Doing it Right

We have an “Inside the House” expression in our company. It is pretty simple and direct:

Do it right.

That means no shortcuts, no taking advantage of someone, no short-changing anyone, and not taking the easy way out. It sounds a bit “SPARTAN” I suppose, but that is really how Kazuyo and I run our company, and it is a guiding principle with our teammates in our schools too.

So, I am looking around at the TESOL courses that are offered here in Japan, and there are a few out there. Not many. But some. A couple look pretty good, and they look like they are well organized and devoted to helping people get through the program. There are others, as in many things, that look a bit shady. I would very much like to show you exactly what I am talking about, but when one company tries to do that to another, it can be a legal issue, also things escalate into nonsense and name-calling.

I think that we can do better. I think that we can do more. So, I want to take a few lines here to let you know the kinds of things that we would like to do to ensure that your experience in dealing with us will be to your benefit.

The first is that we want our tuition to be reasonable. Covering costs of the venue, the teacher’s fee, travel costs, and administration are a must for any company and a reasonable profit margin so that we can develop and grow. We treat all elements of our company in this way, and because we are committed to education for kids the profit is pretty much just plowed back into our budget to expand, grow, and make better materials for the next academic year.

The second is that we want our course to be interesting and engaging. We have great teachers and we work with only real pros. No one is going to talk down to you, lecture you, or insult your intelligence. Much of our work and education is in a conversational/team-building context so you can bet that our time together will be well-spent. You are going to learn what you need to get the job.

That brings us to the third point. So many certification programs are very happy to receive your money, but after you go through the course they will “wish you all the best” tell you to “go get ’em tiger!” and that is about it. We are committed to work with you to help you land that job that you want to get. We have a rather extensive network of people who own language schools, work for bigger programs that hire teachers, and know several recruiters who are already asking us for names and CVs. Naturally we cannot guarantee that you are going to get your dream job right away, but I want to assure you that we feel that we have a responsibility to follow up with you as best we can to get your foot in the door, the interviews lined up and prepped for, and documents in all working order. From there it will be up to you in the interview, but we are going to do our best to help you when the last day of our course is finished.

I think that for us that sums up “Doing It Right!”

I believe that I have been tremendously lucky to have this life that I do in Japan. It has enriched me in ways that I cannot properly describe. I want that to be something for you too, and I want to do my best to help you chase your dream.

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Have a great day friends and neighbors, and if you need to get in touch with us, please drop me a line at tesolinjapan@gmail.com . I am very much looking forward to meeting up with you.

Best regards,

Mark

 

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Kids getting ready to dance in their school festival

Get Some Advice!

As you are planning to get from where you are to Japan you need to have some kind of strategy. I suppose that it is easy for an old guy like me to tell you all the things you need to do, and you may not believe me. That is very understandable. In the West, particularly to the newly graduated from university, you have not been given the advantages you should have received. Crushing student debt, “internships” which amount to unpaid volunteer labor, and very little access to the jobs you want that will get you to your future goals are common.

So, I dug around on YouTube a little and found some people who are in the process of getting their futures in order, and planning to come to Japan. Check these out!

 

Get the information you need. Shop around. There are a LOT of TESOL granting agencies out there. You need to find the one that will suit your budget and your timeline. Of course, we can help you out here in Osaka, but we are not the only ones. And to be completely frank with you, when you apply for your working visa at the Japanese Embassy, or at Immigration here in Japan, the officers in charge of your file will want to see that you are indeed a university graduate, and that you have a TESOL or CELTA or something similar that looks professional.

It may take a little more time than you bargained for to get to Japan, but you can do it. We are cheering for you like crazy on this side of the ocean. If you need someone to talk to about your process and what you are doing to make it Japan, drop me a line. I will be glad to be of service if I can.

Have a great day!

Getting to Japan, Staying in Japan

I know it seems like a very far away place. For people in North America and Europe and the Middle East, Japan is seemingly on the “edge of the world”. But the truth is, Japan is not as far away as you might imagine. A day of travel and waiting around in airports, and a lot of coffee will find you in Tokyo or Osaka pretty soon.

But once you get here, you need to figure out what you are going to do. You need to stay somewhere. You need to figure out how you can get a job, and how to keep that job, and how to navigate all the things you need to know. It can seem rather overwhelming, but you can do it. If you take it all in small pieces, in bite-size pieces, you are going to be all right. You are going to be okay.

When you decide to make the step to get your TEFL Training with us and iTTi Japan, you’ve made an important first step. Spend the month with us in Osaka this year. Get to know the culture a little, get out and stretch your legs as you walk around Osaka castle, try the food, get away on the days off to Kyoto and explore that city.

But during our session times, when you are learning all about how to be a good teacher, do your best to pay attention. Make notes, ask questions, and get involved in the group discussions. We have a lot of ground to cover in such a short time. But when you are through the coursework we will also spend critical time looking at job placement for you as well. And this is part of our “package” deal for our students.

While a lot of TEFL/TESOL/ESL/EFL courses on-line and elsewhere promise the moon and offer very little, we are deeply committed to helping you realize the job placement and getting your foot in the door here in Japan, or is that rice-paper sliding door?

At any rate, we are very serious about getting you in the job you need, and well prepared for how to design your Japan-friendly resume, how to ace the interview, and how to go about getting the job you need. I hope you will take it from us. We hire teachers and have been involved in the interview processes for schools and government here in Japan for over twenty years. We can help you and we will help you.

