Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Teaching in Japan #1

Today, I'm introducing a new segment to the blog called Teaching In Japan. It will focus on teaching English as a second language and include lesson plans I've used, how to make a lesson plan for a class and games I really like to use in my classes.

I'll try to be as detailed as possible with each topic, but if you feel like something is missing, please comment or make a request, and I'll try to come up with something that will fit your specific question/need.

As far as my background outside of writing is concerned, I graduated in 2008 and came to Japan soon after that. I started out working as a high school ALT then moved to an international kindergarten, a little bit of Eikaiwa work and finally settled down as an elementary school and junior high school ALT directly hired by the Japanese government. (The Board of Education — BOE — in the city I work in) I've taught private lessons for all levels and have done part time work over the course of my time here.  I'll get this out of the way ... there is no future in teaching. Have other goals you want to accomplish here. You "can" survive while teaching and save money as well as plan for retirement, but I wouldn't recommend that. As for me, I'm trying to become a published author.

There are many places I could start, but I believe I should begin with punctuality. In Japan, early is 20 minutes before your scheduled time. 10 minutes before your scheduled time is 'on time.' If you arrive at your scheduled time, you are late. It's just the way they work. Sure, if you are there before you're supposed to be, they won't say anything to you directly, but they will complain to the people in charge of you with things like, "He clearly doesn't care about his job," or what not, and your life will become miserable. The more often you do this, the more the other teachers will treat you differently.

Why is this?

Well, in Japan, there isn't really the excuse of, "I was stuck in traffic," since everyone rides the trains. And the trains are deadly precise. They generally arrive and leave within the first half of the minute they are scheduled to be at the station. Everyone has a set time that they will get on the train as well as they know a good estimate of when they'll arrive. And if there is a train delay? Before you exit the station at your final stop, go to the ticket booth and ask for a 遅延証明書 or 証明書 for short (sounds like show-may-show), and they will give you a small piece of paper. Give this to the person in charge, and it is no worries for being late.

Advantages of being early? Well, for starters the people you work with will get along with you better. Other than that, you have a breather to settle yourself in before the crazy day of work begins. Finally, you build up credit for those rare occasions that you do end up late without a valid excuse.

Speaking of excuses, don't give them. Japanese people don't want to hear them. It doesn't matter why you are late — unless you have a 証明書 — it just matters that you are late. Say you're sorry and move on.

Now that we've got the basics of keeping your working relationship with Japanese people healthy, let's move on to our teaching options. The big two are Eikaiwa (small, private English schools) and ALT (Japanese public schools with large classes). Both have advantages and disadvantages. Like an Eikaiwa, there are also international kindergartens. I'd try to avoid those as they are very high maintenance, stressful and more work than pay.

I'll start with Eikaiwas. They can be great. Though, they often have more work than an ALT job as well as a lot more stress. Starting salary will be higher than starting ALT salary, thought the top end per day of work is about the same. The only problem with the calculation is that most ALT jobs don't work during August, thus no pay, therefore, yearly, Eikaiwa jobs will pay more. What that doesn't tell you is that Eikaiwa jobs work 2 to 3 hours more a day than ALT jobs.
-Pros: Higher yearly salary at the start
          Easy to follow, pre-planed lessons
          A sense of satisfaction that your students are learning
          Easy to enroll in pension
-Cons: More working hours
           More stress
           No long summer holiday
           Busy from start to finish (Some people consider this a pro)
           Speaking nothing but English all day

Next, we have ALT work. This is really divided into two groups: high school and elementary/junior high school. Both will have you teaching at different schools throughout the week. High school is two different high schools. Elementary/junior high school is generally one of each. The basic working hours are the same, but high school pays less because you only end up doing about 3 hours of work a day. Unless you are hard at work doing something else, it is mind-numbingly boring. One the other hand, elementary/junior high school could have you working all 6 hours that you are there like an Eikaiwa, but the pay is higher. The key word there is could. At my elementary school, I find myself working 11 of the 12 hours that I'm there over two days, but it's only 2 days a week, and when they have events, classes are cut down. At my junior high school, I work about 14 of the 18 hours that I'm there over three days. Exams are like a week of 'come to work and sit in the teachers room until it's time to go home,' and I love it since it gives me a lot of time to write. Working hours for an ALT are generally 8:30 to 3:30 (4:00 in high school)
-Pros: Great working hours
          No stress
          A long summer holiday
          Free time during work to do the things you want to do
          Good place to practice Japanese with the other teachers
          Fun interactions with the students and teachers
          Enough free time to pick up a part time job or private lessons 
-Cons: Low starting pay (until you are directly hired)
           Insecure location (until you are directly hired)
           Difficulties with pension
           No satisfaction from students learning as they generally don't retain anything
                  -(Japanese system, though I'm trying to change that in my classes)
          Often times part-time work is required
          Must make and prepare own lessons (can be a pro) 

For me, ALT is the way to go, but others may see things in a different light. I'd research the Eikaiwa you're thinking about before signing a contract. For ALT work, research the dispatch company. If you can get direct hire, do that. Better pay, fewer hours? Is there really another choice?

The final thing I want to mention in this post is that you have to through your pride away. At least in the classroom, be a clown. Put on a show and make the kids smile. Do stupid things that you otherwise would never be caught dead doing. At first shout, but learn to control your voice where it's big, projected and everyone on the same floor can hear you clearly ... this one can be funny sometimes lol. Don't be afraid to dance in class no matter how bad you are at it. Also, slow your speaking down a bit and add a brief pause between sections of the sentences you read or instructions you give to allow the children to process the information while they go.

Next time, I'll get into the meat of teaching. I'll go over how I prepare materials and what a general lesson plan outline of mine looks like for an elementary school.

I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope you found this useful

Next: As an ALT at an elementary school 

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