, which are English words, so I guess it's good. Also, we came to a mutual conclusion that punching a zombie in the nuts won't do much. So... teaching kids is rad cause kids are pretty funny sometimes.

Getting constantly punched in the nuts... zombie style... is the downside. You think I'm joking. I'm not. There is some dynamic in Japan between kids and their teachers (maybe just the foreign ones) that leads to the infamous kancho.

Teaching adults is more mentally stimulating, usually. But sometimes they have bad breath.

You can fart hella loud in front of a little kid and gain superhero status. Do the same in a Starbucks with your hot 25 year old fashion designer student and things will turn out different.

The End

I'm fully aware that I've stopped talking about useful things and started making poop jokes. So I'll stop. You can ask me questions in the comments.

// ***************
// Years later . . .
// ***************

In case people were wondering, after about four years in Tokyo, my work is in a good place. I have about six or seven sources of income.
  1. I teach part time at a private girl's high school. This is a direct hire. I was introduced by a friend who was leaving the job. Usually these jobs are through an agency, but a few years before I started, the agency and school had a falling out and they just went ahead and hired directly. The school pays less, the teachers get more. It is pay-by-the-lesson style, so if there is a typhoon, I am out some serious cash.
  2. I work for a kid's school a few days a week. The classrooms are actually at local people's houses all over the greater Tokyo area, so I always travel to some new spot. Usually two or three lessons in a day. Ages from five to 15.
  3. I have about six regular private students now. I haven't been searching at all. I like my evenings and want to have more of them free.
  4. I work doing summer camps. A month away, living in hotels in the mountains. My summer is pretty much given to the company. Luckily the other camp people are some of my best friends. The pay is extraordinary.
  5. I do children's events. Singing (sing-talk ftw) and dancing with kids.
  6. I work for a Japanese magazine, but that's another story.

//Again, years later

I wrote this all back in 2010. If you've been following me all that time . . . who are we kidding . . . if you have been following me all that time I think I know who you are. All 3 of you. Anyways, these days (2016), I do:

  1. I still work at the high school. I'll probably be fired soon because I take a lot of days off to eat ramen.
  2. I picked up a once-a-week teaching gig at a beauty college. Hunh? Well, the pay is good, the lessons are simple, and it forces me out of the house on Wednesdays. I tend to get more done if I'm pushed to wake up before noon.
  3. Only one private student left! She has a fascinating job in the English world translating certain things that I can't talk about.
  4. The kid's shows are kind of my main gig.
  5. Ramen, ramen, ramen.
Actually, I devote about 2/3 of my energy to the ramen stuff. Teaching has been good, but the ramen stuff has been vastly more interesting.

//2018 year end update?

I stopped updating this blog this year, which is kind of sad. Anyways, if you want to know what kind of teacher I am now, the answer is I am not.

1. Quit the high school. Or maybe I was fired. The didn't renew my contract, a contract I wasn't going to take anyways. In typical Japanese fashion, the foreigner was ignored for years. It caught up with me; showing up everyday, teaching kids who either really wanted to learn, or standing in front of a class of silence. Like many teaching jobs in Japan, it was easy money, but it just felt like it needed to end.

2. Left the beauty college. I liked that place, but it was another mindless job.

3. I don't know why I am numbering this list.

4. Currently, I perform in children's events on the weekend, and do ramen related activities on the weekdays. If I could focus I would be a famous, successful YouTuber / writer, but I find it hard to concentrate these days. For example, I was searching this defunct blog for photos of when I was in Shikoku (for my next book) but instantly got distracted by this, my most successful post. So instead of doing something that will earn me money and fame, I'm typing some bull. Hooray!


AdelaideBen said...

Great post - lots of great info in your great style. Great! (ok... enough of my limited vocab)...

I really thought that this was useful - not that I'm looking for teaching work right now (that ship has most likely sailed), but I've always wanted to know how the system came together.

By the way - it'd be interesting to hear more of your observations (from the inside) on the sorts of people that do English teaching - especially those that stay on. Call it a perverse voyerism.... ?;)

PS. Not sure if I mentioned it... but great post.

AdelaideBen said...

PPS - love your style... even the poop jokes.

MC said...

did you really get fired from that camp this summer....i was wondering why there was no more mention of it

Ramen Adventures said...

MC - No no, just speculation about what could happen if I mention companies I work for by name. Someone was fired from a previous company for mentioning stuff on a blog, though that was more along the lines of "My 14 year old student is super hot", which is pretty fucked up.

Blue Shoe said...

Nice post - informative and funny.