Our first course is in Osaka of July 2018. Contact us via email at tesolinjapan@gmail.com and we can get the registration process started.

Looking forward to seeing you here!

Mark6a010536fa9ded970b01bb099a1a6f970d-800wi

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

It is a very exciting time for us at englishbiz. This year promises to bring a few new projects to life, as well as move our company and schools further down the road of becoming stronger and of better service to our students and community.

0f5b75c5-47a9-4d0e-a050-84bdec687c98Last year, in our English classrooms, we experimented with developing an EIKEN JUKU. For those of you do not know what that is, “Eiken” is the name of a series of English tests that kids can take from an early age and the difficulty extends upwards to full fluency. The “Jr” levels are Bronze, Silver, and Gold, and then from there the ranks go 5, 4, 3, pre-2, 2, pre-1, and 1. The “Junior Eiken” levels are primarily for elementary school kids and then from junior high the “Adult Eiken” program kicks in. The word “Juku” means “cram school”. So, what we have in essence created, is a cram school environment for kids working through the “Eiken” ranks.

We did not know what to expect, but it has been a booming success for our school. The parents want it, the kids need it, and there is no one anywhere in Takamatsu City who has done it. This really hit home for us that we were on the right path of making a serious, and seriously enriching and enjoyable, English learning school and environment. We were very very excited when the results came in that 98% of our kids could pass their Eiken examinations and advance to the next stage. There is nothing like real success that can give kids the confidence they need to learn.

While other schools are twirling ribbons, and screaming, and running about with unruly kids, we managed to model, demonstrate, and guide kids towards a better way of learning, REALLY learning, and not just “experiencing” English. I am proud of our school and our team for this success. We will make certain it extends to reach more kids for 2018.

The other area where we saw some incredible success was with our experimental English Daycare called “Little DaVincis”. This was a brainchild of my wife, and we decided to start very small and to see where it would lead us. We made the facility inside the largest language school we ran and hired staff to work with us. It has been a very adventurous start, and we are still in the first year of its inception. There is a growing demand for bilingual daycares in our city, so we are considering carefully if this is another service we can provide better.

Looking ahead to 2018, there is a new project that we have decided to work on, and this is concerned with developing and finding teachers who are either looking for their next placement, or who need the skills and certification that Japanese Immigration authorities require for work visa permission. We contacted iTTi in New York and have secured exclusive rights with them to run their TESOL program here in Japan. The first session will be a 120 hour certification program in Osaka in July. Details will follow on this page, so please let us know if you are interested in this. We are keeping the class size small so we can manage the quality and effectiveness of it, so seats will be limited for the first year anyway.

Thanks so much for coming by! Thanks for the emails and kind comments, and friendly support. It means a lot to me to be connected to great educators and thoughtful people. Teaching English overseas as a career is a wonderful ride, and it is a great pleasure to be on it with you.

Let’s make 2018 big big fun!

Yours,

Mark

TESOL / TEFL Course in Osaka, July 2018

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

It is with great excitement that we can now announce that we are ready to start taking inquiries regarding the TESOL / TEFL certification course that will be offered in Osaka during the month of July.

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We are partnering with iTTi, the International TEFL Training Institute, located in New York, and have secured exclusive rights with them to be the sole certifying board for the TESOL program. The TESOL certificate has great value as it gives you the theoretical background that will help you with teaching and make you a more effective educator. In addition to that, the TESOL certificate is sometimes CRITICAL in helping Immigration authorities determine if you will be a suitable candidate to receive from them a working visa.

As you may be aware, securing a working visa in Japan can be full of difficulties, and simply applying for one does not guarantee anything. In fact, many times officials look for reasons to quickly disqualify candidates to lighten  their workload and the amount of applications they must process. As an employer and owner of language schools in Japan we have first-hand experience of visas being refused because the applicant had a speciality outside of ESL, or English, or Education. The need for a TESOL certificate is very real, and can be the tipping point for your application.

Below is the blurb on our program that will be on the iTTi site, but I thought I would share it with you. So, before we get to the rush of 2018, just know that this is the first time we are setting up the program and we are limiting the session to 20 members only. Let us know if you want to secure a position in our July session for Osaka!

Ok, here is the blurb!

Our TEFL School in Osaka, Japan

Our training center is located in central Osaka. The bustling metropolis of Osaka, while having a mega-city scale to it, is still home to many cultural and traditional locations, temples, shrines, parks, and all the things that make Japan an incredible launching platform for your ESL career. 

Our training center offers internet access in a suitable classroom environment, located near all amenities. Led by a professional long-term ESL teacher, and business owner of language schools in Japan, students will learn the ins and outs of delivering high quality interactive lessons for students of all ages, while also getting some insight as to how ESL schools run, and what real employers require of prospective new teachers. Developing capable and confident instructors is our mission, and feedback and support is given to all members to ensure that they have the best possible success both in leading classes, as well as managing issues that crop up from time to time in the ESL field.

There is a pressing need for ESL teachers to have the certifications necessary to apply for visa status to work as a language teacher in Japan. While many local school boards receive applications from all over the world, the processes and determining factors that grant successful visa applications often rests not only on relevant degrees in the Arts or Education, but also in ESL certifications attached to those applications. A TEFL / TESOL certification is a powerful element, and often a convincing document that illustrates the seriousness of visa applicants, paving the way and opening the door to the ESL industry.

The Ministry of Education and Science in Japan has proposed an aggressive and progressive increase in the hours and expected outcomes for English education in elementary schools, and higher standards are required for the year 2020. What is needed are new teachers with proper credentials to meet this challenge. 

