The difficulty of the TEFL job scene in Japan is not just due to the huge number of English teachers, then, but also with the hiring process – the use of agencies and such. What would you suggest to someone looking for work in Japan?
Private institutions and language schools are a different story as many have established native speakers on board who assist or direct the hiring of other foreign staff. At the university level (public and private), the hiring process in many institutions is led by a native speaker. Since the mentality is to hire someone you trust to do the job, it often comes down to who you know, rather than what you know or what your resume might reveal.
Participating in an organization like JALT can definitely lead to contacts with professional teachers who are responsible for hiring. This gives a huge advantage to a teacher already living here to pick up classes, compared to the person applying from abroad.
So networking is vital. What else would you suggest to someone looking for a first time TEFL job?
Another advantage, which could also be true in other areas of Japan, is to be female. There are so few foreign female native speakers available to teach that schools might start drooling when they see an application from one. Language schools where very young children are taught are begging for female teachers.
Language schools come in all shapes and sizes, and the large enterprises have steady turnover for a variety of reasons that are quite obvious. It is a very competitive business and these schools are going after a declining base of students. It may not be the ideal entry position, but for someone with no real teaching experience and only a college degree, it is an opportunity that should not be casually disregarded.
Getting your foot in the door with a two-year contract will allow you to evaluate whether or not Japan and teaching is what you want to do. It has led to many opportunities for young people who put in the long hours and coped with the frustrations associated with that type of environment.
Smaller language schools usually present a better working environment, but they can disappear as quickly as they were created as it all hinges on student recruitment and costs. There are no longer guarantees with respect to employment in this field, so it is best to look at things in the short-term and be grateful for those opportunities that become long-term. The only thing you can truly control is how you teach and fit in with your environment, and hope that your efforts are rewarded accordingly.
From my view the good teachers have always been appreciated, and are the first ones to be hired or have contracts extended. The exception to this is that some contracts are given with a limited period of say 1-3 years with no possibility of extension. In Japan, as we all know, written rules are followed without question, regardless of the lack of merit in doing so.
Obviously, you have been established in Hokkaido for many years now. What can you tell us about work and life in the north?
The obvious difference is in the weather and living conditions. More and more North Americans express a desire to live and work in Hokkaido because of the climate they have enjoyed at home. Certainly the skiing and snowboarding opportunities attract many young people to the dry powder snow. If you are into winter sports of any kind, this certainly will enhance your living experience and acclimatization to the area.
It is definitely cold, but the homes, apartment and office buildings are extremely well insulated and comfortable. There are no traffic jams and a good public transportation system allows you to live without a car, although I personally prefer driving. Roads are wider and snow removal is generally done efficiently, except for the back streets. Pretty much everyone uses four-wheel drive vehicles, so you don’t see people stuck in the snow.
With respect to the opposite season, summer is short but very mild with almost no humidity. The people of Hokkaido are quite progressive and enjoy getting out in nature, and when they meet visitors from abroad, they make them feel at home. All in all, it is a great place to live and work.
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