As for those companies that are charging your students, why don't you just explain it to the students and have them tell the companies that they're quitting their lessons? Then just continue as normal. Wouldn't think there'd be a problem unless they routinely send thugs to see if people "really" quit or not.

And yeah, JETs do form cliques. Probably because of the big network - various support and "community" groups, but mandatory yearly conferences and such. Fairly easy to make friends.

I also wouldn't mind seeing a follow-up post of some kind.

Ramen Adventures said...

Blue Shoes - I eventually hinted to the students that they didn't need to be paying the company. I'm weary because if a student said to them, "Hey, my teacher said to quit and work for him direct", I don't know what would happen. At most an angry phone call, but still...

Anonymous said...

do you know the likely hood of getting a teaching job, freelance or whatever, without a BA and just a tesol?

Ramen Adventures said...

Anon: For Americans, we can only get a working visa, which needs degree from a 4 year. Many other countries can come on a 3 or 6 month working holiday visa. Of course, there are obscure exceptions that I don't really know much about. I know a guy wit a fake BA he bought in Thailand though, so you can always go that route.

Anonymous said...

@brain...thx for the info....fake ba from thailand....mmm? i much prefer a vd...lol

miwa said...

thank you for the info! it helped lots. i'm a japanese who's thinking to get an eng teaching job here, but i noticed the pays for japanese teachers are rubbish.. just i don't want to get some ordinary job and work like a dog like other japanese people do. it's insane. well, i have something i've been workig on, so i'd like some free time for it. anyways, i think i'll keep checking ur blog cus i like it!! xx

Ramen Adventures said...

miwa: At every English language school I've worked at, the Japanese staff get paid about 2/3 what the native English speakers get. And they usually have a lot more responsibility. Bum deal I must say!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I really enjoyed reading your post about teaching English in Japan. Since I am interested in teaching there, can I ask you a question? I am an asian-descent who spent about 12 years in Canada. Do you think I have any chances with GABA or any other organizations? Have you ever seen an asian person (other than Japanese) working for these institutions?

Ramen Adventures said...

There are tons of Asians working at the language schools. The only problem is if you tech kids, they might think you speak fluent Japanese and use it too much.

Joe said...

I have been hired by Amity and will start working near Yokohama pretty soon. I was just trying to get some insight on how this company works and how they treat their employees. I'm experienced with Japanese culture and language, as I lived there for a while before going to school. How do I figure out how much my first paycheck will be (from training week)? They require that I bring 250000 yen, but I'm not sure if that's quite accurate. I'm pretty good at saving up money (e.g. going to the grocery store after 10pm for 50% off everything haha) Anyway, I'm interested in hearing what you have to say.

Ramen Adventures said...

Hey Joe. They "require" $2500 because for many people, this is their first time out of the country. Some people it is even their first time away from living at home. You can imagine that some 22 year old might not have the best money skills and run into some problems. Someone from my training group even went over the $2500 and had her parents wire her more money. Myself, I rolled in with $800 in yen and did just fine.

Will you be at the Center Kita branch? I had a good friend working there before, and he got along well with the staff. The apartment there is really small. I made a video of it ages ago


Joe said...

Hi there Brian,

Yeah, I figured 250000円 was a bit over the top. I'm sure when people experience Japan or just living in another country for the first time they want to spend money and all the new things they see haha. As for me... I'm just planning on buying onigiri at 7/11 for a while lol. I'm going to be working in Yamato, Tsuruma Amity branch. It's about 15 minutes away from Yokohama in Kanagawa-ken. Actually, I just found out that my apartment is a pretty decent size: two bedroom, kitchen, shower and bathroom, toilet room--lucky me. When I used to live in Japan I was renting with LeoPalace; the apartment was a little over 100 sq.ft. and it was a loft...miserable time haha. So this should be a step up. I'm pretty excited to get over there, but I'd have to say that I'm not so enthusiastic about Initial Training. 5 days of intense training from 10 - 7 doesn't sound so enjoyable.. oh well. Hopefully there's an osake jidou in the building to lighten up the atmosphere. So where are you working?

Ramen Adventures said...

Most English school's training is laid back. Don't sweat it.

Joe said...

Hey, so you live in Kawagoe right now? I lived there for a year; used to go to Tokyo International University in Kasumigaseki. One of my buddies works for the schools in Kawagoe as an ALT as well. I wonder if we've met haha.

Ramen Adventures said...

@Joe - I left Kawagoe about 4 years ago. Now I'm living in central Tokyo. I met the NOVA teachers who got busted for selling coke, but other than that didn't really know any foreigners in Kawagoe.

Joe said...

