ESL Issues: No. 1- You are not a kangaroo

One of the biggest issues for English teachers in Japan is when their employers ask, or require, them to do work that is outside the parameters of being a teacher.
Some of these activities are things like working on Sunday or National holidays and manning a booth in a shopping center, and to be “on display” for prospective parents strolling by. The booth is manned by Japanese office staff who try to entice kids and parents to come and interact with the foreign teacher. I always thought that this kind of display was so distasteful. It makes the English teacher not much more than a cute pet in a cage, and the moms and dads come by with their kids to view this “exotic creature”.

Another common misuse of English teachers is to have them walk through neighbourhoods and put advertisement materials into the mailboxes of houses and apartments. The school wants to save a little money on advertising properly and uses their teachers like a newspaper delivery service.

There may be events where kids come to the English school. It could be Christmas or Halloween or some other holiday. Here again the English teacher will be expected to dress up. You may be a reindeer, a giant rabbit in a mascot suit or something else. Maybe that seems fun, and basically harmless, but as teachers get a bit older it has been a sad thing to see a forty year old man in a kangaroo suit, smiling and waving hoping beyond all hope that he won’t be replaced next year by someone younger and perkier, and with greater hopping around ability.


Dave Spector, a well known media personality here in Japan, is extremely well-read, smart, witty, and insightful. Some folks are not big fans, but I have deep respect for the man. He has been able to swim in some very unsure waters for a long time. I would love to know more of his story. His assessment of how foreigners are treated in his line of work is that they are much like “pandas”. Cute, cuddly, worthy of a marshmallow or two, and fun, but that is about it. I understand the assessment, and we can see that manifested in many situations here in Japan. The thing is, as long as someone works with us in englishbiz, we don’t do that. We don’t “rail against Japanese society” about it, but we just don’t dig that way of thinking and won’t participate.

Maybe the reason why we will not have these kinds of practices in our schools is a bit harsh, but as the owner of englishbiz I do not agree with anything that creates a “barrier” between us and the kids we need to teach. If an English teacher is a “pet” or a “toy” or a “creature in a costume” they are no longer a person or an approachable member of the community. We need to be inside our communities and have positions of mutual respect in the classroom. We may have the long-term potential to make societal change, but first we will change that culture in our classrooms and in our local community and local interactions.

Our classroom environments are not “stiff” or overly formal, but we need to keep the roles very clear for our teachers. Teachers need to teach, and they need to teach well. A teacher’s ability to sing and dance and perform for kids is nice, but the number one thing for us is the teacher’s ability to communicate and help kids. No kangaroo costumes are required.

Hop on by and let us know what you think!

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