Special Features

Having had considerable first-hand experience both in working as interviewers for ESL teacher positions, including the illustrious JET Program which is sponsored by the Japanese Government, we will provide advice and counsel how to craft your applications and resume.

We are also currently working with a network of ESL language schools, as well as other hospitality and service industries throughout Japan and can refer you directly to those company and school owners who are currently seeking new teachers and staff.

 

The Die is Cast

Ok, so here is where we are at with the TESOL course preparations. The ink is drying on the contract that I have received and we are ready to move ahead. Our initial plan is to start our first TESOL course in July of 2018, and we will set up in OSAKA.

The reason for this is that it is very accessible for anyone coming to Japan, or already living in Japan. The Kansai Airport is within an hour of the downtown area, and Osaka is a major hub for the entire country. Tokyo is great, and if this would be your first time to Japan, it is a “must-go” to location. I highly recommend a few days in Tokyo to get in the sights and sounds of that massive concrete megacity.

Osaka is significant because it is also just a stone’s through from Kyoto. We are going to set up the TESOL course so that we will have some intense sessions for a few days, and then cut you guys loose for a few days in a row. This is essential to let you have the time and space to explore the country, and to really see some of the most significant sights of Kyoto, Osaka, and beyond.

We also hope to have plenty of leads with companies and language schools that are looking for qualified teachers to work with. That is another important thing that we need to do our best in terms of preparing you for life after you get your TESOL certification. Part of getting you ready for life in Japan is to also sort out your CV, and consult with you about strategies for the next step of your career. We have some ideas, but need to hear from you as well in terms of what you are looking for, what ages do you feel most comfortable teaching, and what kind of contracts or length of time you wish to put into an ESL teaching position.

There are many things to formalize and to let you know about, but details are coming! Drop me a line at englishbiztakamatsu@gmail.com if you have any questions!

Talk more soon!

Mark

TESOL: Coming Soon

1503452082tesol-language-learningThis is a very exciting time for our company. We are in the midst of making a significant step forward in developing a TESOL certification program for prospective teachers. We are realizing that to be of best service we need to reach out in two directions as a company and school.

One is, of course, to the kids that we see in our classrooms. They need a very serious and well designed English program, and they deserve to get something better than what they currently get in school. That is our mission as a school.

The other, now that we have the size and clout to do so, is to develop something good for people who are planning to live and work as English teachers in Japan. Towards that end, we are in the finalizing stages of getting our company’s TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. When the paperwork is resolves we will be able to hold training sessions for teachers looking to teach in Japan.

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Our plan is to host the training sessions, give prospective teachers opportunities to do “on-site” teaching and get some experience, get them through the certification process, and then to help get them placed in real ESL jobs. Of course we cannot guarantee placement of jobs, as it is really up to the interviewee to wow their prospective employer, but we will do what we can to set things up properly in that regard. After all, it is great to come to Japan to get your TESOL certificate, but you really want to land the job that will keep you here, right?

Watch this blog for updates. They are coming soon, and we are getting all our ducks in a row to move ahead with this project for 2018! Would very much like to see you here, so if you have interest in coming for a training session with us, they are short term (2 days), one week (7 days), or 120 hours (over one month period), drop me a line at englishbiztakamatsu@gmail.com .

In the meantime, take care and enjoy the festive season, which is just around the corner from today!!

 

 

MarkMA_MS_professional_editing_service_tesol

Are you “genki”?

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These two characters mean “genki”, which means “healthy” or “energetic”.

Sometimes in the morning, especially when I can’t find the remote control to change the channel, I will see some kids program on TV that is teaching English to youngsters. There is a fair bit of sing-song voices, some overly exaggerated gesticulation on the part of the hosts, and some jumping about which far exceeds my early morning tolerances.

But my kids are watching it, so I have my coffee in grouchy old-man silence, scratching the head of one of our dogs who no doubt has found her way onto my lap, eyes gazing upward expectantly, hoping, waiting for breakfast.

And then it happens.

The English program hosts are now at a daycare. They are outside with the kids. The kids are in rows. The hosts are in the front. The daycare staff are staggered around the kids. The calisthenics begin. The music starts. The kids start to shuffle, jiggle, and contort.

“How are you?”, bellow the hosts, arms askew and walking “like an Egyptian”.

“I’m so happy!”, screeches the response. Bodies now raising one leg and arms flapping akimbo.

They repeat. The kids are walking like Egyptians, screaming… something. I can’t understand it. They repeat again. The kids are raising legs with arms akimbo. They are hysteric now. The shrill English conversation session resembles a hospital ward of patients experiencing painful seizures. I can’t hear a single recognizable English sound. They repeat again. The daycare staff look confused. They do not walk so well like Egyptians.

“That’s….. GREAT!” shout out the frenzied hosts. They leap. They land in frozen poses. The camera lingers just a couple seconds too long before cutting away. The hosts, in that final fleeting moment, lose some of the brightness in their eyes. A thought…. a lonesome brief pause flickers across their faces….. Something is slipping away. Their eyes darken ever so slightly.

I can read what it means.

They are quietly whispering through the television screen to me.

“Why, for the sweet love of all that is soy-flavored, am I doing this?”, they seem to ask.

I know the reason why. Even if they don’t.