Oh, no way. One of my buddies knew all those kids and was working for NOVA when all that went down. wow, small world.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brian! Love the site! I love your style of writing. I have my TEFL degree and I have teaching experience. I'm going to whip up a fake BA degree and buy a one way ticket. Which route would you suggest? Freelancer or Salary? Do you think I should be able to land a job quick? Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

Also, what would I have to google to find more agencies that you have listed for the freelancer? Thanks mate!


Ramen Adventures said...

I don't have any experience with the "1 way ticket fake BA" thing, though I've met people who I suspect did that. The problem is, to get a visa, you need a company to sponsor you. So for the start, try and get a salary job. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! I have an interview with Amity on Saturday and I graduated college in 2010, but I've been substitute teaching since... How much do references count with this company? I am so nervous I don't have very strong references... How about the 30-minute lesson plan and the 5 minutes of teaching? Any tips for this? I am so nervous!

Ramen Adventures said...

@Anonymous: References are not a big thing. Since you did some substitute teaching, get someone related to that to give one. The big tip for a lesson is getting the kids to talk much more than you. You aren't lecturing. Try and get them speaking 80% of the time. Flashcards are key. Good luck.

Joe said...

How do deal with your visa working only part time? I thought we needed a full time job to sponsor a working visa. Is there a way around it?

Ramen Adventures said...

@Joe - I thought so too, but I have renewed my visa a couple times through my current High School, which is only 2 days a week. Seems like anything will do.

momo said...

I love the idea teaching english in japan. I have an a.a. Itwill take me 1-2 years to get a bachelors in something. Do u see english teachers being in high demand 2-3 years from now ( its dec 2012 now)? Im having a problem finding TEFL programs in my area, one college has TSL courses but idk if its the same thing. Do u have an sites I can check for classe in person?

Ramen Adventures said...

Momo - English will always be in demand in Asia I think. I'm sorry, i don't know of any programs for classes.

Anonymous said...

From online profiles, how many leads to you (or others) get for private lessons?

I am thinking of creating a couple profiles

Ramen Adventures said...

Anon - It is totally up to the price and area you will teach in. 5000 yen, not so many. 3000, a lot.

thegypsie said...

Poop jokes ftw! I never knew about kancho aside from seeing it on Naruto. Doesn't look to be too fun.

What is the profitability/marketability for someone that can instruct in languages other than English?

Ramen Adventures said...

Other languages don't enjoy the massive demand as English. It is possible, but tough.

Lam said...

Hi! (I wonder if two years later, this comment will get a hit but--) This is seriously one amazing post, thank you so much for all the detail! One thing I had a question about was the summer camp work.
I'm a college junior, an English major with zero interest in full-time teaching although I do ESL and TOEFL tutoring at my current job (in America)
I don't know any Japanese, but thanks to an exchange program I TA'd for, I know a LOT of Japanese ppl. Would it be possible to get a job at a camp (I've two years exp at an American one, if it helps) for just one summer? Off a travel visa? I have enough for airfare and plan to live at a friend's Kyoto address.
I don't plan to stay in Japan longer (again, no jlanguage knowledge), just see my friends before/after the camp and see the country. I'm terrified of the instability of freelance tutoring.
What do you think?

Ramen Adventures said...

Lam - I would try searching for expat community type camps, it might be easier to get in with one of those. I have heard that it is easy to do summer camps in Korea, another thing you might be able to check out. You probably can't work off a tourist visa, though I can't say for sure. Sorry I can't be more help!

Sankofa Wilson said...

Hi, I am working on my ESL certification, have my Master's and years of corporate experience including corporate training. I am looking for an ESL job where I can save lots of money to pay off my US bills. Do not know a lick of Japanese. Is Japan a closed society? Would you suggest this country to start my ESL career? Again, my main objective is saving money, thanks!

Ramen Adventures said...

I have some friends who make decent money doing corporate gigs. Not sure how they got them. Also, it is decent "teacher in Japan" money, which means still not a lot.

Anonymous said...

I would be grateful if you could answer these two questions:

1) Can you start freelance work (either as an individual or as a company) as soon as you set foot in Japan on day one? Would you get a working visa on this basis?

2) Do you know anything about opportunities teaching specialist English, legal in particular? I am again thinking about freelance work and searching for work myself.

I am a UK law graduate who is looking for an adventure and an opportunity to make a business out of teaching English. I'm quite a resourceful person and I know I will exploit opportunities to the fullest if there are any. I also do not see myself teaching kids through companies, unless on part-time basis only for a visa.


Ramen Adventures said...

Maciej - Look into getting a working holiday visa. I know people from the UK can get those and start working when they get here.

ajithajohn said...

Great blog. It is simply innovative and useful.
Its is very useful for the freshers.Good job keep it up.

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