Getting Your TESOL done!

Hello and greetings from Takamatsu, Japan! I hope you are doing well and life moving smoothly along.

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I expect that if you are visiting this page it is because you are curious to know about TESOL certification and whether or not you need it for yourself. It’s a good question, so I hope I can be as candid and straightforward as possible about the need for and usefulness of a TESOL certification.

If you already have a four year degree in Arts (English, History, Linguistics, Education or any similar field) OR have a good amount of experience as a teacher you likely DO NOT need a TESOL or TEFL certification. I do not recommend that you use your time, or invest money in a certification program. The benefits may not line up with your goals.

But if you are from a non-teaching background, need certification in TESOL/EFL/TESL/TEFL for visa application purposes or for looking for work purposes, a certificate program might be something to take a look into. If you think you need one, I highly recommend you do some shopping around and compare shop as much as possible.

You will likely hear the same sales pitches too:

OUR TESOL PROGRAM IS CERTIFIED AND AFFILIATED WITH blahblahblahblah…. and YOU NEED TO HAVE AFFILIATION WITH blahblabblah BECAUSE BEING CERTIFIED AND AFFILIATED WITH HIGH STANDARDS IS blahblahblabhllbhahhllllblah…

Really?

The hard truth of it all is that virtually all TESOL organizations have affiliation and certification with other TESOL or EFL international groups, and as such have enough discussion and interaction to make them all virtually of equal value. Just because a talking head on YouTube says that they are “high quality” and “internationally recognized” and “affiliated with the top ranks of the TESOL authorities of TESOL-land” doesn’t mean much to potential employers, schools, and as far as we know, immigration authorities. They want to see degrees, work experience, certifications that are real, and then that is it.

There are a good number of TESOL certificate offering places that are very keen to separate students from their money. The costs for many programs are over 1000.00 US dollars. I understand that people need to run businesses, but there are better ways to do this, in my opinion.

At this time we work with iTTi, out of New York as they are equally affiliated and certified with all the big boards and organizations. Getting your certification with us is just as good as anywhere else.

But here is the thing, and this is the best part. Running TESOL programs and getting tuition from students is not my primary business. Tuition dollars are not how we run our company or our schools. We have regular students for that, and things are running very nicely. The reason that we became very interested in having a TESOL course to offer is to look for potential teachers that could work with us in our schools. That’s it. Beyond that, there is no motive on our part. Of course, if we can help people get through their TESOL certification program in a speedy, timely, and economically efficient manner we will consider that our “good deed” for the day.

And as such that is why we keep the cost of our 120 hour program as low as we are permitted to do so. We can keep the cost for an on-line course (120 hours) at $235.00 US (untutored) or  $350.00 US (tutored). If you are in Japan, and in the area you are most welcome to do the tutorial hours in our classrooms, and get some time to see how the job really gets done efficiently and honestly. No one in our company is interested in emptying your pockets, but if we can, we would like do see you succeed and help get you going to your next career destination.

If you have questions, just give me a shout via email: tesolinjapan@gmail.com 

Have a great day!

Mark

Language Learning Process

escher-stairs-art-1140x640This is a kind of a dry topic, but it is a very important concept to understand if you are someone who is trying to master a second language. If you have ever been in a language class, or tried to learn a new language on your own in your spare time, you know how horrible the process is. You study and study and study and make almost no progress. You try again. You study and study more. You buy books and CDs and DVDs. You join more classes. You watch TV in the language you want to learn. You buy new pens and notebooks. Special notebooks. Special pens.

But you feel like you don’t know anything. All your efforts so far, all your special stationary supplies are a waste. The sit on your desk and you feel like they are mocking you, like they are laughing at you.

You have failed.

But. Wait.

You have not failed. You have actually made some progress, even if you don’t know it. Even if you don’t feel it. You have, in fact, learned something. In your brain. Deep in your brain there is the vocabulary that you have studied. It lies deep in your head, but it cannot come to the front of your brain, and out of your mouth yet. It needs to be revisited. It needs to be reviewed. It needs to be forced a little more. It needs to be polished up.

Researchers have shown us that in order for a foreign word to become natural for us to use it requires seven or eight reviews. It needs seven or eight contextual uses so that it becomes natural for you, and then you will recognize it as having been learnt.

Learning language is not like anything else, and the closest proximity we can find is the study of music. Music needs practice and rehearsal. Endless practice and rehearsal until it sounds natural and spontaneous. We hear the “voice” of great pianists and guitarists. They are smooth and seamless. It is because they practice like crazy. Of course there are the very unique few who can learn language or music instantly, but for the rest of the peons like me and you, we have to plod along, endlessly, relentlessly. We have to be like a dog with a bone.

Like a dog with a bone.

This is the year of the dog. Language study is the bone.

That parallel just fell into this article. How cool is that?

