Today we return to the subject of teaching in Japan, with the first of several guest articles by Sean Montgomery, who writes on the basics you need to know about eikaiwa and employment experiences with them.
Eikaiwa is vernacular for English conversation school in Japan. Of your options for working in Japan, eikaiwa (henceforth not italicized) offers probably the widest range of experiences. It can be heaven or hell, and it’s not for everyone. That said, the bad and the good of the experience can depend as much on the person in the job as the job itself. If you’re reading this article series and thinking about working at an eikaiwa, hopefully I’ll help you answer these two questions: “Is eikaiwa right for me?” and “Am I right for eikaiwa?”
Part 1: Choosing and being chosen
GETTING THE JOB
It takes roughly three to four months for an eikaiwa to complete the hiring process of an overseas applicant, but the application period itself usually lasts a mater of weeks. When small schools find a qualified applicant, they’ll often start the interview process as soon as possible.
To my knowledge, all eikaiwa teachers come to Japan under a Specialist in Humanities / International Services visa, which requires a diploma from an accredited institution. While foreigners with technical degrees have been known to land jobs in eikaiwa teaching, it’s unusual.
Age and Experience
The requirements in this area vary according to the size of the school and the quality of the position. Most eikaiwa companies do their best to hire younger teachers. They are, in theory, more attractive to customers, have an easier time adapting to school policies and teaching methods, and are usually willing to settle for lower salaries and fewer benefits. That said, as in any industry, experience will earn you big points in the hiring process. Any kind of education-related experience (tutoring, mentoring, even volunteering at schools) will give you an edge over other unskilled applicants. Turnover for eikaiwa tends to be high, so preference is also often given to applicants who have experience living in Japan, sincethey don’t want you to up and leave because you suddenly get homesick or tired of separating your trash. Even limited familiarity with Japanese culture can make you more attractive. For instance, I sealed the deal with my first company by telling them I had visited the famous onsen in Matsuyama, where the company was located.
Higher-paying jobs, of course, require higher levels of skill. The average salary for an unskilled eikaiwa teacher is around 250,000 yen a month. To rise above that, you often need a degree in TEFL or TESL or CELTA. Among lower-end jobs, you can often get away with certification from an online course. Accreditation DOES net you better jobs, and if you have the time and money to invest initially, you will definitely see a return on your investment.
Finding a Job
There’s no real trick to finding an eikaiwa job. If you Google “teach in Japan,” your best options for job searching will pop up immediately. The two sites I recommend are Gaijinpot.com and the Ohayo-Sensei newsletter. Gaijinpot has an excellent built-in application system that you can use for most of the jobs offered on the site. One nifty feature is the option of building and saving multiple resumes and cover letters. There are also some helpful articles on job searching on the site.
I found my first job through Ohayo-Sensei. It’s not nearly as convenient or well-organized as Gaijinpot and has probably lost some relevance as Gaijinpot has become more popular, but it’s worth a look. It’s basically a long list of jobs with descriptions mailed in from schools, complied and mailed out twice a month. It makes for more difficult reading, but there are often jobs listed that don’t appear in Gaijinpot.
Small schools will require you to send your own resume or CV, and some will also require a cover letter or that you answer a set of questions. If you have any special skills that might relate to teaching, include those in your cover letter. Singing, dancing, art, theater: these aren’t necessarily required for teaching, but schools may be interested in using talents that you possess.
Schools will often also require that you send a photo of yourself. There are basically no laws against appearance-based discrimination in the hiring process here, and they want to make sure you are well-groomed and look, well, “foreign.” Facial and long hair is generally regarded as unprofessional, so I would get a haircut before sending your picture. [Ed. note: removing piercings, even basic earrings, is a good idea.]
If you’re outside of Japan, your interview will probably be conducted over Skype. Easy questions will range from your experience with teaching to your plans for the future to your interest in Japan. The main point of some interviews is simply to make sure you don’t have an easy-to-understand accent and manner of speaking and that you have a professional demeanor. For many schools, it’s usually enough to assure them you’re dependable (and won’t break your contract), adaptable (to their way of doing things), professional (and don’t look like a slob), and can communicate effectively in English. More difficult interviews often involve specific questions that reflect specific experiences schools have had with past teachers. Keep on your toes for these questions, because the interviewers are looking for particular answers.
Always remember that the interview is a two-way evaluation (even if the hiring employer doesn’t treat it that way). Trust me when I say, even if you are desperate to get to Japan or find a job, you don’t want to rush into a position with a questionable company (and there are plenty out there). Use the interview as an opportunity to assess your future boss (if they are interviewing you), and to ask questions about the company. One important thing to ask about is the company’s financial performance. I’ve known at least four teachers who have ended up the worse at companies with disappointing figures in the quarters before the teachers signed up.
Signing The Contract
Review the contract carefully. Pay special attention to company policy on sick leave, extra work hours, tardiness (you will be late at least once), travel reimbursement, teaching hours, and non-teaching duties. The contract is probably the main source of problems that teachers end up having with small eikaiwa. Teachers sometimes have to take on responsibilities that aren’t specifically mentioned in the contract. Also, small eikaiwa are more likely to violate a contract because there is little risk that they will incur legal repercussions. You should be sure you can fulfill the terms of your contract, and then try to make it as clear as politely possible to the company that you expect them to uphold the same terms.
Stay tuned for Part 2: What to expect on the job.
Sean Montgomery: Manga fan, politically opinionated, artistically inclined, and community organizer. He taught English in Matsuyama for 5 years, and is currently working as the CIR for Shikokuchuo City in Ehime prefecture.