These poor wretched souls, these lost sheep of eikaiwa glory, are stuck in a groove. Like a vinyl record with a trapped needle, skipping, skipping, skipping…. they are products of a 1990’s Frankenstein creation of “What English education is supposed to look like.” They are the doomed souls of Dante’s ESL Inferno, that is, if Dante was an ESL teacher instead of a brilliant poet. They were programmed, or told to believe that in order to be an English teacher of any calibre. you must be…. GENKI.

Ooooof…. there is that word. Genki.

2831796899_4127ecebd4_zWhat is this “genki”? Is it a virus? Is it a disease? Is it the Japanese sparkly season of our discontent? It may be, and more. To be “genki”, for so many language schools in Japan, means that you have some element that is marketable, and sellable, for eikaiwa schools to provide their clients. It means that you will open your eyes a little wider. It means that you will use gestures in a more flamboyant manner. It means that the pitch of your voice will be raised, as if the hair on your head was being ever so slightly pulled upward. You will smile. You will show more teeth, right back to your molars if necessary. You will nod a lot. You will not laugh, but you will guffaw, and do so with gusto. You will stand in poses where your feet are planted further apart than they normally would be, as if you were preparing an oratory of a great genki Greek tragedy.

In short, you will be the overly cheery monster that lurked in your own shadow. I am not sure if Camus had this in mind, but there it is, lurking, like an exaggerated lovable rascal that was hiding in the subconscious of your brain. And now you have summoned it forth, and brought it into the light of day. It smiles, in all its toothy glory. Like rows of brilliantly white styrofoam lined up in an artificial plastic mouth, gaping, and lost.

You have become genki.

It may be good to be of good cheer, and to be mirthful. A mercurial presence can be much needed in an otherwise dreary classroom, and far be it from me to poo-poo on anyone’s genki parade. But I have concerns, grave concerns, about an over-extended identity of “genki-ness”, that may breed more trouble than what may have seemed a meager price to pay for one’s human dignity.

il_340x270.802383924_bcucTo be formally genki at all times when you interact with your students here in Japan means that you cannot actually be the person you are, the person that is good all on your own. It is a sign that you may feel that your truer self is unworthy of normal public and human interaction. It is a sign that you feel that Japanese people have a continuous stream of expectation of you and your outward behavior. It is a sign that you believe that Japanese people do not possess the capacity to just see you, and accept you, as the natural person that you are. It makes both you, and the people you are now surrounded with, into strange creatures, and not humans at all.

All of that is complete and utter nonsense.

In my, going on 20 years, experience of living here, people in Japan are much like people anywhere else. They have things they like. They have things they don’t like. They have things they need to do, and places they need to go. They have families, and loved ones, and dreams, and trouble, and crushing disappointments, and angry in-laws, and flaws, and virtues, and vices, and a sense of humour. Just like everyone else on this planet.

Why do you need to treat them different? Why do you need to treat yourself different in order to live here?

You don’t.

But then there is that tricky thing about dealing with your eikaiwa task-master. They want you to “be genki”, they want you to be like the creatures they witness on children’s television in the morning. They expect you to be genki, and they believe that they need you to be genki. They want you to …. embrace your genki-ness.

I suppose, that while you need to get yourself settled at first in Japan, you will need to take the job that you have in front of you. You will need to be very cheerful and clown around a bit with the kids. You will need to be goofy and strut around a bit with your best “Gee willikers” or “Gosh darnitt” expressions to get through the day. What are you going to do? Protest? That will simply hasten you towards unemployment, or needing to jump ship to a hopefully more agreeable lateral job.

There may be no solution…. well, no solution for people who are stuck in that genki-groove. For my part, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the market is changing. I am hopeful that the antiquated ossified notion of what it means to be a foreign teacher in Japan will be ground to dust. I am hopeful that students and schools and eikaiwa employers will see that gentleness, authenticity, truthfulness, honesty, goodness, and a cheerful heart will win the day, and truly inspire the next generation of Japanese students.

I am hopeful that the English teacher can simply “be” and not “become”, as in become the thing they ought not, a false shadow of a darkly lit clown.

We see signs of this shift. We see signs in some of the English language programming. Yes, there are still the old crusty “genki” standbys, and they will be with us for some time yet to come. But there are moments, and good teachers, and thoughtful people, and common sense that is starting to shine through cracks and blot out the vapid and empty genki presentations we have seen far too much up until now.

As I said, I am hopeful. We will, for our part, do our best to simply “be” and not “become” the sum of expectations of those around us.

Hmmm…. I am glad I got that off my chest.

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I am not completely sure where this blog came from, but it has been settled in the back of my mind for some time. Thanks for dropping by and giving it a read. Much appreciated, and if this speaks to you as a language teacher looking for a place that will measure you by how well you are as yourself with kids, rather than how you must paint over your own character, I hope you will drop me a line. I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, keep your stick on the ice and keep between the ditches.

Yours,
Mark

 

Interview Hell

Pre-Ramble

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Interviewing, when I was looking for work as a teacher, was always really stressful. For the most part, I think I was pretty lucky because I got the job for almost every position I have applied for in my professional life.

There is one that got away that sticks to mind, and was particularly humiliating not to get. It was a university posting I was hoping for, and I had my mind completely made up that I was going to get that job. But I didn’t. And then I languished… It felt awful. I felt self-doubt. I felt worthless. I felt like someone was looking through me and saw that I was not worthy, that I was a fraud, that I wasn’t worth crossing the street to spit on my hair.

