Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
Previously I mentioned the guest post at ALTinsider, where I wrote about applying to work a direct hire position.
By mail, I received notification that I was not selected to be a direct hire ALT at a high school for the next school year. 残念 (too bad), but I didn’t take it badly. There was a friendly disclaimer that there were a lot of qualified applicants and they encouraged me to apply again in the future. Which I will probably do.
For my current company, I still don’t know what my contract for the next school year will be. I’ve asked to be placed in junior high schools only because they are my favorite. The contracts are determined by the board of education and most include both junior high and elementary schools. It’s probably not likely they will change up the schools in each contract which have been bundled together for years.
I will continue to write articles about my next school year as an ALT in Kurume City, in addition to answering your questions about finding work as an ALT in Japan.
I had already written some of the positive things about working for a dispatch company vs. in a direct hire position.
It really depends on your company – how much they leave you alone and how much they act like your babysitter.
My favorite thing about my company is, if I don’t have a class first period and staff didn’t write in that I need to prepare for lessons or something (if I have everything prepared), sometimes I can arrive at work later than usual. (This has only happened once in the last two months. Usually I ask about if the school wants me to come at the usual time and if I get a reply, it’s too late or too vague to get the chance to sleep in.)
In addition, if I don’t have any classes scheduled for sixth period (or even fifth and sixth), and don’t have things I need to prepare, I can usually leave the school early. This isn’t every day but has happened way more frequently. The vice principal and other staff even encourage me to go home early when I don’t have any more classes. Sometimes they have a meeting in the teachers’ room or no one will be around so they expect me to leave. I also leave right after my last class most of the time, and don’t need to wait until 4:30, which is my scheduled finish time. This is what makes it really feel like part time work.
At my previous company, I was expected to be there and look busy from 8:15-4:15 every day – if I had six classes or no classes that day. I did get the okay from the office manager to leave to run errands or something on occasion, but I think that was more because they knew I wasn’t being a slacker and liked me. It’s a little different working at one school and being involved in student activities (more rewarding), but a lot more like full time. I think working direct hire is more like this situation, although technically the position I applied for is seven hours a day because the ALT can leave for lunchtime.
Yes, they are mostly unpaid, but when you love traveling, getting an average of two months total per year of school vacation time is awesome. This is in addition to the paid national holidays, weekends, and depending on the company, around a week or two of paid leave. I was willing to give this up to try direct hire, but sort of reluctantly. When I can earn a decent annual salary for working part time for ten months a year, why complain? Note: I have no real skills or qualifications, so even in the states, I can’t earn as much as I can in Japan. I majored in art and after working in the (film!) photography field part time for a while, I did customer service. Needless to say, that wasn’t something I wanted to make a career of. Working for a dispatch company in Japan pays very little compared to most skilled worker salaries in the states and even teaching in S. Korea is better financially.
Another thing I like about my company is it seems like there is only training once a year in addition to monthly meetings. Previously I had worthless training a few times a year plus optional weekly meetings (that I always skipped). During months where there are school vacations (March-April and Dec.-Jan.), some companies pay a pro-rated salary. My company gives silly assignments to email in and pays a full month’s salary every month except August. This means that with minimal effort, I can travel as long as I have internet access to send something in each day.
With a direct hire position, you are expected to have more duties like real teachers, which aren’t optional. Things mentioned in the interview were supervising students during cleaning time, greeting students, and participating in school clubs. These are all things I did most of the time without being forced to in my previous position, although if I didn’t want to stay late for art club, I just went home.
I’m not a huge fan of responsibility, or I probably would have gotten teaching credentials to become a real teacher. I don’t want anything to do with the responsibility, overtime, and stress that comes with being a homeroom teacher. My personality is of the usually-reliable-background-helper-outer variety. Assistant teaching is perfect for that. Working as a real teacher pays a lot more, but my sanity is more important than money. The salary after taxes for being a direct hire ALT really wasn’t much more than what I get now, especially for the amount of added responsibility it requires. It was something I was willing to try if I got the job, but I also knew if I didn’t like it, after a year I’d be back with my company again instead of renewing the contract.
The option to get a reasonably priced school lunch every weekday is super convenient. It saves money if your other option is eating out, and saves time compared with packing a lunch. I don’t know if options in high school cafeterias are reasonably priced, but I see a lot of high school students heading for convenience stores. Eating with students or school staff is a nice way to get to know students or staff outside of the usual teacher role.
Other minimal pluses are the built in support system and community of other ALTs in your area, transportation and health insurance reimbursement, a lower tax bracket and lower cost national health insurance.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely interested in working direct hire someday, and will be looking for opportunities. There’s a big world of working as an ALT that I still have no experience with. If I were more ambitious / wanted to make a career of teaching, I’d be working on a masters and teaching at a university someday. The salary doesn’t outweigh the freedom for me. I’m not and have never been a real career type of person. My reasons for teaching in Japan have always been number one: learning the language, and number two: traveling.