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

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.

 

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

 

 

ESL Issues: No. 7- “Yeah, I know someone who went to Japan… just like you…”.

If you have been an English teacher in Japan you are living far away from the people who you grew up with, and who may know you best. Coming to Japan was at first, a great adventure and an opportunity to learn something, see another culture, or just to get away from the familiar. But somewhere along the line, being in Japan was not only your “escape”. It became your “home away from home”. Life here got better, you became acclimated, and you started to speak pretty good Japanese. You have friends here, you have hobbies or a lifestyle that you enjoy. Life in Japan, compared to a lot of alternatives, is pretty great. Yet… there is something pulling you too.

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Maybe your mother is saying to you on the phone something like, “Well dear, so… how much longer do you think you might be staying all the way over there in Japan?”

This is kind of a code for, “When are you coming home?”

To a lot of the parents of English teachers in Japan, they never really believed that you could make Japan your home. They always expected that you would “get it out of your system”, come back to the place you grew up, and just get a regular job like everyone else.

I am not saying that people who come to Japan for a few years, have a great time, enrich their lives, experience another culture, and then go home are “throwing it all away”. Far from it. I think that a year or two or three can be marvelously intense experiences that can help people go on to the next thing that is calling them. Living in Japan, as a long-term expat, is not a bed of roses. For people who choose to have their family and make roots here, though, Japan becomes their “home”, even if the local neighbor ladies keep asking, “So… when do you think you’ll be leaving Japan?”

Being an expat in Japan is always a life that is “between cultures”. This is not a comfortable place to be for many people, but if you can figure out what you enjoy about being in Japan, and what keeps you happy, it can far outweigh the negatives of feeling out of synch with the culture of your younger days. In addition, being “between cultures” is a good place for you to be positioned as there are many people on both sides of you who need you as a bridge, a facilitator, a teacher, a guide, and a counselor.

It seems that the longer you are in Japan, and the more you are focussed on developing skills as a teacher, and growing your Japanese language skills, the more valuable you will be. The skills you develop can see you advance and grow in your career and give you opportunities that you did not know exist. At some point you get a sense of “being professional” as an educator, as a person between cultures, and as someone who has a better sense of reading and understanding others around you. You can grow a career, you can grow a company, you can really do a lot of different things here.

I don’t know about you, but I have a very common experience that happens every time I go back to Canada. It kind of looks like this:

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Extended family member: So Mark, you are still over there in Japan, eh?

Mark: Yep. That’s right.

Extended family member: Been there for a long time I guess huh?

Mark: Yeah, it has been the better part of about 20 years.

Extended family member: You don’t say.

Mark: Yeah…

Extended family member: A lady from our church has son over there in Japan. You know Jason don’t you? He’s that boy with the crazy hair and that mole on his cheek, always listening to that crazy hippity-hop music.

Mark: Oh, is that right.

Extended family member: Yep, teaching English to kids.

Mark: That sounds great.

Extended family member: Yep, just like you are doing I guess.

Mark: I guess.

Extended family member: So, you gonna come back next summer too?

Mark: I’m thinking about it…

This conversation has played itself out in a whole bunch of scenarios. The people I know in Canada have gotten used to me living here in Japan, but they really have no idea about what we are doing. To them, foreigners in Japan just run around a classroom having fun with kids, singing the ABC song. They don’t understand that people grow and learn things in Japan that are really important, and significant, and beautiful.

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I think that we need to be okay with that. The experiences of being in Japan are so far removed from our loved ones back home. We need to accept that there are things they cannot see. They still love you of course, but there is no way they can sit and listen to you for more than three minutes about what your life is really like here. We just need to accept that, and if you have a chance to have your loved ones visit you here, you should do it. Maybe then they will see a little more of the life you have, and the incredible impact you really do have on those around you.

englishbiz Story: Part 5- The Great Leap Forward

No this is not the disastrous economic plan of Chairman Mao. The Great Leap Forward was the moment in englishbiz when we decided to go from one school to three in the span of a year. This was our big aggressive move.

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The thing about big aggressive moves is that they either work out great, or you crash and burn to a loud chorus of people laughing at you and a few “sympathetic” voices saying, “I told you so….”.

The great thing about doing this business with my wife, is that although we are from different countries, different cultures, different languages, and different tastes in music (she does not like AC/DC–how can this be?), we are very similar in our capacity for risk. We don’t mind risk at all, especially when we are banking on what we can do together.