Anyway, interviewing is awful. I never liked going to interviews and it always freaked me out. But over the last couple of decades I have also had my chances to be on the OTHER side of the table, where I HAD THE POWER! YES! Now, I WOULD DECIDE… who shall pass and WHO SHALL NOT PASS!!!!  Oh, these are days, and now interviews often leave me chuckling in megalomaniacal glee.

That’s not entirely true. But I do know a few things about how to interview for getting a teaching gig in Japan, and I DO also know a few things about getting the teaching gig for the JET program since I also served as an interviewer for that process too. Would you mind if I share a few experiences with you?

It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know…

There is some truth to that, but that is not the only truth. I really believe that simply being persistent, and deciding that Japan is where you are going to wind up come hell or high water can be the way to get yourself to this side of the pond. Over the years I have seen waves of woefully unqualified borderline personality types make it here. And to be honest with you dear reader, I know you are better than most of those chuckleheads. Do not despair. Do not give up. Knock on every door. Then knock on all of them again. The biggest thing you have going for you is timing. If you knock at the right time, even if you are not the top in your class, the door can open. Fire off all your resumes. Wait a month and then do it again. And again. Recruiters change and rotate. CVs get ignored and discarded. Play it like the lottery.

Once you are “in the room”, as in you made it to Japan, the rules change. I will see what I can do to coach you when you get to STAGE TWO, but it depends on how often I update this site… heh heh…

Ok, so you land your first gig. And it is not great. You got a job as an English eikaiwa entertainer/teacher/event organizer. The bosses are anxious. The kids are uncivilized. The parents look at you sideways. Everything about Japan is not what you imagined. Why did my manga lie? But you made it. Congrats. The job has long hours, split shifts, your salary is at the whim of a minor league despot, your apartment is above an old ladies karaoke salon, your neighbourhood is littered with cup of ramen containers, and orange haired Hello Kitty slipper wearing biker boys rev up their crappy motorcycle engines around your home at 2AM. But you are here!! Yay!

So, what I am saying, is be persistent. If coming to Japan is your dream, don’t give it up for anyone. Your parents. Your high school boyfriend/girlfriend. Your idiot relatives. Your school friends (who will stay pretty much the same for years after you leave anyway). Take the first job.

But…. you may ask, how do I do that?

Oh, yeah right. I kind of forgot. Back to how to ace that interview.

Be Normal

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This is a tall order for some. But it is important. Do NOT come to your interview telling everyone about how Evangelion is the shining beacon of truth to your world. I don’t even really know what that is, but I gotta tell you, anyone with a manga/anime fetish does not get anywhere with me in an interview. Your love of comics is great. And I love comics too, like the Jack Kirby world of it. But that is not the point. What you enjoy as reading and viewing material does not make you interesting, or qualified, or good with kids, or a team player.

You will be asked, “Why Japan?” A better response is something along the lines of you have always been interested in other cultures, and that there is something very interesting and attractive about Japan that pulls you, and you want to learn more. But more important than that, you love teaching. Teaching is the reason you want the job. Yes, TEACHING. You love to teach. You like students. You like to help others.

Did you see that?

Whenever you have a chance to steer the conversation about why you think you are so special/unique/talented/fierce/important/a shining beacon of truth like Evangelion, you shift the topic to why you like to TEACH, and to be of service to others. I am sure that you are a fascinating person, but someone who feels a need to remind us how fascinating they are tends to be, well, a little less fascinating than they thought…

Be Truthful

This is the hard one, but don’t be TOO truthful either. I remember several interviews I helped conduct where the applicant said, “I really just need a job to pay my student loans.” I hear that and feel that. But you won’t get the job with that kind of honesty. Such applicants do not care about Japanese kids or teaching so they will likely not be a first choice for the school.

It is a good idea not to over-inflate your qualifications. You may have been active in a lot of clubs, got scholarships, been clever in debate class, edited a school newspaper, and so on. But to be honest, as an interviewer for about 20 years I never look at that stuff. Everyone has it, or some version of it. Of course, when you are starting out your career that may be all you got, so put in on anyway. Just consider that the CV is just the key to the room to the interview. The interview is everything, and the people across the table have to like you within the first 4 minutes, or it’s over.

I recall a particular candidate I helped interview for the JET program. He was “perfect” in every way, right from the golden locks of hair on the top of head, to the blue suit, to the perfect smile, to the CV with glowing recommendations of everyone he ever met, to the tips of his shiny shoes. But he tried to give the vibe that “We need him more than he needs us”. So that was it. We were polite, but the feeling was wrong. He was in the wrong job. He is probably running for public office somewhere now.

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The next guy after Mr. Perfect was a sports coach with a community college degree. He just talked about the kids he worked with. The rapport was instant. We saw someone who loved to be good for kids, and found the reward of interacting with others to be of value in itself. It was his dream to go to Japan, of course, and if he could do that and teach at the same time it would be a great honour. He got the ticket to Japan, and I hope he is still here now.

Mr. Perfect got passed over.

So, be truthful. Do you really want to teach? Do you really like students? Do you like to learn and be of help to others? If not, that is perfectly okay. Just don’t pretend that it does because you are in love with Gibli Studios or something like that. You are not a teacher-type. And that is really okay. Be who you are, but being untruthful to who you are becoming will take years away from your life, and in the end give you regrets rather than good memories.

