englishbiz Story: Part 3- The First Year

So, I guess that so far this story is not terribly helpful for you, that is, if you are someone who is planning to get a “quick fix” for how to set up a school and run it and make a ton of yen and then run all the way to the bank while yelling, “Huzzah!”

In my last post on this topic I think I might have bummed you out. I basically just said that you will need to work like a crazy person, and that you should say good-bye to your social life. Those are prerequisites for this line of work. That is just the beginning too. When you finally get enough steam to get your own place to open you are going to find all kinds of challenges, and some very tempting things that will pull you off course.

I think that the first thing you need to have in your mind and heart is a decision that each class is going to be beneficial for kids. Every time the kids meet you they are going to learn something. Each lesson should have an objective. Write that down. It can be a lot of different things, and different teachers will have different ideas of where to start.

You should start with something that you think will be good for the kids, and something measurable, and something that parents will be glad to see. This is why we started with the most basic of basics: ABCs.

You will be ASTONISHED to learn that the ABCs, and how to write them, will be initiated in the Japanese English language curriculum in JUNIOR HIGH. Yes, that is true. And I know what you are thinking. Me too. That is way way way too late.

So, for us we started to make it our policy that English would be taught in two areas equally: speaking/listening AND writing/reading. Did you see what I did there? I divided the four elements into two groups, and they are exactly the same in terms of output/input. They group together perfectly. So, now you know what to do. Divide your classtime appropriately, and start creating the lessons you need to teach. But make sure that you have something on paper that kids take home. You need evidence of learning. You need evidence that something happened during the time with you, and should there be objections later, you have documents to point to, and charted progress for the kids.

The big temptation for many serious schools is to MAKE ENGLISH FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!! Yahhhhhh! “Come on kids! Get on your feet and join me in song!” And then all the kids get up, and they start hopping and contorting, and chanting after you in some kind of English conversation seizure.


“Hi Hi Hi Kids! How are you?”

(panting, sweating, and screaming) “I’m fine thank you, how about you?”

“I’m fine, too! Do you like (gesticulating wildly) sandwiches with swiss cheese?”

(gesticulating wildly, spinning, frothing) “Yes, I do. How about you?”

“I like swiss cheese sandwiches too.”

(everyone collapses, sweating profusely among scattered bits of damaged furniture, hacky-sacks, xylophones, and inflatable toys now terribly deflated)

This is how a lot of English language schools operate. Of course I exaggerate. But I have seen enough video of such schools with ribbon twirling and game playing to make me have to turn away and change the channel. I just ask myself the same question each time, “Where is the learning? Where are the books and papers and pencils? Why, oh why, is the teaching of the English language to kids in Japan so dramatically and wildly different than the teaching of Japanese to Japanese kids?”

Then comes the answer (from self-professed ‘experts’ in the field), “Japanese classes are not interesting, but English classes are meant to be FUN, and this FUN gets the kids happy and thus learning soon.”

There are a couple of issues with that assessment. The first is that Japanese lessons are, by nature, boring. They are not. Japanese teachers can have humor and passion and care and enthusiasm without hoolah hoops and bean bags. They have pencils and paper and are excited and interested in kids, and helpful, and cheerful, and just plain inspirational and oozing the love for kids. We should teach English so well.

The second problem is that English NEEDS to be entertainment. That is complete nonsense. Entertainment is something that we put in front of kids. Education is when we are doing something together WITH the kids. Entertainment is the foreign teacher as singer/dancer/baton-twirler/gameshow host/panda in a costume.

This is the route that almost all eikaiwa schools go. It may work. And it may work well. But if you run such a school it can only be as strong and as lasting as YOU are. Don’t catch a cold. Don’t get sick. Don’t take a day off. Don’t get too old. If you are not there to twirl those ribbons and batons, play those board games with enthusiasm, sing those songs, do those dances, and sew up your damaged panda costume, the school will die.

Maybe that is okay for some people. It is not okay for the kids, by the way. But for the teacher, maybe they can get by for a few years as an entertainer. If they are a good organizer of other entertainers they may have a staff that they can work with. But it is a very delicate structure because it is largely dependent on the personality of the performer-teacher and the charisma of the class leader. The kids are not self-actualized to learn. They are spectators and they have expectations as an audience to the performer-teacher. It is a difficult and fickle relationship.

And it is this exact relationship that must be redrafted if the company or school has any long-term hope for survival. If you can turn that image around, like we have, you will be doing the right thing, really helping kids, and knowing that you are providing kids something that they really need for the future and not just a bunch of flapping about until your arms get tired.

There. I said it.

More coming soon…. Stay  tuned.


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