One of the most common jobs in Japan for foreign nationals is teaching English to children. But what is it really like teaching English in Japan? What are common challenges, and what are some unexpected surprises teachers might encounter? We talked to an English teacher in Japan to find out!
Personal Experiences Teaching English
A job can’t really be understood by only knowing the work schedule or potential salary. Instead, hearing people’s unique personal experiences in those positions can give more real-world context and information that you might not find on a job board.
That’s why we decided to sit down and talk to a teacher who can share what it’s really like to teach English in Japan. James, who currently works for Yaruki Switch Group, has over three years of experience working as a teacher to children studying English in the company’s Kids Duo schools.
Like many, he came to Japan without any background in teaching or education, but he quickly found that English teaching would be full of surprises—and challenges. Here are his answers to some common questions about being an English teacher in Japan.
Why Did You Become an English Teacher?
After studying art in university, James found himself ready to try something new, though he initially wasn’t sure exactly what that would be. “Teaching wasn’t necessarily something I had on my mind, actually. I was interested in moving abroad… I was looking for new experiences,” he says. This led James to visit Japan, and after falling in love with the country and its culture, he decided to apply for a job with Kids Duo, starting his career as an English teacher.
Leading up to this, he had only worked part-time jobs and didn’t have extensive experience in a similar role. Still, his interest in Japan and in trying his hand at an unfamiliar job was enough for him to make the life-changing decision to become an English teacher. And his experience isn’t uncommon, with many English teaching jobs in Japan welcoming beginners ready to learn.
What Are Your Favorite and Most Surprising Parts of Teaching?
James said that variety is one of the best things about teaching English, where the age, level, and personality of different students and classes varies throughout the day. This helps to keep each lesson fresh, perfect for those who hate repetitive work.
This variety also extends to the different kinds of activities you get to do while teaching. James noted, “What sets Kids Duo apart is… the unique types of activities you get to do. I think that’s one of my favorite aspects.” Teaching in an environment like Kids Duo offers more than just English conversation classes or textbook lessons. Instead, there are arts and crafts activities, classes on science and math, and more. In this way, teachers have freedom with their lessons, can be creative in the classroom, and have the chance to wear different hats on the job.
One of these hats may be the role of a more childlike version of yourself: as James puts it, “A lot of things that I kind of enjoyed myself as a student, I was able to kind of relive vicariously through my students in a way.” Remembering what kinds of things you learned as a kid, what games you liked to play, and which types of lessons you preferred can be brought into the lessons you create for a new generation of young learners.
James also points out that one positive, and surprising, point of teaching English in Japan is how much fun it can be. “Compared to any other job I’ve had… I laughed the most as an English teacher. Kids will surprise you just as much as you surprise them,” James says. He explains that even if you’re having a bad day, it’s difficult to focus on your worries or stay in a bad mood when the students bring such a fun, positive attitude to the classroom.
What Challenges Do You Face as an English Teacher?
Working as an English teacher in Japan can be fun, but it also comes with some challenges too. And the challenges faced can vary among different companies and types of teaching jobs.
For James at Kids Duo, finding confidence as a new teacher was the biggest challenge. He explains, “The biggest thing for me getting started, but it depends on each person’s personality… is being comfortable being performative [while teaching in front of the class].” James says that being an English teacher in Japan, especially with the language barrier, is learning to take on a role “somewhere between stand-up comedian and game show host.” You must be engaging, funny, and entertaining, all while using a language that may be unfamiliar to your students. This can be a challenge for those who are more reserved and introverted, but it’s a challenge that can be overcome with practice.
He also says you must find your voice, create a teaching persona that works for you, and learn how to be the most interesting thing in the room. “That was kind of the biggest challenge for me, was to kind of find my voice and… building up that self-confidence.” For James, teaching became much easier after the first few months, and he found that being a teacher came much more easily once he started taking himself less seriously. He started allowing himself to play a character more silly and goofy than his typical demeanor, making class more enjoyable both for himself and for his students.
This change allowed him to grow in other areas of his life outside of teaching, too. He says that because teaching requires him to get out of his comfort zone on a regular basis, he is more prepared to take on other uncomfortable challenges in life. James says, “Whenever it comes time to do something I haven’t done before, things that I’m worried about… I’m not worried now about doing things I haven’t done before.”
How Can I Prepare to Become an English Teacher? What Makes a “Good” English Teacher?
Whether you’re already a teacher looking to improve your skills or interested in becoming an English teacher for the first time, James had plenty of valuable advice.
First, he highlighted the importance of being comfortable with young learners. When applicants apply to become a teacher, companies like Yaruki Switch Group often look for previous experience with children. For James, he had two younger siblings growing up, which helped him understand how to communicate and interact with children. A lot of teaching skills can be learned in training, he says, but you must be comfortable interacting with kids coming into the job. He notes that working in summer camps, volunteering on a sports team, babysitting, or even having younger siblings like he did are invaluable experiences that will better prepare English teachers for the classroom. If you haven’t worked much with children in the past, you must at least have a genuine interest in doing so in order to be successful in a position such as being a Kids Duo teacher.
James also emphasized the importance of flexibility and resilience, saying, “You’re definitely going to fail before you get better, so resilience and patience are super key qualities.” Learning to be confident and comfortable “going with the flow, not taking things too seriously, and being okay with failure” are essential for both new and experienced teachers. And like in many job positions—and perhaps life in general—you must keep an open mind and expect the unexpected. Though preparation ahead of time is necessary, it’s also equally necessary to approach teaching with an open mind and without many expectations. Be able to adapt to what your school, classes, and students need.
Finally, James says that a bit of mindfulness and acceptance will go a long way when it comes to teaching: “Don’t get caught up trying to make your lessons too perfect or trying to be the perfect teacher. Experience the experience that is there right in front of you.”
Work as an English Teacher at Yaruki Switch Group
Join Yaruki Switch Group and help inspire students on their English education journeys. At Yaruki Switch Group’s Kids Duo schools, you can teach young learners through fun games, interactive activities, and creative lessons, where you get to bring your own ideas and personality to the classroom.
Kids Duo is perfect for teachers looking to work at one location with the same regular students, building meaningful bonds in an environment that truly immerses students in the English language.
If you’re ready to become a Yaruki Switch Group English teacher, apply to an opening in these locations:
Ready to Start Your Own Journey Teaching English?
If you’re new to teaching English, or if you’re searching for an exciting opportunity to grow in your career, find your dream job in Japan at Guidable Jobs!
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