 

Be On Time, Better Yet, Be Early

This ought to be a no-brainer. But if you are late to the interview, it is over. Whenever I book an interview and the interviewee is late, even for a minute I usually cancel it completely. If we do wind up going through the interview, I will keep it to 30 minutes maximum, have a coffee, and consider the candidate as a “will only hire if I cannot find ANYONE else” case. They might be the nicest person in the world, but at the critical moment of simply showing up, they failed. If they fail with the boss, they will surely fail with the client, and then everyone suffers for it. No hard feelings. Honestly, but lateness is a sign of not being ready, and no company or school can hire people who are not ready to be there. Even if they are really nice and good people otherwise. Sorry about that.

 

Be Kind

Above all, well… first be on time, you need to be kind. The skills of most jobs can be taught, and since you are university educated (you DO have your degree, right?), you should be teachable. A lot of jobs, particularly the eikaiwa world, do not mind if you do not have all the answers. In fact, overly clever people tend to make a lot of trouble for middle-managers when flexing their superior frontal lobes, so if you are nice and open to learning, you will do well. Take notes, smile, be nice, ask for help, ask for how you can help, ask for what you can do to make the school or company better, suggest things that you can do and how you can contribute to your work place and the betterment of your team. That kind of stuff is worth its weight in gold. As an employer I always look for the person who cares for others, rather than the person who believes I need to appreciate their great intellect. Someone who intones that we should appreciate them more is often overly proud, has insecurities of one sort or another, and who jockeys for position over  others. That is not team-work. That is some kind of 1980’s Hollywood leftover about how work is a “dog eat dog” place, and you got to keep others down while you weasel your way to the top. That kind of stuff may work in some “corporate eikaiwa” but that never works in our schools.

Forget all that nonsense you have heard about “showing your power”. Kindness, empathy, helpfulness gets you ahead in this game. I can’t tell you how many weasel types I have seen get eventually exposed, or politely sidelined over time, in favour of people who were simply nicer, more approachable, less dramatic, and easy to deal with. After all, it isn’t about “YOU”. It is about us, and what good things we can do together.

Sometimes the good guys win. You can be a good guy, or gal if you are one.

 

Failure

Yep. Happens a lot, and all the time. You hear all the “feel good” inspirational stories of people who were dirt poor and then suddenly wrote a series of best selling novels about kids who go to wizarding school and have a gajillion dollars profit from the Hollywood blockbusters that they generate. And to get there they had to fail a lot.

I like those stories, even if they are a bit over the top. But it is true that failing is going to happen a lot, and as time passes, as years go by, you should be failing more and more. You fail because you try. You try because you got heart. And you keep failing because somehow you learn to stop caring what other people think, and just do things because you need to live, and you need to be happy.

But you gotta fall down.

I liked something I heard Denzel Washington say. He said, “When you fall, make sure you fall forward.”

I thought that was a great.

In lots of ways you are going to fall down. Through life we are all kind of just tripping up the stairs. It’s messy, but that is just how it is.

I have failed many times in hiring teachers. I have failed spectacularly in some cases. But that is because I trust, and I believe people will do and be the things that they say. We work very hard to protect our company and schools from trouble, and there are buffers and “plan B’s” in place for all kinds of contingencies. But I want to give people the chances that I feel were denied me when I was on the interviewee side of the table. Sometimes we get some unbelievably great people working with us. So it is TOTALLY worth it.

And then sometimes we have hired some people who totally surprised us, and pulled the wool over my eyes.

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We have had staff steal from the company. We have had staff who simply decided to work with us to take ideas and data to use for their own “soft opening”. We have had staff who are vitriolic on-line and charge us with “abusing them” because the working day is 8, instead of 5, hours (I guess in some countries in Europe a 40 week is equal to slavery….). We have had staff who when told that they cannot make their own teaching schedules run down to the Labor Board and “report us” (that was perfectly fine of course, because we meet with those guys too to make sure EVERYTHING we do is perfectly legal and above board). We have had former staff vandalize our vehicles. We have had former staff just disappear from their classrooms without a word. We have had a teacher call me on the phone in a drunken rage because we would not extend their contract, calling me all sorts of lovely names. We have had staff lose our keys and refuse to pay for new ones and damage company property and not even apologize.

I have, in short, failed.

A lot.

I am sure to fail again. We have had some mis-hires. We never really know much about someone until we work together, so we need to extend the chance, extend the trust, give the respect and expectation to the new staff, and then see how they do. I am pretty sure that I will keep hiring in the same manner, but just listen more and more to my instinctive voice that warns me when someone doesn’t “feel right”.

But we have also managed to hire some of the most talented, responsible, intelligent, deeply kind, deeply loved by kids, teachers you will ever meet. Our team members are really quite spectacular, and each person is very different. I am proud to work with them. I am proud to make our company together. We do good stuff for kids, and we really depend on each other to make that happen.

 

But, Don’t My Qualifications Mean Anything?

Yes, and no. Your qualifications get you “in the room”, but you can blow it by being a jerk.  Having a degree is a must, having proper paperwork is a must. That gets you to the table with the people who are considering giving you money every month so you can do things like pay your bills and debts. It’s serious stuff, but from my point of view (and please take it only for what you think it is worth), the paperwork can be over-rated. I am glad to see people with CELTA or TESL or various kinds of certifications attached to their names. It shows that they have a goal that they want to work towards. But the most important thing is to see if they would be good with our kids and clients, and if they can be good to the team. It is hard to know how good someone can be, so we have to try things out too.

You would be surprised what kinds of things we learn about people in the first few days of interacting with them. One teacher we considered thought that a junior high school basketball player was “hot”. They did not come back the next day. One teacher, when hired with us mentioned that “he fears children”. Did he not see our 6-foot tall sign of a CHILD’S FACE on the front of our school? Our school is not like “Snakes on Planes”, you should expect to see children in our classrooms. In an interview, I had a teacher ask if we had a “scream room” so he could go and scream in seclusion when the kids were becoming too much to deal with. I love that one.

