Wanted: Native Speakers!...(05/22/00)


*Yaaaawn* - Waking up with a steady hang-over, you timidly pull yourself out of bed, usually at around 11:30 or 12, spend 10-20 minutes preparing for you lesson whilst eating a lovely bento breakfast and talking with your gaijin buddies about last night's wild adventure's and tonight's plans. After that you say goodbye, jump on your Mama Cherry bike and peddle on down into the heart of the city, with the warmth and humidity beating down on your face. Taking the scenic route through Odori Koen you nearly crash into a lamp-post checking out the babes on their lunch-hour. From here on it's into the 'office' where you face 2-4 hours of teaching simple stuff like conversation and maybe even some grammar, although most students grammar is already pretty tip-top, so were basically talking a relaxing time lying back and talking about their lives and yours, making sure you're helping them with the vocabulary along the way. Lessons usually consist of stuff like conversation practice - hey pick your favourite topic, movies, food, even video-games, and chat about it like you would with a friend for an hour or so. You're basically there just to correct them, there's no real 'teaching' involved in English Conversations class. But they do learn from you, whether it be the vocabulary involved in cooking a pizza, or what Jack meant by 'We're a couple of real swells' at the beginning of Titanic, either way, they're picking up English bit by bit from you. But, because you're a native speaker and you're not expending any mental energy talking in your native language, sometimes it feels too easy. This is what teaching English in Japan is about, and don't have nightmares about walking into a lecture theatre of 50 English illiterate students expecting you to make them as fluent as you in a year, wanting you to teach them the law of every phrasal verb in the book, because it's never going to happen (or boy are you in the wrong job if it does). Sometimes English learning isn't taken so seriously. In fact, for a Japanese, learning English is often kind of a cool thing to do, something to brag about to their peers, and hardly anything to do with wanting to speak perfect English. Just a quick point: It'll go a long way when you're teaching if you can speak a little Japanese at least - don't be ignorant. The best teacher's are the ones who aren't obsessed with money and are in Japan for other reasons, like they are generally interested in Japan. Unfortunately for those of you who, like me, are of this nature, you're bound to bump into plenty of not so caring gaijin, who couldn't give - as a Japanese might say - a frying fruck about their students, and are just there to surf the waves of the economic miracle and then go back to their countries - probably to write a novel about how the Japanese suck and ignoring every positive aspect of Japan. Yeah, sad but true, hell of a lot of assholes out there. Most of your students will fit into three categories:

  • Bored Housewives - Just got nothing better to do. English learning for them is more of a social event than anything. They usually are less interested in learning English, and more in meeting other bored housewives taking the same lesson.
  • Young ladies - Usually around 19-26. The main bracket are unmarried OL's (office ladies) or ko-gyaru who are interested in improving their English as a way to understand the British and American movies they have to watch subtitled all the time. Most of them have also been abroad to a few countries and realised how necessary English is to meet people around the world. English is also one way for young girls to build a good resume, as most companies require they employees to have a good standard of English in order to rise to their higher ranks. The general standard of English of this type is pretty high, so usually the lessons consist completely of conversation, which often runs into the topic of girlfriends if you're the slightly better looking than average gaijin!.
    Many of my best-friends in Japan were of this category, as they usually have a keen interest in the teacher and like socialising out of class. Of course, you get you're fair share of babes, naturally, but you're not supposed to ask them out...in class anyway, hehehe. In fact, to be honest, most of the girlfriends or wives of the gaijin in Japan are their students or ex-students of this category, but don't tell the boss!. Also, this can cause hassle if you hump and dump one, so you gotta be careful with that unless you wanna end up unemployed. Students are definitely only serious girlfriend material if you wanna take that option.
  • Schoolkids, Cram school and high school students - Cram school is the term for a kind of study that goes on after school hours as students prepare for the very difficult end of school exams. Of course, English is one of their studies, so many parents enrol their kids for extra tuition after school hours. In comes you, their teacher. First of all, don't expect much from these guys, they're usually knackered, and some will even fall asleep waiting for you if you're a little late. Classes are usually around 5-7 pm, and after a hard days studying, the last thing a kid wants is more English rammed down their throat. You can either try to keep their attention by playing some English games or doing something interesting, or just read your whole lesson from a book, where they will fill in the answers monotonously. Either way, they won't retain so much, so don't be too bothered about how the lesson goes, they're not coming to study out of choice usually. School kids and high school students are quite similar but not so tired. Again, don't expect them to pick up much, so if they retain just 10% of what you teach, that's good enough I reckon.