So, learning language is incremental, and unromantic. It needs time and persistence. Knowing that is a powerful thing, and it is liberating too. If anyone says, “You studied language for so long, why don’t you speak it yet?” The only answer is, “I am still practicing.”

Those are the same words spoken by martial arts masters in Japan. They never claim mastery, even though to the outsider they are completely flawless. They are “in the midsts of learning”. Surely we can take that to heart in our own study, whatever it is we are trying to learn.

Language learning is not fun.  We need the building blocks of language–vocabulary. And lots of it. We have our students write out vocabulary lists. They make vocabulary cards. We drill the vocabulary. We quiz them. We review and review and review and review.

Then…. we can build some sentences. And that is the fun part. We can choose simple grammatical structures and drop in a verb, drop in a noun, drop in an adjective. Instantly we are using language, playing with language, and reviewing it. We can learn a more complex pattern, something with prepositions. Drop in a verb, a noun, an adjective, and jump it around. The kids can see how easy, and fun it can be.

It’s fun because they master something. It’s fun because they really KNOW something. And what they have played with in a variety of forms gets reviewed. Soon it gets to seven or eight times of usage and they can keep that part of language in their minds. Forever.

Then review it all one more time.

Then get out the vocabulary worksheets, the cards, and do it all over again.obras-de-echer-6-728

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

 

ESL Issues No. 8: Eikaiwa Grease-part ONE

bacon11Eikawa can be a greasy business. There are TONS of abuses, and there are many cases of employers really shafting their employees. There was no greater massive shaft-eroo than the epic, nay, intergalactic screwage that a major eikaiwa chain (rhymes with MOVA) did to their foreign teachers. They simply decided to stop paying their teachers and said, “Ok, so whatcha gonna do about THAT?” They also closed some shops, refused to refund student tuitions that were paid a year in advance, evicted teachers from company-owned apartments, and the owner just fled with a sack of money to God knows where.

The incredible thing in all of this is that there were many teachers who stuck with their fl20111220zga-870x396jobs. They did not walk away. They were COMPLETELY abandoned by their company but decided to keep coming in because they were in love with the job of teaching and deeply connected to the kids they taught. There were reports of some of them receiving meals in lieu of the salary they would have received from their corporate masters. That was very impressive, but living hand-to-mouth on a visa that ran out just like the cash they should have been paid was too much. Off they go to Narita airport. Goodbye former eikaiwa cog. Goodbye. Bye…. love you….

A quick online check will yield impressive results on that particular colossal debacle. But there are many debacles smaller in scale, and egregious, illegal, and border-line sociopathic behaviours we see with eikaiwa bosses all over the place.

While our lovely schools in englishbiz do not promise to be Xanadu, and I have myself been the subject of scurrilous charges of requiring our contracted full-time tenured teachers to work 8 hours a day (this is not France, sorry…), and expected people to show up on time for classes, and have had the audacity to demand quality lessons based on education earned through the soul-wrenching process of earning an actual university degree (sorry my American friend, your blindingly white toothy smile is not enough to teach kids), I truly feel that this industry is rife with some of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard from employers trying to manipulate, deceive, and abuse their teaching staff.

I shall share with you, dear reader, but a few of the things I have seen on this journey.

fl20140123a1aI have seen an eikaiwa school owner demand, in writing, that should an employee leave their school that they must, as soon as possible, leave the prefecture, never to return.

Can you imagine the litigation involved in that requirement in your own country? The same is true here, it is just that the foreign teacher has neither the language skill nor fiscal wherewithal to handle the matter properly.

I have seen an eikaiwa school hire teachers under the table while they were on a tourist visa. The plan was to move them to a real sponsored visa but when the Immigration people found out, the teacher was deported, and then ten-year black-listed from entering Japan again. The company said, “Whoops. Sorry”, but someone else’s dream of living and working in Japan was completely FUBARed.

I have seen several eikaiwa schools refuse to pay their teacher the last month of salary. They make some claim that there was administration costs, or something needed to be paid for and unexplained, or they just don’t want to pay the money. 45003The teacher tries for  a few weeks, but with no cash coming in, a plane ticket previously booked and unchangeable, the clock winds down, grinds them out, and the teacher just has to cut their losses and leave.

I have seen several eikaiwa owners require their staff to wear mascot uniforms, do marketing PR work in shopping centres or busy streets to pass out literature on national holidays. I have heard of eikawa owners using their teaching staff to do gardening work, administration work, and maintenance work far beyond just making sure the toilet was usable for students.

In short, I have seen a lot of illegal behaviour on the part of eikaiwa school owners towards their staff. There is bullying, cajoling, threats of eviction and prosecution, and smear campaigns. Much of which is highly illegal and actionable in a legal sense. The biggest issue is that the foreign teacher is oblivious to some of the insanity, and where they are aware, they are completely ill-equipped and under-financed to do anything about it. Most times they just get ground down and find themselves with their suitcases at Narita Airport in Tokyo waiting to go home.

