My Best Teaching Is One-on-One

一対一が僕のベスト

Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.

当然、先生方と共同レッスンも、特別レッスンの指導もします。

But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.

しかし、僕の一番意味あると思っている仕事は、講義が終わってから、
一対一と
個人的にその課題の勉強を応援することです。

It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.

まあ、コンピュータプログラムにすると、得意先の方に出来上がった製品を体験させるようなことと思います。
役に立たない製品はまだ製品になっていないと同様です。

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Teaching English in Japan -- Good job? Bad job?

My sister passed a question on to me from someone she knows at church. Maybe it's time I wrote this post:

He asked me about a particular company who had apparently initiated negotiations with him about one kind of job and then switched to talking about English teaching jobs.

At least, that's the way I read her question.

Bait and switch? Maybe.

Or he may have already failed the first stage evaluation for the job they were initially talking about, and now they are (as they see it) offering him an alternative.

Is there a difference between that and bait-and-switch? Maybe.

Lack of communication can make other problems worse.

So I sent him a link to some company evaluation sites that had comments on that company and some English language pages for the company he was talking with.

I won't link them here.

If you are interested, use your imagination in your web searches and you should find a few such evaluation sites pretty quickly.

Well, not necessarily. My initial tries led me other places. But I found this tidbit that you might want to read:

http://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00151/

The interesting part is about the laws concerning "non-regular" workers.

Side-tour on working in Japan in general:


The reform mentioned in that article has not immediately improved things. At present, it's just making more rules and hoops to jump through.

That's Standard Operating Procedure for institutionalized "solutions", of course.

From the moment you say the word "system", at best, the solution can only work properly for the non-existent average target individual. That principle holds true at least as much in Japan as in other countries.

Japanese society seems to be particularly good at fostering "systematic" solutions, which people then pervert to their own needs. What makes this all work is that no one really complains unless the abuse of the system becomes particularly bad.

And, somehow, most Japanese people are willing to look for a way to make the best of things and make things work. It's part of their everyday lives -- Red tape that you have to find your way through is just another fact of life.

Further side-tour:


As a foreigner working in Japan, you should expect both glass ceilings and glass walls, limits you don't understand that get in the way of moving in any interesting direction.

When you work outside your culture, you should expect limits you can't understand.

Borrowing that metaphor, doors through the glass walls are there, but you have to feel your way around to them and hope they lead in a useful, or at least interesting direction.

Attempts to break through the walls are viewed with amusement and interest. Sometimes they try to help you, but be pleasantly surprised if they actually do. But don't be surprised if you then find yourself in a twisty passage with walls you can't see and no clue which direction will take you closer to your goal.

Attempts to break the walls down are not taken kindly. If the walls fall down, so do the glass ceilings, and they think that's dangerous.

Opportunities for foreigners to work in Japan should be considered "glass boxes" that they have made a bunch of. And they are expecting to find foreigners willing to jump into those boxes, stay there for the duration of the contract, and leave politely when they are done.

If the foreigner does anything especially productive while he's there, that's great. Unless the productivity threatens them in their own glass box. The most important thing is that the box is left clean, ready for the next foreigner to jump into.

I guess that's too much metaphor.

That little side tour is kind of important to non-Japanese people thinking about working in Japan.

Advice for foreigners considering working temporarily in Japan:


There are no especially good companies to work for.

Every company hiring foreigners shades the truth about the job, the responsibilities, the environment, the accommodations, etc. There is a language wall that they will use to their advantage, if they can. 

The contracts are usually transliterations from the Japanese, and the English version is going to be hard to pin them to. The Japanese version is the one that counts.

So don't expect too much. You probably won't find working in Japan to take you directly to your goals. That's also true of working in your home country, but expect truly serious side-tours. Plan to enjoy the ride on the side-tours if you come.

Choosing a company to work for is a bit of a gamble. By all means, listen to what they say and read whatever they give you to read. Find their web site and read anything you can on it.

And also read the company evaluation sites and blogs, if you can find them.

Try something like
or
for your search terms.

Take the reviews with a grain of salt, whether they are pro or con. People who post reviews are usually those whose experiences are somewhat unusual, whether for legitimate reasons or otherwise.

I used to work for a company called W5SS. They apparently got bought out and absorbed into another company, and I've lost track of them.

