I realize that I’ve done a lot of new-agey contemplation of major life changes, and a little bit of updating on my personal progress, but I’ve done very little in the way of providing any practical info about how one goes about planning a move to Japan to become an English teacher. Yet, one of the things that has helped me most is surfing the internet and reading blogs and message board posts by others who have done what I’m doing, or who are asking the questions that I now have. Allow me to correct that oversight now and share some of what I’ve learned:
The first step was Dave’s ESL Cafe. If you are interested at all in teaching English abroad, Google it immediately. It is a mecca for ESL teachers on the web. I first learned about the site through small talk at a house party. A guy I was talking to mentioned that his girlfriend was in the midst of a year teaching in S. Korea. The next day I texted my friend to text her friend to text his friend to find out from him how she got the gig. Dave’s ESL Cafe was the response.
At this Super-Walmart of all things ESL, you will find postings for ESL jobs, ads for recruiters, info about teacher training and visa documents, discussions about different countries and recruiters, and just about any question you could ever think of – asked and answered. My participation there has been limited to what is known as “lurking” thus far. This means you do not sign in and post questions, but rather surf around and read everyone else’s posts. While lurking is only somewhat frowned upon, and far, far preferable to asking a redundant question, it’s a little like being at a party and staying in the kitchen the whole night. You’re not going to meet anyone new that way and no one will ever find out what a great dancer you are.
But for now, I lurk. Because the alternative is to post something that somehow inadvertently offends some other long-time poster who finds it too stupid, too cheerful, too inane, too presumptuous, too long, too short, grammatically incorrect, or God forbid, is a question that has ever been asked before in the history of the thousands upon thousands of posts on the site. You may receive a number of friendly or at least tolerant replies, but inevitably some bitter soul will electronically rip you a new one for daring to call yourself an English teacher and not leaving the requisite two spaces between a period and the start of your subsequent sentence. This is called “Flaming” and it fills my little heart with terror. Regardless, much information can be found at this site without ever giving anyone the opportunity to lay into you.
Dave’s ESL Cafe was where I found my first recruiter – Footprints. I read people’s reviews of them and checked out a link to their site. They seemed to be legit, so I went through them to apply for a teaching position in S. Korea (which ultimately did not work out). My experience with them was pretty decent – I just wish they had been more informed about the paperwork I would need, but that was quite possibly a lack of communication from the S. Korean side of things. I would use them for my Japan adventure as well, but they do not directly recruit for Japan – they simply refer people to a particular English school.
Regarding English schools – In addition to English classes in school, many Japanese also take supplemental classes at private English “conversation schools.” These are named for the fact that they provide a chance to hear and use spoken English, whereas the Japanese school system generally gives students only the written and grammatical side of the language. These conversation schools are big employers of native English speakers. Some of the big ones are: AEON, RCS, ECC, Interac, GEOS, and GABA. However, I am told there are as many as 6,000 different companies operating one or more school branches in the country. Some of these companies also place native speakers as assistants to Japanese teachers in the school system.
Aside from conversation schools, teachers looking to go to Japan can find work in public or private schools, at universities (if you have a Master’s degree, and probably US teaching certification), at private companies (usually you will need a business degree in the specific industry that the company works in, such as finance). There is also a government-run program called the JET program. JET for Japanese English Teacher. I hear it’s a great gig if you can get it, but requires a lot of advanced planning (the application process takes 8 months) and is probably best for a recent college grad (which I am not).
One great way to find job openings in Japan is through the O-hayo Sensei newsletter. This can also be googled, or found via Dave’s Esl Cafe. It is a very simple, straightforward list of English teaching jobs that are available. It is the Craigslist of ESL in Japan. (Except that Craigslist actually operates in Japan. It doesn’t seem to have caught on quite like it has here though). The posts on the O-Hayo Sensei site give you tons of info about what each position offers – possibly the most important consideration being whether or not they will sponsor you for a visa. You cannot legally work in Japan without one, and if caught working (or looking for work) on a tourist visa, you can be banned from the country. However, looking for work on a tourist visa is apparently something that is done all the time. As long as one doesn’t directly tell the immigration officials as much, the law is not really enforced.
A word about qualifications:
Most countries in Asia require that you be a native English speaker and have a Bachelor’s Degree. Beyond that, requirements differ. S. Korea requires you to provide criminal background checks and get all sorts of official stamps and seals on various documents. Japan however, doesn’t ask you to get that stuff. I hear they will do their own check on you at the point when you are actually presented as a candidate for a work visa.
I can’t yet tell if taking a TEFL course is absolutely necessary for Japan, but it certainly seems advisable. The jury is still out on whether an online TEFL certificate actually impresses anyone. That’s the kind I have. When I get a job I will let you know what a brilliant and economical move it truly was. However, if you have the cash to take a CELTA class, or an in-person TEFL course, those seem to be the most highly regarded training programs aside from getting your college degree in education or ESL.
Teaching experience is very helpful, if you have it. If you don’t have any, I would suggest getting some by volunteering to help out with a local ESL class, or doing some tutoring before you apply. You will be thankful, not only for the boost to your resume, but also because you will actually have an idea what to do when you are ultimately thrust into a real classroom and people are staring at you and expecting you to make some English magic happen in their brains.
Ultimately, the internet is your best, best friend. I’m not sure how people accomplished this before there was an internet, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy. A lot of staying up late to make phone calls to numbers found in magazines and guidebooks. A lot of showing up in a foreign country and hoping for the best. You and I need not worry so much about those things. Happy Googling!