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So, you see, interviewing and being interviewed is a very surreal, and entirely hilarious process. The interviewers may be thinking how they can “out-fox” the interview and “land the job”, like it is some test of strength or something. Many interviewers take themselves far too seriously, sit cross-legged, their index finger touching their pursed lips and say things like, “So, what qualities do you think you have that would be desired by a corporations such as ours? And how many ping pong balls do you think you could put in your mouth while still being able to play the harmonica?”

I am only one guy that does hiring out of the thousands of places that hire teachers here in Japan. But, take it from me, if you find yourself on our front door, or we are having coffee together to talk it means that it is serious. I don’t want to waste your time or mine. I usually make up my mind if I like someone in the first few minutes, and then if the timing is right, and the qualifications are enough to get you in the classroom, we might give it a try.

And then from there, it is totally up to you.

Stage TWO coming next….

Thanks for reading this far. I know this article kind of rambled on, but I enjoyed writing it. Good luck in your job hunt. It’s hell out there, but you are going to land on your feet.

You are going to wipe out. You are going to feel embarrassment and shame. People you thought would support you will chuckle and laugh. That will hurt, but you must persevere. Your future self deserves it.

You are going to feel bad about a lot of stuff that you don’t have much control over. Just know that you are still important and have a lot to offer. Know that it probably isn’t YOU. The situation always dictates the outcome in these things. Just keep swinging away. You are going to get what you want, or at least start on the road that will get you there. Really.

In your corner,

Mark

“Hey, I got a buddy who needs a job …”

“Hey Mark, I got a friend, he’s really nice, yeah, and anyway, he is coming to Japan and he is looking for a job. His girlfriend/fiance/wife/life-partner is Japanese and they are going to be looking to start a new life. Yeah, and well, you see, he needs a job, and he is a mechanical engineer and a computer guy. So, well, he doesn’t really like kids so much, but he is nice and real smart, but really quite introverted, and he is looking for a job to pay the bills y’know…..”

I can’t tell you how many times I get this kind of request from friends or relatives, or people who are extensions of either. There seems to be this IDEA out there that teaching English to kids in Japan is not “a real job”, or that it is the “kinda job you kinda do until you find your REAL job in the REAL world.”

Let me break this down for you dear friends and neighbors why and where I have all kinds of problems with this assessment.

  1. Japan is a real country. Real people live here. They have real lives, real bills, real worries, real kids, real pets, and real worries for the future. Really.
  2. Teaching English is a job. Yes, that is right. You heard it here. Teaching is a REAL job. Teaching kids is a REAL job. Teaching kids in Japan is a REAL job. It requires REAL work from REAL teachers who get paid REAL money.
  3. Working as a teacher for kids is not a “temp job”. It is not the job where you are “slumming” until you write that great American novel, get discovered by America’s Got Talent, or until you are finally recognized by your peers that you are a genius in the other field (not teaching) for which you have a burning, yet unappreciated, passion. Teaching is a kind of mission for life, and a “calling”, a “pull”, and a recognition that you are truly NEEDED by others.

I wonder if we could find some parallels between teaching (arguably a “professional” type job) and another professional job, let’s say… dentistry?

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Dentists have to go to university to get degrees, and they need training so that they are good at cleaning, flossing, repairing, filling, pulling, and shaping teeth. I love dentists. They are tremendously important and their essential nature for society is not in dispute.

Imagine a conversation where someone said to your local dentist:

 

“Hey man, listen I got this friend… Yeah, his name is Mark, and well, since he was a teacher for kids and that was okay, he needs to get a job for awhile doing something different. You know, he has to pay bills… Anyway, do you think he could come down to your dental clinic and help your customers floss? Maybe he could hold the drill, or that suction thing you put in their mouths? He’s a little smart, and he has teeth. Yes, ALL of them. Also, he has seen a lot of teeth in the mouths of kids he used to teach English to. Do you think you do a brother as solid and give him a job…? He’s kind of a jerk, but c’mon, can you just give him the job already?

Would you like me as your dentist?

Probably not. So why, for the love of all those delicious soy-flavored snacks you can enjoy here, do we have this idea that ANYONE should be able to teach kids English in Japan?

I hear the whispered responses…

“Well, if you are a native speaker you can talk to kids in English….”
“How hard could it be….?”
“You don’t have to be such a jerk, Mark….”

Yeah, I heard that last one. But, I am afraid that I have to be a little bit of a jerk on this one. You see, from my side of things we don’t just see the kids in the classroom. We also see the parents. There are a good number of our parents who whisk their kids to our front doors who arrive with the child on the back of their bicycle, or rumbling about in the back seat of an old junky car that has seen better days. We have moms in our community who are working like crazy at local convenience stores, at the supermarket check-out, and at McDonald’s, earning very low pay to scrape together enough to send their kids to English class.

This is for real.

I had one mother, who during a consultation because her daughters were acting up in class, burst into tears, and said, “I want my kids to come here so that they can do something that I could never do. They need English for the future, to have a better chance. I WANT that for them.”

Then I almost burst into tears too.

So, you see, as a school we really need to protect our classrooms, have a good program, make a safe environment, really design a good curriculum, and yes have actual good teachers who are thoughtful, caring, enthusiastic, interested, engaged, empathetic, committed, and full of joy in the moment, for the kids they meet.

