Schoolchildren in Japan start learning English on a mandatory basis as early as the age of 6. English at school continues until graduation at the age of 18. By far, most English teachers working in Japanese schools are on the JET program or a similar system whereby they are assigned to certain schools by a ‘haken’ or dispatch company.
Most foreigners working as English teachers in schools are Assistant Language Teachers, which means you work in tandem with the Japanese English Teacher. What, then, are the pros and cons of working in a Japanese school?
- ALTs normally earn between 230-250,000 yen per month. JET participants usually earn around 300,000/month. Either way, you will be earning more than enough to live on.
- Working hours are reasonable, with the teacher being contracted to be on-site between the hours of 8am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. In actual practice, the hours are normally reduced to something like 8.30am to 4.30pm. Evenings and weekends are yours.
- Teaching hours are normally between 25-29.5 hours per week. This means you have time for lesson preparation and marking and any other duties while on site, although it has to be said that preparation often spills into a teacher’s non-working hours.
- Schools in Japan, like the UK, have looooong holidays. There is a one month break in summer, a holiday of several weeks in winter, and an end of term break between March and April.
- Working at a school means that certain things are expected of you, especially in a country like Japan. Lateness, for example, is not tolerated. You’re unlikely to get any sympathy if you need to take a sick day too – the attitude is that you should have taken better care of your body in order not to become sick in the first place.
- There isn’t massive room for progression when working as an ALT in a school. You can either carry on doing what you are doing or try a sideways move.
- Being tied to a curriculum can inhibit your creativity. You need to go along with the goals and plans assigned to you and not question the system too much.
- Some ALTs find that they are assigned to several different schools throughout the course of a week. Traveling long distances may be involved depending on your location. The company will most likely refund your expenses, but travel time is not paid.
Teaching at a school can be very rewarding. I intentionally left out the variable of students and colleagues. The attitude of your learners and your relationship with the other teachers depends on you, them, and the school.
There’s a lot written about the major companies who supply ALTs, not all of it go and not all of it worth reading. Weigh up the pros and cons carefully before taking on a teaching job and make an informed decision.