I have to say, and this is to anyone who is serious about getting a business together, you really need to have a “home team”. It is really important that you and your partner in life are on the same page when it comes to having a business. There are going to be tremendously lean and hard and difficult times, and unless you share a common point of view, it might be more than your relationship can bear. For us, everything worked out okay, because we did not mind putting everything up for the second time and push our company forward.

I think that the reason we could do it is because we had two things going for us. The first was that we were completely committed to our mission of making the best English language program available in Kagawa. We demanded of ourselves to create the the number one school. We were going to make the most effective, best supported, most creative, best researched, and most organized language school around. The second was that we would be relentless in moving forward and in continually improving and adding to what we had made so far. An old friend of mine often uses the quote, “You must move forward and live like your hair is on fire.” If you have seen a recent photo of me, most of mine has burned off.

The Great Leap Forward had us opening up two schools simultaneously. We needed to research carefully for location and proximity to our competition and to the sources of our clients. We did all the homework we needed to, and there was a lot. In the end we were left with a decision to make. After all the careful meticulous calculations, wringing of hands, and plans drawn out on paper, we had to decide to leap forward, or stay put.

We made the leap.

As we were in the air, floating, limbs akimbo, we were flailing towards the unseen other side of the chasm of risk. Imagine our surprise when the landing was smooth, our feet in running position from the start, and then how we could effortlessly move forward at full speed.

Risk is part of everything, I guess. You make the best informed decision you can, but there is always an element of things not working out. Along the way we have had some failures too, and some things did not work out as planned. But if we were to do it all over again, even despite the long trail of hardship and going without, I don’t think we would blink.

The other thing is that when you “land on the other side” you are now in unfamiliar territory. There is a hill right in front of you, a new momentum is needed, and it is easy to fall back towards the precipice you just cleared. Now is a time for prudent thought, and now since you are in a place you could not possibly imagine, you need help. Time to pick up the phone and decide if you are going to “go pro” or “stay in the minor league”.

Next blog: Go Big or…. well, you don’t really have to “go home”, do you?

Thanks for coming by! More blogs to follow. I promise!

englishbiz Story: Part 4-Further Along the First Year

Staring a business, any business, can be pretty scary. You really don’t know what is going to happen. You really have no idea what is going to come your way. We were really struggling. There is no other way to put that. My wife was still working as a professor at a local college, I was working full time hours for a private high school, and we were building this company on the side.

We lived in a very small apartment. Our kids were getting older, and another one was on the way. Everything was starting to feel a bit tight. We were extremely careful with money, and every week I had to look in my pockets to see if I had enough money to buy whiteboard markers, lamination film, paper, pencils, and all those little things that we need for the day-to-day running of our school.

Our first classroom was very stark. We couldn’t afford curtains so we got some long white material (like sheets) and hung them on rods we could jam into the windowsills. It was not so great looking, and the people behind our school were noisy on their motorcycles and barking dogs, and the toilet was in terrible condition, and the room was a bit industrial looking, but it was ours. It was really ours, and it was from here that we would make it or go bust.

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I have to credit my wife for sticking with me through this time. It was a very hard time for us, and it was tremendously humbling to be turned away at so many places when I was looking for a basic English teacher job. We really struggled with what we need to do to make this school survive, but in spite of all of the pressures to “go the easy way” and just entertain the kids, we decided to listen to our inner voices that said quite the opposite thing.

We decided that we were going to just “do the right thing” and “teach REAL English”. We refused to follow the trend of entertaining, games, songs, and fun. Instead we focussed on core knowledge and making good classes that gave kids power and confidence in English. With about half of the parents our approach was what they wanted. They were astonished that we taught their kids how to spell and write in a couple of months when they got zero results in these areas with the previous owners. There were glad to see that we cleaned up their pronunciation, taught them how to form basic grammatical patterns, and have fun even when they were working hard to learn something new.

Sisyphus05We did lose a certain portion of our “client list” that we purchased from the previous owners. The games were over. The fun was done. There was no more full-contact English classes with tickling and wrestling (seriously, that was one thing we had to stop). We just taught the basics, with patience and as much kindness as we could muster. And we would not budge from our position of making each class count for something for kids.

 

Doing the right thing, we discovered, is not cheap. If you want to do things right you have to do your best when things don’t go your way. But doing the right thing was right for us, and our remaining clients started to do the unbelievable-they told their friends about us. Each week we had more trial lessons. Each week the classes grew and grew. We had such a big sense of relief, and vindication. We were very afraid and full of doubt. Every day we would sit late at night in our very cramped apartment and look at each other through our sleep-deprived eyes and together we decided to keep pushing ahead.

