Teaching English In Japan

I work at a private English school in the countryside in Japan. I teach kids from 2 years old up to 18 or so.

Most of the kids come for 2 hours. Half an hour of either tracing the alphabet, filling in the blanks on worksheets or hardcore grammar work depending on their age, then an hour of “conversation” (that’s me), then another half an hour of tracing/grammar.

The school runs from 2 or so until 10.30pm. I usually have either four or five classes a day, split into a 3 or 4 class run, then a 30 minute break, then one class, or sometimes two. Obviously I arrive later than the Japanese lady who does the tracing/grammar, and leave earlier.

For anyone considering coming to Japan to do similar work, here are my tips…

1. Give Up Smoking.

As mentioned, sometimes I have to work 4 hours straight. Maybe I’m just a lazy spoiled Westerner, but I’ve never had to do that before. I’ve had a few of the normal 9-5 or 5.30 jobs, where you work 9-11.15, have a coffee break for ten mins or so, then lunch is 1-2, then another break around 4 for ten mins. Unless things were really mental, I never worked more than about 2 hours straight. I’ve also worked 12-hour shifts in a hospital. There I never worked more than 2.5 hours straight.

I should point out, that I’m a smoker. Even when things were really busy in work and I was eating lunch at my desk, I was always able to nip out for 2 minutes for a smoke. Not in this job. Apart from the obvious not wanting to stink of smoke around the kids and parents, it’s just not feasible. The classes are an hour long. I can’t let the kids out early because the tracing/grammar lady won’t be finished with the previous class. I can’t come in late because the kids will be tearing around the room and generally raising hell. So, no smoking. I’ve invested in nicotine patches. Seriously. 4 hours straight with 14 five year olds? Some days I feel like Krusty the clown wondering if there’s some space on my butt to stick an extra patch. (Not really, I only ever have one patch on… just in case you were worrying).

This brings me neatly to point 2…

2. Develop Excellent Bladder Control.

This is way more of a problem than the smoking thing. Realising you kind of have to pee, then looking up at the clock and knowing you won’t be able to for three more hours is torture. Obviously, sometimes I do have to leave the hellions to their own devices for a few minutes, but I try not to. I limit how much liquid I consume before class and try not to think about waterfalls.

3. You Don’t Have To Like Kids, But It Helps.

Before I took this job I had never worked with children. I had worked rather extensively with babies, particularly very very small ones (see hospital job above) but never with kids who could walk and talk. I presumed I liked kids. I mean, who doesn’t? Not many people would ever openly admit to not liking children. It’s like not liking peace, or flowers or something.

Since coming here, I’ve realised that actually, I don’t love children. I don’t hate them either, I’m just not your typical super-awesome-wow-fun camp counsellor you usually get teaching 3 year olds.

The first week was a real eye-opener. I thought that knowing a lot about babies and having a teenage brother would be useful. Wrong wrong wrong. Children are dirty and loud and rude and violent. When they get together they can be vicious. I spend plenty of time breaking up fights and handing out tissues and generally being a zookeeper. I seriously considered packing it in, going home and breaking out the power suit and high heels and going back to the office.

4. Japanese Kids Are People Too

After a few weeks, something happened. I started consistently remembering their names, and sometimes I even matched the name to the right kid. I started to get to know a few of them. I started to find them funny and cute. It stopped being a blur of snot and noise, and I found myself looking forward to going in to see a particular class of exceptionally cute four year olds or bright 13 year olds.

No matter where you work, there’ll always be people you don’t like. In my last job, I had to buy an ipod just to drown out the voice of this excruciatingly annoying guy who spent most of the day making personal calls and yattering on about his latest night out. (Given, the stories were funny the first time, but there are only two weekend nights and five 8 hour working days. They wore out quickly). I used to time my breaks to avoid running into a really nice overly friendly guy who always wanted to sit with me, because he chewed with his mouth wiiiiide open.

You just have to suck it up. You can’t avoid the infuriating people in the world, particularly when you’re getting paid to teach them English. You just have to overlook their poor personal hygiene and appalling social graces, and get on with your day.

Sometimes, you even have to accept the occasional slapped bum. Somehow, I don’t think the director of the school would entertain a sexual harassment charge against a 3 year old.

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