They weren't especially bad, and they had people who were willing to work with the employees. That may have been one of the reasons they don't exist any more.

The current economy is too cutthroat. That's true anywhere, and it's true here.

Working without the safety net of an intermediary company is also possible, but you need to be willing to spend a lot of time networking. You need friends to help you find the next job, because, no matter how well you fit in at first, the competition for the job you're doing is terrible. It seems to be a cultural thing.

If nobody is maneuvering for your job, it must be a job that nobody thinks is worth doing. And if that's the case, your co-workers are eventually going to hound management into laying you off as not performing valuable work.

Some personal observations that you might want to consider when you interpret what I wrote above:

I don't network well, and I'm seriously not into tooting my own horn. I'm allergic to tobacco smoke and I don't drink, so I don't attend the company parties where most of the publicizing the worth of the job you are doing is done.

(When I do attend them, I just make things worse for myself. I do not brag well.

And I'm sober. When drunk people talk about work, I'm not talking about what they are talking about.)

I did not grow up here. Trying to learn their culture was an exercise in returning to kindergarten as a thirty-something adult. I did not pass the class.

It would have helped if I had been interested in Japanese martial arts, wadaiko, shakuhachi, or even Nihon buyo. Actually, I was and am interested, but I've always been most driven by things no one else is interested in. That was true in the States, and it didn't change when I moved to Japan.

Bullet points, some of which I have not really mentioned above:

  • Don't expect to stay more than a few years.
  • Network! 
  • But don't party too hard. Hard drugs may be hard to find, but there are plenty of ways to destroy yourself here, and plenty of people willing to make a profit from your self-destructive tendencies.
  • Make Japan your hobby, at least while you are here. 
  • Find a particular thing about Japan to be interested in, but don't make it too obscure.
  • Try to learn Japanese, but don't waste your time trying too hard. 
  • Keep your head up. 
  • Read your contract and try to understand it. (Don't try too hard, but at least try.)
  • Expect the non-optimal. Be willing to accept small losses, and maybe even some big ones.
  • Don't expect moving to Japan to be a fix for your personal problems.
(About that last thing -- personal problems are the flip-side of talents. Working in Japan may help, temporarily, to bring the talent part to the fore. But you will ultimately have to deal with what you are, wherever you live.)

Some specific things about teaching English in Japan:


There's a huge roadblock here.

Assume that what they mean when they say "teach English" is, at some level, "entertain, but with an English or other foreign flavor".

They (the Japanese people tasked with teaching English) have this thing called English that most of them don't really understand. (Ask how many of them have read any English novels at all.)
It's hard.

Therefore the students must find it hard.

Therefore they must make it fun.

Foreigners on TV seem to make it look fun.

Therefore, we hire foreigners and "language specialists", to give the kids some fun to offset the misery.
You can work your way around this roadblock, but expect to find your best allies among the Japanese staff occasionally turning into your worst enemies. Forgive them and find something to apologize for and they'll usually still be good allies.

Don't burn too many bridges as you go.

And, this may surprise you, but that roadblock is not necessarily an evil thing. I won't try to explain here. It takes some common experience to be able to talk about it, but that roadblock can actually be useful, if you find ways around it for individual students and teachers.

If you decide to certify to teach in Japan, it may be possible. I have heard of foreigners who have done so. I was told, when I asked at age 44, that the age limit for the tests in Osaka is age 45.

8-o

If I had known at age 35 what I know now, I might have foregone trying to work in the computer industry and just tried really hard to get into a graduate program in education in a Japanese university.

But then I would have been stuck doing what the Japanese teachers have to do, which turns out to be working long hours doing the parents' jobs for them.
Why are Japanese fathers so busy working that they have no time to raise their own kids?

What am I asking? Raising the kids is what the grandparents do! And just a little bit what the moms do, except that the moms farm it off on the schools.

Silly me.
:-/

Grand summary:


If you want to work in Japan, plan on making it an adventure.

If you have family coming with you, make sure they are okay with having an adventure.

But remember that adventures are just more of a new kind of experience -- maybe there's a new kind of fun to be had, but it's mostly a lot of drudgery in a new environment.

What? Does that sound like life in Japan is pretty much like life everywhere else?

Heh.

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