Let’s Japan.org is one of the few truly worthy sites about teaching in Japan. It’s a place for open discussion, news, and facts that aren’t published by many others. Shawn Thir of Let’s Japan has given his answers to some questions from My TEFL Journey.
Although you once taught at an Eikaiwa, you don’t anymore. Why did you choose to leave?
A mixture of disillusionment and boredom with the job. The disillusionment came from the realization that being a salesman was more important than the teaching itself. During the hiring process in Vancouver, GEOS played up how I was beginning a career while casually throwing in, “You’re OK with approaching students and asking them to renew their contracts, right?” I wanted the job so of course I said yes.
But once in Japan, teachers and managers came and went every few months or so. There was even a stretch of at least 3 months where my school didn’t even have a manager. The weekly meetings consisted of the manager (when I had one) telling us how much we needed to make that month in terms of new student signups and contract renewals. During renewal campaigns, head office would send faxes excoriating under-performing schools, demanding that they do better. This wasn’t anything like the picture painted for me in Vancouver.
Boredom set in quickly. It was very difficult to do the same lessons over and over and over and still keep them fresh. After a two months, I was essentially running on auto-pilot. I worked at GEOS for a year and a half before I decided that I needed to leave.
I started Let’s Japan with a co-worker as an attempt to make sense of the experiences we had and to warn others. I still write about eikaiwa but have taken to writing about other things that interest me.
How have Eikaiwa changed in the last 10 years?
It’s been in steady decline since the bubble economy burst. Salaries have also been dropping for years. It used to be that 250,000 yen was the standard monthly salary. It was possible to live on this and save some money. However, dispatch companies, which supply instructors to school boards, and part-time jobs have increased to drive salaries down. It’s not uncommon to find jobs offering 200,000 yen or less per month.
You could string together a series of part-time jobs and make a fair amount of money, but you would probably rob yourself of any free time to relax and explore Japan in the process.
The greatest change to hit the eikaiwas was the bankruptcy of Nova in 2007. It’s been called the greatest consumer wipeout since the end of the Pacific War. Nova owed its creditors close to $1 billion. Hundreds of thousands of students lost their lesson tickets and money, and thousands of staff and instructors lost their jobs. The collapse had a massive cooling effect on eikaiwa. It exposed the business model as fraud writ large. Students were no longer going to pay thousands of dollars upfront just to take English lessons that they may or may not be able to book.
Nova’s rivals, such as GEOS and AEON, quietly switched over their fee schedules to monthly schemes to avoid the wrath of their customers and avoid any potential lawsuits over lesson refunds.
While there’s still strong demand for corporate and children’s English lessons, customers have switched to other options, such as learning software on computers or portable game devices like the Nintendo DS.
Part 2 of the interview (next Monday) will have Shawn’s thoughts on teaching in Japan.