Teaching English to children the right way
If you love teaching, but work in a place you can’t stand, then there is nothing worse than teaching English to children. You desperately want to set the kids free and knock some sense into their overbearing and controlling mothers. You wonder if the parents or staff would fit through the open window, but you remember that next month’s rent is due so you politely bite your tongue.
Then begins hours of forced labor with exam book after exam book repeating, “This is a pen,” until you are hoarse and your face goes numb. The kids hate it. You hate it. The mothers and staff don’t care either way. Any type of emotional connection with your students is forgotten; they are zombies and you are replaceable at any given moment with another poor sap – fresh meat just off the boat (or airplane these days).
If you love children, and are passionate about teaching, this type of working environment will destroy you.
I know because I’ve been there. You make sweet promises. You tell yourself you can do better, but financial insecurity and fear of failure keep you from realizing your potential. I am not speaking to the folks here in Japan to earn a quick buck. They would quit a job at the drop of a hat if the next one meant a higher salary. People like that have a total disregard for their students’ emotional well being. They are quickly tarnishing the entire English teaching profession for the rest of us who are truly passionate about our work. They are suffering because they hate their work and thus hate life.
I am talking to you – the one who is suffering because you love your work, thus loving life. If this is you, read on. There is a brighter future for you, and it’s time to take the first step. The world needs you and your passion. There is a way out – it is the path of part-time jobs. Welcome to the freelance life.
After quitting my full-time job and moving to Tokyo, a funny idea entered my mind: why apply for another contracted full-time teaching job when I could simply find several different part-time jobs around Tokyo? That was possible, wasn’t it? I soon found my intuition was spot on – a mere hours after applying for part-time work the requests for interviews wouldn’t stop coming. I was perplexed and amazed. How is it possible that I had half a dozen job offers in less than two days? And did I really want to be a teacher again?
But we don’t plan on these things, do we? The world beats down a path for the truly committed. I never wanted to teach English – and I certainly never planned on working at a nursery; that was the furthest thing from my mind growing up. I was a manly man; I guided cargo boats down some of the most dangerous rivers in the United States. I dug over 6,000 miles of wilderness trail while living on nothing but moldy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and TVP. Even if there were a shower, I wouldn’t have taken one. I was too busy carving my name in the world. I was the man who shaved every morning with a straight razor and a frozen bar of soap. My dry cabin in the Alaskan wilderness was -10 indoors. When I went to do my business I always carried an ax in hand to welcome some critter who might not be paying rent for my outhouse. I should spend my life working with kids? And it will be enjoyable you say? Ha! What a riot!
And here I was, with dozens of the little monsters climbing all over me, changing diapers, and wondering how it happened. I was a real man all right; I bought 20 packets of cute fluffy kitten stickers at the 100 yen shop for my girls. And I loved every minute of it. Fast forward six months, and I am working nine part-time jobs, but now I have started my own freelance translation business. The money is good. I work where I want and only teach in places which give me the freedom to make my own lessons and care for my students. Here is why you should do the same…
Work fewer hours, make more money
When I was working full-time at an eikaiwa, I made 265,000 yen per month. I worked strange hours, usually leaving my house at noon for the 50-minute commute, and not arriving home until 10 p.m. I never had two consecutive days off – they were always on Sundays and Tuesdays, and I was often required to come into the office on my holidays to attend school events and training sessions, for which I was not paid. That’s 50 hours a week, either working or on my way to work, which means that I made roughly 1,325 yen per hour.
Now, I usually work two part-time jobs per day. My hours vary, but I work no more than four hours per day. I have no weekends, but that’s because I have my own translation business which helps supplement my teaching income. I used to work 32 hours per week, but after being more selective with the places I work, I now can earn a living only working 24 hours per week. I estimate my hourly income to be 2,200 yen per hour and I bring in about 213,000 per month (only teaching work included). Due to few daily working hours, and the fact that I love my job, every day feels like a holiday.
Please note that these hourly income estimates include the time needed to travel to work. From the numbers above, you can easily see how part-time work leads to working less hours and a higher hourly wage. Also, if you choose to teach adults, you will likely make 3,000-6,000 yen per hour. I have a friend who works the same number of hours as me teaching adults part-time, and his salary is triple what I make. To each his own. I enjoy working with children.
A great resume and contact builder
Some would argue that a billion part-time jobs will destroy your resume. This can be true if you frequently change jobs because employers will see you as unreliable. However, working in different environments and learning new skills can really give your resume that extra boost. If you are willing to commit to your part-time jobs for the long-term, English schools will snatch you up seconds after submitting your application, because they see you have a wide variety of teaching experience. When I apply to English schools now, within one hour of submitting my application, I usually am asked to come for an interview. Think about it this way: if you are the hiring manager, who are you going to choose?
a) Someone who has taught as an ALT in the same school for 4 years, or
b) Someone who has used over 30 different textbooks, helped prepare kids for entrance exams and English proficiency tests, created and led a TPR and song-based curriculum in international schools, taught ages 1-86, had experience with both private students and large class sizes, and has a list of 10 different professional references who can all say wonderful things about him/her.
Part-time work will also give you an endless supply of professional contacts, especially if you live somewhere like Tokyo. It’s a small world, and you will find that once you have your foot in the door, Mr A from your company will quickly introduce you to more teaching jobs than you really want or need.
Choose your poison
With part-time work, you are in control. No more being bound to a company because they are sponsoring your visa. With part-time work, you can find a visa sponsor easily, sometimes only being required to work for your sponsor for a few hours per week. This freedom allows you to be very selective about where you work and who you work with (as you should be). I don’t accept jobs and sign contracts unless I absolutely love my school. I only work in places which allow me to write my own lessons and help my kids become autonomous learners. Take control of your teaching career. You are a professional and you deserve to be treated with respect. Most part-time jobs have trial periods where you can see if you will be comfortable in your new school (the trial period is more for your boss’s sake than your own). If you don’t like it, please do other teachers and yourself a favor and find somewhere else you enjoy.
Finally, by teaching at several part-time jobs, you will literally be thrown into the lion’s den for the first few months (unless you are an old-fart with lots of experience). Schools will ask you to sing, dance, draw cute pictures of kittens and tofu spaghetti monsters, build furniture, dress kids for school, change diapers, be pooped/peed on while changing diapers, chase homeless people away when you visit the park, make bento lunches (including cute animals made from wieners), lifting 3-6 kids at once to catch the bus, play the piano, be an actor or comedian, wear funny costumes, etc. You get the idea. Get ready for one hell of an adventure, because you’re in for the ride of your life.
In summary, part-time English teaching is not only a way to work less hours, make more money, and find more enjoyable work. It allows you to remember why you loved teaching in the first place. It will help rekindle your passion, and give you hope for the future. We teachers know that education is more than a job – we are changing the world. It’s high time we return to doing what we love and tell these large chain schools to stop viewing children as dollar signs, and start treating them as human beings. Life is too short to hate what you do. Work with love, start enjoying life, and be happy.