Juicy tips on teaching in Japan

Reid and his partner (Chrissie) are well seasoned ESL teachers who have taught in Thailand, and will be going onto their third year teaching in Japan! (must be going alright).  Reid tells us what goes on in his classroom and some useful tips!!

Where do you currently teach overseas?
I teach in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. It’s the most southwest point of Japan’s main island, Honshu.


Is teaching in Japan easy to get into?
We were accepted into the JET (The Japan Exchange & Teaching) programme which is quite popular for graduates with majors in Japanese but having (ESL) teaching experience also improves your chances. The whole application is very tedious and it takes around 8 months from application submission to departure. Applicants need to be quite serious and organised when applying.


Why did you choose to teach in Japan?
To be honest, the JET (The Japan Exchange & Teaching) programme is well run and well paid. But Japan in general is an attractive place to live as the people couldn’t be kinder, the culture is rich and it’s clean and safe.


What kind of arrangement do you have with your classes?
I teach at three schools: two high schools (ages 16-18) and one junior high school (ages 13-15).  I teach 3 hours a day with 20 students in each class.


What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Getting the students to speak is the biggest challenge. Even the most competent students are nervous and embarrassed to speak (even in Japanese) in front of their peers. It is partly from the lack of confidence. Confidence is not a quality fostered in the classroom.


What do you like the most about teaching in Japan?
The students are very well-behaved and respectful of the teachers. Classes run a lot more smoothly because of this.


What are some cultural differences in the classroom you’ve learnt/noticed when comparing to your home country?
Students are exceptionally well-behaved, polite and helpful to the teachers and their peers. This means there is rarely tension between students and they will not hesitate to ask each other for help.

The lack of confidence mentioned above for cultural and individual reasons can create a ‘don’t speak even if spoken to’ atmosphere in an English class. It becomes difficult to check their understanding, get answers and stimulate simple conversation.


What is something you have learned from teaching abroad?
That I don’t want to teach the rowdy students in my own country and that rocking the boat too much often doesn’t bring about change.


Do you have a memorable/funny classroom experience you can share?
Having one of the loud baseball boys yell, ”BASEBALL” in answer to, “What time do you come to school?” His friend had set him up for it and the class erupted in tears of laughter. You had to be there.


Are you able to save money in Japan, plus have enough to go travelling?
We are definitely saving a lot which is important for paying off the student loan, and we still travel a lot (mostly to different Asian countries as they are cheaper).


What about accommodation – does your school take care of that?
Because we always replace a previous alternative, we alway move straight in to their place after them. Those places are basically looked after by the school but we pay 50-100% of the rent.


What advice would you give to others who are interested in coming to Japan to live and teach English?
If you are serious and have some experience in teaching or ESL, consider applying for the JET program. At times it feels like a paid holiday.  If you don’t speak Japanese, I recommend you start learning, because there is a considerable language barrier. English only gets you by in the bigger cities.