Oh sure, there are calls to “unionize” and to stand together against these abuses. Some of the movements against some of these chains get a little traction with the court. But so often the complainants are not available to testify two years later when the case comes to trial, and much is muddied and confused by the time it gets there anyway. It is virtually impossible to do much about it. Sure, you can write some of your experiences on line, or on some forums, but it becomes just a chorus of voices with all-too-similar-accounts of the same abuses, and as such, gets ignored like the drone of seasonal insects before winter comes.

So, if you are new to teaching in Japan, be smart and be aware. Don’t run around “demanding your rights”. All that will do is draw a target on your back. But when you see some shady stuff going on, and when you are determined to not let your employer decide how long you will stay in Japan, make sure to look around, keep your eyes open for a lateral shift, perhaps to another position from which you could move ahead. Just like that frog in “Frogger”, the video game classic. Keep moving, and keep your eyes open. Don’t let yourself slip on the grease. This should actually be the very first thing you do when you arrive in Japan. Work hard, of course, but right away start getting out of your apartment and look around for what else may be available.

While it is true that there are a lot of sub-average places to work at as an English teacher in Japan, and a LOT of people who have had a hard ride here (just go to YouTube and type “Teach in Japan I quit” and you will see a TON of stuff), that does not necessarily mean it will happen to you. Just remember that one bad experience neither defines you, your experience in Japan, Japan as a country, Japanese society, or anything else for that matter. You gotta hang in there. You gotta keep swinging away until something good happens.

So, that is it for this “greasy” report. Stay tuned for the other side of the equation: Eikaiwa Teachers. Sometimes, there is enough grease to go around… It’ll be fun.

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THIS is NOT NOT NOT one of our classrooms. Just so that you know.

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

Everybody has one…

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has an opinion about how to teach English. I suppose that this is a natural phenomena. I mean, there sure are a lot of people who can speak English. And people use English to write emails, messages, and to update the multitude of social media platforms that eclipse most of their daily living.

Maybe it’s kind of like driving a car. Anyone who can drive a car should be able to teach other people how to drive one. I suppose that makes sense, perhaps.

Maybe it’s like having teeth. Everyone has teeth (except for a few of my relatives), so they should be able to perform some dentistry.

No?

I guess not. The dental parallel does not work. Maybe the driving one works a little, unless you are learning how to drive from a parent who is screaming at you to not go too fast and has one arm barred across your chest and is stomping on the passenger side floor while you are braking.

The thing is, most people have some feeling in their minds that if they have some natural ability to do something that they are then able to teach that to someone else in a meaningful way. This attitude extends to baking, cooking, drawing, physical exercise, sports, gardening, and fashion. We do a lot of these things on a daily basis and because we do them we sometimes feel like we are entitled to some authoritative voice on the matter.

But we really know that this is not true. Parents who watch their kids in competitive sports MUST not be allowed to coach the kids. They scream like maniacs and are sudden “experts” on sports they only started watching that season. To them, the coaches and umpires are all idiots. But we know better. Don’t we?

The same must be said for people who are overly eager to give you a make-over, or a new hairstyle. Did they go to beautician school? Do they have a license? Nope, but they have lips and ears and eyes and hairdos just like you, so watch out as they come lurching at you with cosmetics and scissors in hand!

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The worst of all these seem to be English teaching. All the people you know back home are blabbermouths in English, so they must be amply qualified to teach kids how to learn the language. Let alone that they have no education in child education, psychology, Japanese language, have ever read a book about linguistics or researched a thing about phonics. Nope. They speak it, thus they KNOW it.

So imagine what happens when such people find themselves overseas with a bunch of kids and have no idea what to do. You know the answer… they PLAY GAMES! Yay, that is the answer! We will just get the kids to run around, sing some songs, do a bit of dancing, crack open some coloring books, play some UNO and then tick-tock-tick-tock the time is up and the little angels go home! Hooray! Everyone, let’s do some high-fives!

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Being an English teacher in Japan is a very underestimated job. Everyone thinks it is a piece of cake, and will not have patience enough to listen to you explain that they are full of beans. They already made up their minds, so you best leave that alone. Just know that I know, and you know, and people who do this job for real all know. The hacks and the knowitalls have no common sense, and they won’t ever get it straight. I guess all you can do is just learn to take that insult on the chin, be tough, and know in your heart that as a real English teacher you make a difference, that you put your hand on the futures of kids, and that your reach is far more profound than what our detractors in their tiny minds could possibly understand.

If you need a high-five, come out my way and I will be glad to give you one.

Way to go, tiger.13fresher7

 

 

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