TEFL & Living in Japan

by Bill Mutranowski

I came to Japan for the first time in the late '80s and have been teaching English since then. I've taught just about every category of student. For several years I worked at some of the larger English schools. But I found that although I was punctual, diligent, creative and cooperative, in terms of pay and advancement I wasn't regarded by Japanese management any differently than the less reliable teachers. So I started looking for students on my own in the area where I live. It didn't take long to build up a sizable student base and a better income. Plus I became my own boss.

After decades of misapplied effort, not surprisingly most Japanese still cannot speak English. With exceptions, the ability to actually communicate in English is still viewed as something foreign, something incongruous with Japanese identity. To Japan's detriment, English--and any other foreign language, for that matter--is widely considered useful but not essential, therefore English ability is not a public priority, and the political will to make it so is lacking.

Because of this, teaching English in Japan can be extremely frustrating. It is usually a thankless task. Employers are demanding more and paying less. So I necessarily tend to focus on promising individual students. Their progress is gratifying.

Japanese insularity doesn't seem to have changed much in the time that I've been here. I've lived in this country two or three times longer than the little kids on the street who still point at me and announce that there is a "gaijin" in their midst. At the same time, there are a few natives that I'm close to, and they are the reason I put up with everyone and everything else.

There are doubtless other places in the world much more receptive to English education than Japan. But if your heart is set on this place, do a lot of research on the non-English teaching aspects of Japan--especially the gaijin experience--before finally deciding.

Teaching English conversation isn't rocket science. What's required, in Japan anyway, more than anything else is patience, creativity, flexibility and an understanding of the cultural baggage your students--and you--bring to class.

You might be interested in my book:
"Know You`ve Been in Japan Long"

Know You`ve been in Japan Long

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