So you have decided to move to Japan to teach English. Great! Congratulations – and a good deal of planning – are in order. After all, Japan has long been a mainstay for international educations because it offers one of the best teaching environments in the world. Safe, clean, and stable, teaching English in Japan is a sensible way to begin – or continue – your career in English as Second Language. Before you hit the road, though, here are some important issues to consider:
Demand for English teachers in Japan is high – in fact, the vast majority of the 5,000 or so language schools in Japan are focused on teaching English – but competition is likewise fierce. Many of the factors that may have helped you to decide on Japan have driven expats since the late 1980s. As a result, teaching English in Japan is very much a buyer’s market, meaning that ESL schools and programs in Japan have the luxury of high standards. Thus, although there are some people who manage to find teaching positions without a university degree, the jobs they get tend to be not as good as those of university graduates. Education majors are always preferred but any and all should apply – new markets within Japan are always opening, so this requirement remains broad.
In much the same way a TEFL certificate – in addition to providing valuable training – will help you to stand out in a crowded job market. By showing potential employers that you are serious about your work, you will be eligible to work in far more desirable positions. It may not sound like a lot, but it can have a major impact on things like location, hours, and even pay – which will go a long way toward making your stay in Japan more enjoyable. Plus, it will help prepare you for your ultimate responsibility: the classroom!
Veteran ESL teachers and real estate agents all have the same advice: location, location location. Teaching salaries in Japan are modest and the cost of living high – especially in Tokyo, one of the world’s most expensive cities – but a teacher’s salary should be enough for a single person to live on, even in Tokyo. That having been said, it won’t make you a millionaire, so if you’re looking to live well or save money, think outside of the box. The smaller cities and towns offer a more Japanese lifestyle and can give you the opportunity to explore Japanese culture and save money at the same time. In fact, one prominent program, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme – also known as the JET Programme – is dedicated to helping aspiring ESL teacher secure work outside of Japan’s major metropolitan areas.
In fact, in many ways the JET Programme, which is itself an official Japanese government program, was established to promote international exchange as much as national English proficiency. In operation for more than two decades, it has an excellent reputation in Japan and abroad but market forces (and the high cost of the program) are increasingly making the JET Programme a thing of the past.
Instead, cash-strapped cities are increasingly looking to other avenues in order to save money when hiring Native English teachers. Because English education is a mandatory part of the curriculum, many schools are looking to private contracting companies to supply qualified instructors. Although jobs in government schools eliminate many of the risks normally associated with the use of recruitment agencies, individuals being hired through such agencies should review their contracts carefully to avoid problems.
Finally, of course, there are private schools. Private schools in Japan usually take the form of "conversation schools" and "cram school" but in either case well known companies like ECC and Aeon offer reliable, contracts and a positive teaching environment. Larger companies have their own human resources departments but smaller operations often use recruitment agencies. As always, use your best judgment when discussing potential placements with recruiters and make sure you sign on with a company that meets your unique needs.
In the end, though, teaching English in Japan has a lot to offer aspiring ESL teachers. Make of the most of it!