    So there ya go. Usually the paying rate is around 2500-3500 Yen for a 50 minute lesson in Sapporo, which is about 12 to 17 an hour! Japan's expensive mind you, but really not as much as they say it is. This is still a lot of bread, and a lot more than most Japanese make.

    A little bit about the lessons - a lot of schools are quite flexible on how you teach your lessons, which is good if you've got a lot of common sense and at least try to know a little about what you're trying to preach, but you might find if you're not following a syllabus that you start to run out of ideas for things to teach, and there's nothing more to shake the faith of a student's belief in a teacher than him/her going "Errr, right, now we'll do, er, um, let me see...'. If this ever happens to you, don't shit a brick, relax, and confidentaly say 'Oh, I just need the lavatory for a minute, sorry I've been busy all day!. Just continue reading this paragraph for a minute.' and make your exit for 5 minutes in the toilet brainstorming what to do for the rest of the lesson. Always act confident, even if you don't know what the hell your doing. And ask around, be observant of other teachers - a lot of long termers have their 'emergency' exercises when they just couldn't get themselves prepared for the lesson on time, and had no plan, so ask around to get some ideas. Especially useful for the beginning teacher. Also, when picking up new students, you might find they have a variety of different levels of English speaking ability, so a good idea to find their skill level is to get them to write you an essay on their life the first week. Try to make it a page or two in length, and then pick out the parts of the English they had trouble with. Once you've got started on that, you'll gradually begin to build a good picture of their strengths and weakness' in the language. My last golden rule is - always tell the student you've had a busy day teaching, even if you've only got the one that day, because it makes them feel like you're not some loser who nobody wants lessons off (often the case, aaaahahahhaa).

  • Private Teaching - Alot of people go for this option after a while, as they realise it's really not that difficult to fill in all hours of the day doing privates. You gotta remember that this is Japan, and almost 10% of every adult is learning English, this isn't like some Spanish teacher in America where he or she can only get 2 or 3 privates after months of searching. It's so cool to arrange your own hours, and have conversation class outside instead of in some stuffy room. Also, private teaching is where the BIG money is if you're looking for that. Of course, there's definately a few disadvantages, like maybe sometimes not having as much regular work, students cancelling and you not getting paid, no other gaijin to hang-out with at break, and last but not least, unless you're married you need a sponsorship from a company anyway, so you can't be private for long if you're only on a 3 month visa. But you can really start reaping the benefits if you start teaching well-off individuals or companies, you're not gonna believe this but I know some guys who were on 100 bucks an hour teaching surgeons and stuff. Can you imagine? You'd only have to work 4 hours a week or something..Amazing!
  • Working for a School - The only other option unless you wanna work in a bar or something. There are some big schools in Sapporo, like Nova and EC, both of which suck to work for apparently, but are easy to get jobs at and are very guarenteed sources of income. At places like that you normally get around 2800 Yen an hour teaching small classes or individuals. You also get travelling costs paid and such, and a few other fringe benefits. Their really not too bad too work for, but some of these places expect you to prepare for your lessons for a couple of hours, so you have to be in the office 2 hours before your lesson's start. It's also a more corporate feel in places like these, they expect you to wear suits and such, not really my bag man, but some people like to feel part of a national corporate. Try it before you buy it dude. Other places like Jack Rabbit and Trendy House are still big schools, and a lot more cooler places to work, although sometimes you can get paid less. In Trendy House you start off working in the Coversation Lounge where you just chat hour after hour about bollucks and get paid around 1500 Yen an hour for doing it. This can suck your will to live after a while, but if they feel the students like you, you'll start to get more and more lessons. Here you get paid for taking students on outings and stuff. Lotta cool people work at Trendy House. Jack Rabbit is owned by some Californian dude who's been in Japan longer than the rest of the gaijin put together. I don't really know much about this place, they pay a little less, but it's still a good place to work, and the owner's a good guy . There's a few places like this to work, hundreds of kids schools an such, but if you haven't got the right visa, they can't sponsor you so you might have a more difficult time finding work. This is where private teaching or cash in hand comes in. Finding cash in hand work is difficult aswell. But I know a few places..Can't mention them though as I don't them to get into shit with the cops. The only clues I can give are: No I can't, what am I doing.. It's up to you dudes.

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