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Teaching English In Japan - Choosing An ESL School

If you're thinking of making a major detour in your life and want to try something really different, you might consider teaching English in Japan. Because the Japanese have an almost insatiable appetite for learning English, there is quite a lot of work out there. But before you hop on a plane and fly 10,000 miles east you should give some serious thought to what kind of school you want to teach for.

Before we go any further, keep in mind that smaller schools aren't necessarily any easier to teach for than the large chain schools. To be perfectly honest, I've heard horror stories from both. (Yes, even the Jet Program.) So anything said about the pros and cons are at best a generalization.

The Basic Types of Schools
There are basically two types of English conversation schools. The very large chain schools with literally hundreds of locations throughout Japan like ECC, Geos and Nova and your smaller privately owned schools. These may have only 4 or 5 branches, many have only a single branch.

Differences in Accommodations
Large ESL schools usually have accommodations for you. Generally they pay the key money and will handle communications with your landlord if anything breaks. Often they will rent several units in 1 apartment house, so you'll have friendly faces just 2 doors down. It can be very convenient not to mention make things a whole lot easier to have colleagues next door to point you in the right direction or help get you connected.

Smaller schools sometimes don't offer accommodations because they prefer to hire from within Japan. There is less risk in doing so and they simply don't want to fork out the key money. So many times if you want to work for a smaller school, you may have to find your own accommodations in Japan.) No easy feat! (This can be several thousand dollars. So be sure to ask about this and remember finding a place to live is usually harder than finding a job in Japan. (Provided you don't want to live in a shared arrangement like a "gaijin" or guest house.

How ESL Schools Differ in Curriculum
Large ESL schools often won't have any flexibility in their curriculum. You will teach what you're told to teach. If you don't have experience or confidence in laying out lesson plans and would prefer not to do it, then this inflexibility will be a plus.

Smaller ESL schools will often be more flexible with their curriculum (if they even have one.) So you'll be responsible for planning your own lessons. This can give you the chance to experiment with new ESL games, activities and texts. Ultimately it makes you a better teacher.

Differences in Teaching Atmosphere
Large ESL schools tend to see their teachers as expendable. With their massive recruiting budget and connections, they can replace teachers in the blink of a young girl's eye. This results in a colder atmosphere and causes faster turnover in the staff, which again adds to a colder atmosphere because long-term bonds never get made. Some of them also discourage contact with students after classes. Often large schools will put a non-fraternization clause into their contracts for you to sign. If you're seen out with students, you may be reprimanded or fired.

Smaller ESL schools tend to treat the teacher as a part of their team and may value your opinions and input on various school functions. They also allow you to hangout with students after class – this helps build relationships and ads to the whole experience. It's nice to be able to attend a party thrown by one of your students

Differences in Money
Large school salaries will all be in the 250,000 yen range. Your large chain schools usually give some kind of bonus - whether it is a free ticket back or a completion bonus. Generally the raises will be very small.

Smaller ESL schools often give a bit more in the salary category simple because some of them are so far out in the country, that it's hard to find teachers. Often it's easier to get raises (or bigger raises) and other perks from smaller ESL schools than the larger ones. They don't have such a well-oiled recruitment machine so it's tough and a big pain for them to replace teachers. If your quality teaching helps build their student base, they're often quicker to recognize your efforts through larger contract renewal bonuses, raises and other perks.

Whether you choose a large or small school, you'll still be afforded the opportunity to get a first hand look at a very unique culture, make friends that last a lifetime and get your international career off to a good start!

About the Author:

By: John Paxton
John Paxton is an ESL teacher living and working in central Japan. You can find more detailed information about what to expect teaching in Japan at Distribution of this article is permissible as long as the entire article including author information and website address are included.

04.12.2006. 09:49


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