The kids DESERVE it. They are REAL.

The moms DESERVE it. They sacrifice a lot to make it happen.

How could I possibly, in clear conscience just drop any “native speaker” in the classroom for the kids? Just because some guy has a Japanese spouse and needs a job (temporarily) until he can do something different? That is not a good reason enough. My job, though it may be hard to believe, is to protect the quality of the experience of our students, and to support, serve, and collaborate with our teaching team.

Does this mean that YOU will never be good enough to teach kids in our school?

Not necessarily.

Let me tell you again what we are looking for:

A teacher-type who is/has:

  1. Either young or old
  2. Has a university degree (education, language is preferred but not required)
  3. Has experience, passion, interest in working with kids (as a teacher, mentor, coach, camp counselor….)
  4. Wants to teach, not “needs to resort to teaching…”
  5. Has empathy for others, is tidy, organized, cooperative, flexible, teachable, has a sense of humor, is not adverse to trying soy-flavored snacks, kind to animals, enjoys pina coladas or getting caught in the rain, and other qualities that make you someone others can appreciate and enjoy being around.
  6. Has a working visa, or spouse-visa to be in Japan (Very sorry on this one dear readers. We do not sponsor visas at this time.)
  7. Is thinking that they may consider teaching as a long term career, or possibly, in time to come, to run their own language school.

What we are very much not interested in is someone who “just needs a job”. That is not going to work for us, and it does not work for our team, or our parents, and most certainly not for the kids. They need a good teacher like they need a good dentist.

Lastly, I really do not think we do anyone a favor by giving someone a job just because they need one. We have tried this in the past, to disastrous result, so we are not keen to go down that road again. I am not sure if I explained our position fully on this matter. I hope I did, but at the very least, thank you for letting me get this one of my chest.

All the best to you in your careers, and job hunt if you are on one!

 

Mark

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The Big Breath Before Diving Under

Near Toba city, on Mikimoto Pearl Island, the “awa” (women of the sea) dive for pearls. Theirs is an ancient and traditional lifestyle that still manages to hang on until today. The dive for pearls, shellfish, abalone, and seaweed. These are mighty women, agile, quick, and able to free-dive straight down 30 feet in freezing water. They can hold their breath for extended periods of time (up to about 2 minutes) and word steadily for hours. Astonishing. I can hardly swim in the sea for more than about 15 minutes.

I’m inspired by the awa, and I feel like there is a parallel thread of their way of life to what we are doing at this time of year in englishbiz. This is the time we gather our wits about us, decide the places we will dive down into our work, and where to look for new students and staff, and feel our way around in the dark. We have to fill our lungs carefully with air, just enough so that we can do the work we need to, just before the deep plunge beneath. Of course, I do not move as gracefully as the awa. I stumble about and make a lot of mistakes, and missteps. But around me are my teammates and our support staff. We have a good thing going here and we are ready to dive in together to see what we can find.

This year will be a good one, I believe. We have a few staff who are developing veteran status with us, a couple of new teachers too, and an enhanced program of study for the kids. The pieces are coming together nicely.

We are still on the lookout for a few new team members who will permit us to forge ahead with our expansion plans. If you are here as a visitor, and someone with a valid working visa to be in Japan, and are looking for a new place to dive into, I hope you will consider getting in touch with us. Send us your CV, recent photo, and a letter outlining your situation and your background and we can begin a conversation.

Thanks so much for coming by!

Yours,
Mark

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You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

Part of running a company like englishbiz is that you meet a lot of different kinds of foreign teachers. We put people through a pretty standard interview process, and I try to ask all the right questions. As mentioned before, the most important things for us is to find teachers who are honest, who understand and feel strongly that education is very important for our development, and that they like kids and have empathy and care for them.

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But sometimes people slip through the cracks. Sometimes we have staff who say all the right things and then when they get into the classroom they really let their teammates know what they really think. We have had people say it directly: “You know, I really don’t like children that much. I much prefer to teach university kids.”

To which I can only take a moment, while reeling in shock, let my inner voice respond, “How on earth was it possible for you to think that we do not teach kids here at englishbiz? Our signs all have a child’s face looking off into the future. The Japanese characters below our name say, ‘Kodomo Eigo’. There are hundreds of kids coming in and out of our classes. How is this possible?”

We had another mis-hire tell us that babies make him feel weird, and that he is afraid of children. We had yet another candidate (who did NOT slip through the cracks) who asked if we have a ‘scream room’ where he can go to have silent screams between classes because working with kids is so stressful.

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There are these types among us, I am afraid to report. But they are surely the minority. We are very very proud of our team of English teachers and support staff at englishbiz. We really have some stellar and remarkable people working together with us.

When I really think about it though, with the people that I interview I find that a very large number of them are quite kind, quite considerate, and have a lot going for them, and surely a lot to offer our students as well. There are always going to be a few rotten apples, and we are getting better at catching them before it is too late, but once in a while, we make a mistake. When I do, however, I must also greatly credit our team for letting me know that I slipped up, and they always rally around to make sure that the classes go right and that the kids are well taken care of.

If you think that you might want to work with a really great team of interesting teachers, from all corners of the world, in a challenging context here in rural Japan, how about dropping us a line with your CV, recent photo, and some background information on your feelings about teaching. We would love to hear from you!

Have a great day, a wonderful holiday, and of course, a HAPPY NEW YEAR for 2017!!

 

Yours,

Mark