The Beginning

Every website and blog kind of starts this way. We start off by telling you how we started off. It seem appropriate. I mean, if you are thinking of coming to work with us, you should know some of our background and know our company’s story too.

That seems fair.

I will start back at the beginning of my own teaching career in Japan. I guess that I started out like a lot of people do when they decide to work in Japan as an English teacher. Before coming to Japan, I had worked for one year in China. This was back in 1990, and right after the Tiananmen Square Massacre of thousands of peacefully protesting university students. It was a very rough time for university students at that time, and I had the great privilege of being their English instructor. It was my first time out of Canada, and I was only 21 years old. I was just a kid.

A couple of years later, in 1992, I had the chance to come to Japan on the JET program. My placement was in the sleepy town of Terai-machi, in Ishikawa prefecture. This was prior to the Internet, and this town did not even have a convenience store. It was quite rural, but it kind of forced me to get out into the community and to make the most of my experience. I studied karate quite diligently while I lived there, and continued training in karate for many years from then.

After the JET program I moved back to Canada and I did my graduate studies in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. That was a wonderful time to learn and grow and I had brilliant professors who patiently took their time, and taught me how to think more clearly, and understand better the world and people around me. After my tenure at the UofA, I moved back to Japan and I worked first at a private high school for a few years and then I landed a teaching position at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. I was also teaching part time at Hokuriku University, JAIST (Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) and also taught language classes at Hitachi, Nikkiso, Ishikawa Seisakusho, and a few other corporations.

I stayed teaching in Ishikawa prefecture for several years until later I came to live in Kagawa-ken, the smallest prefecture in Japan, sitting on the top of Shikoku. The year now was 2008. A lot of time flew by since I had first started on the JET program, and I had a lot of years of teaching behind me. My wife is from Kagawa, and we moved here back in 2007. As it was, we both experienced some personal tragedies in our respective families, and were both economically wiped out. It was the eeriest thing…. but we were together, and we were determined to make things work out.

We had both been in Ishikawa-ken prior, and that is where we had all our professional contacts and friends. We came to Kagawa-ken due to her parents getting older, and also feeling a need for a new start as well. Coming to Kagawa was the big wake up call for me as an English teacher. I had taught for years at high schools, private high schools, universities, colleges, think tanks, corporations, and graduate schools. I had friends who were engineers, doctors, politicians, scientists, and professional business men. Many evenings were spent at dinners and receptions, and I had been to some of the coolest swankiest places in Kanazawa as a guest of powerful people.

But all of that got washed away. No one in Kagawa knew me. And no one cared who I was. For the first time I felt very much unattached to anything around me. I started over. So, with resume in hand I boldly walked into local universities and inquired about teaching positions. “This should be a piece of cake,” I thought. “Seriously, just LOOK at this pristine resume! Surely you have not seen such a MIGHTY document!”

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Don’t you just want to give this guy a professor job? What? Not really!? How could that be?

But surely, they did not care. I was not connected to anyone. No one could vouch for me that they knew. I was very much a stranger in a strange land.

I had to start at zero.

I picked up a few private lessons. They did not work out so well. I had no classroom so we met at Starbucks. I was so poor I could hardly buy coffee. I later landed a job at a language school that specializes in corporate classes and has several big clients. We thought this might be a good fit, so I started with them. They were also in a state of flux, and due to unforeseen circumstances, and internal difficulties, we later parted ways after a few months. It just was not a good fit, and for me, I did not see that there could be a future there where I could “carve out my own future”.  I hadn’t yet found my “niche”.

But I was broke. I took a job at an ALT working for a major dispatch company to teach at junior high schools. I had never taught kids from this age before. My previous students were all high school an up, WAY up. But I was on the Marine Liner train every day and then riding buses to Kurashiki, Okayama every day to teach at junior high schools as an ALT. The travel to and from added up to about 5 hours a day commute. But I was surprised at how much I really liked the kids. Their enthusiasm, filter-free way of speaking and expressing themselves, and their desire for fun and learning were great. I bonded with the kids, and just enjoyed the time we could have. I also would not sing and dance, and I just told the English department staff that I will just do my best to TEACH. They seemed relieved and we had a great time together too.

After the short time commuting to Okayama prefecture daily, I managed to get a teaching position with a private school here in Takamatsu. The owners of this private school are a very interesting and kindly couple who have been running this private junior and senior high with their family for about 100 years. We still have a very good relationship with them today.

Also, during these months, something marvellous happened. I stumbled upon an advertisement of someone who wanted to SELL their language school here in Kagawa prefecture. I contacted them immediately. They were a couple who was planning on moving back to their home country and wanted to sell their school.

We arranged to meet. But, as it turned out, there was no “school”, as in, there was no physical building that this couple was teaching out of that was their “home base”. They had a list of students on paper and were renting out facilities in local community halls, unused rooms in sports centres, and study rooms in a downtown multi-purpose complex. Their school was basically a “virtual school”, and for them it worked. We were not sure how it would come together for us, but we were interested in moving forward.

We purchased the list of students from the previous owners and took time to be properly introduced to their students. We started with a core of about 40 students. We started our school with the plan and intention to “really teach English” and not to simply “entertain in English”. Maybe that is why the original core of students stayed small. Also, we were way out in the small town of Miki, about 20 km south of Takamatsu. We weren’t even near where most people in Kagawa were living. We were not sure how this was going to work out. We named our school, “englishbiz”.

But then the miraculous occurred. We grew. We grew from 40 to 90. Then we grew to 100. Then we grew to 130. We needed to expand. We opened a part time school in Takamatsu. That school doubled our student number. We hired some part time staff. We grew more. We opened another branch. We took on two full time teachers. We grew more. And we have been steadily growing over the years until now.

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Our very first “school”. Everything fit in this bag. Now retired to the englishbiz museum.

We now operate, at the time of this writing, 6 schools in Kagawa prefecture. Our school program has matured and changed in a whole bunch of ways over the years, and we manage to bring additional value each and every year to our students. We do not do this alone, mind you. We are deeply dependant and grateful to be working with our very sharp teammates. We have stellar teachers and staff who meet the kids every day, run our programs, counsel with moms and dads, and who continually move the students one step at a time to bilingualism. It is a marvel to behold.

This short introduction will give you some of the “broad strokes” of how englishbiz works. More details will be coming in the days and weeks ahead and I fill out this site. But I hope that I have piqued your interest. I imagine that you might be here because you may see yourself in a similar situation. You are a teacher in Japan, and you are thinking about how you can find a place to work that is fair and honest. You are thinking that you would maybe like to teach in a context that does not require you to wear a goofy hat, or dance with kids, or let them scream and throw things at you. You may be thinking that you would like to just “BE the teacher” and not a performer, a tool to be used and discarded later, or something less than who and what you are.

At englishbiz, one thing that is very important for us is that we treat everyone with human dignity and respect. We are all people trying to find our way in the world, and we would all like our work to mean something, both to us and to others. We think that we have figured out how to do this right, and we are very interested in taking our teammates, and partners, along with us. There are good ways to do things, and right ways to do things. We think very simply and plainly about our approach to our work.

If you are interested in communicating with us about a possible job, whether it be short term or long term, I invite you to send me an email at englishbiztakamatsu@gmail.com

Thanks for reading thus far. Have a great day, and all the best to you!

 

Mark Groenewold, President, englishbiz

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