I just ran into a guy the other night that I used to work with many years ago at a crappy eikaiwa school. It was weird because I’d totally forgotten about that place, and just seeing him brought back all of this crazy trauma. It reminded me of an alien abduction movie I saw where the abductee has a flashback and curls up under a table at a party and sits there in a fetal position shaking.
I was like that guy under the table.
The eikaiwa was run by a madwoman who suffered from acute paranoia and thought everyone was stealing from her. She made my life a living hell for a good six months before I had enough and quit.
But the encounter made me realize a truism about teaching in Japan – the longer you stay, the better it gets. As you keep teaching here, you get better jobs with better pay and better working conditions. Not only that, you get better at teaching, which makes everything easier.
Securing a Visa
In order to work in Japan, you need a visa. The easiest way to get a visa is to have the company you work for sponsor you. But if your company is a soul-sucking parasite bottom feeder crap school, this presents a dilemma.
The truth is that once you get your work visa, you can work for anybody. The problem then is that once your renewal comes up a year later (3 years later if you’re lucky), you need another company to sponsor you.
You have to keep doing this until you’ve been in Japan a number of years and can get a Permanent Resident visa. Or you can do what I did and marry a Japanese person (no, I didn’t do it for the visa but it sure helped in that department).
Once you don’t have to worry about visa sponsorship anymore, you’re free to quit the lousy school you work for. You can even piece together a schedule of nothing but private lessons.
Finding a Mentor
I first came to Japan with a little company you might’ve heard of called Nova. I’m joking; they were the biggest English school in Japan and they became the biggest by ripping off everybody left and right.
‘Training’ was a joke. I quickly realized that the numbskull that trained me knew nothing about teaching either. He only knew the Nova system. There were lousy teachers all the way to the top of the company, I think. It seemed like people became managers just so they could escape having to teach eight lessons a day. It was a matter of the blind leading the blind.
Once I got out of that English teacher sweatshop, I met a few older, more experienced teachers who taught me how to teach. They were like mentors to me. Most of all, they gave me confidence. If they could cut through the BS and really teach their students, I could too.
The Attack Plan – Get Over Here and Lose Your Job
Here is what I always recommend to people who want to teach English in Japan – get whatever job you possibly can and get over here. The company will set you up with steady pay, a place to live, a visa and other help. Take advantage of all of it.
If the school sucks, start hatching your escape plan. Remember that as long as you’ve got the visa, you can work anywhere.
If the school is good, you’re lucky. You’ve made it.
At one point at my next job where I was a human tape recorder and token foreigner at a junior high school (actual job title was ‘ALT’), I hated it so much I thought about going home. That’s around the time I met the first of my two mentors. He told me something I’ll never forget – teaching English in Japan is a dream job. It’s perfect, but crappy companies make it unbearable. There are lots of great places to work in Japan. Just have the confidence to quit and move on.