To give you a sense of what we managed to do in a single year, we took our base number of students and then grew the school 150%. Then we did that the second year too, up another 150%. And then we knew right down to our bones that we were on the right track.

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It turns out that “doing the right thing” isn’t just “right”. Doing the right thing pays, and it pays right too.

I was asked by a friend if I might write a business book, like a start-up book about “How to get your language school going!” or some such thing. Maybe I will in the future, but right now it does not seem like I have much to say on the topic. Just the two things that I have repeated so far. The first is that you have to be like a “dog with a bone”, and be fiercely tenacious, and never never never give up. The second is to just do the right thing. Don’t take anything that you didn’t earn. Don’t try to cheat or swindle someone from something that doesn’t belong to you. No shortcuts. You got to do it the “hard way”.

I think that I need to put a caveat here about what it means to build a language school. I need to, because there are a lot of different shapes and sized, just like a lot of things. Some people make a language house right in their own house, and have the kids right in their own living room. Classes are small, parents are happy, kids get the attention they need, and everyone is happy as clams. That is perfectly fine. When I talk about the things “you gotta do”, I really am talking mostly to myself, and to people who want to make a school that goes beyond the “mom and pop shop”.

Also, there is nothing wrong at all with the “mom and pop shop” style. Lots of people do it, and lots of people like it. What we are working towards, however, is a deeper and broader affect that we need to make on the “eikaiwa market” as a whole. My plan is to keep pushing our company forward, like Sisyphus, and raise the English language school industry as a whole to a higher level of expectations, and thus a higher level of results and accomplishments for kids. We may not make a scratch nationally here in Japan, but we are going to set a pace that will be hard to keep up with. We are moving forward, and we are not stopping.

We are going to do what is often not done right. We are going to raise the bar.

Next blog on this topic, we will talk about how to go from one shop to TWO and.. beyond!

Thanks so much for coming by friends and neighbors! Have a great day.

Mark

englishbiz Story: Part 3- The First Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Hi Hi Hi Kids! How are you?”

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

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

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

“I like swiss cheese sandwiches too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There. I said it.

More coming soon…. Stay  tuned.

 

ESL Issues: No. 6- “Good Lord, Jim. I’m a teacher, not a folk singer!”

When you decided to embark on this path of being an English teacher in Japan you did not expect that you would have to be an entertainer as well. I completely empathize. When I had my very first job as a teacher in a rural high school in Japan one of the teachers in the English department approached me to talk about our team-teaching class and what we were going to do.

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“Hello Mark-Sensei, I am hoping that you will come to my class and lead the students in song.”
“Uhh… pardon me. I mean, I am sorry… what was that?”
“Yes, we are currently learning the song ‘Country Roads’. I hope you will sing with the children in class. Do you know the song?”
“Yes, I mean yes I know the song, but I am sorry but no, I will not be leading the kids in song.”
“But that is what you must do. The children are expecting you to sing with them in class.”

At this moment I took a big risk with my job and career as a young 24 year old teacher and said, “Sensei, I am very sorry, but I will not be singing with the kids. I do not wish to sing. I would just like to TEACH English to the kids. I am an English Teacher. Really. I am. I have documents to prove it.”

The teacher was a bit surprised but said, “Ok, let’s try it your way”. And so we did. And we had fun classes that were helpful and meaningful. Fast forward another 23 years and we are here in Takamatsu, Kagawa-ken with a chain of schools that maintains the same principle. In short, we are not here to entertain kids, but rather, we exist to SERVE them in a way that will give kids the skills they need to master English. Our impulse as teachers is to be of good use for someone, to help someone, to train up the next generation, and to make a good thing for the societies we live in. To be of service beside, with, and among people is the best place for teachers.

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Personally, I am loathe to see “teachers” up on stages dancing, hopping about, and bellowing out to groups of kids to writhe, contort, and dance around to “learn and enjoy” English. For me, and for this company, the best place for teachers is to sit in a place where voices can be heard and discovered, working alongside kids, coaching, encouraging them to “find their own voices” in English. To us, that really is a beautiful, and lovely thing.

CountryRoads

englishbiz Story: Part 2-Starting From Zero

I have to admit it, sometimes I feel rubbed the wrong way when I am told that “I’m lucky”. I know that. I know I am lucky. I know that I fell off a cliff and landed in a giant pile of fluffy horseshoe shaped pillows. That is a strange metaphor…

Maybe I am lucky. Maybe our school and the growth of our 6 branches over the last decade has been a string of lucky breaks. That is entirely possible. My wife and I work a LOT of hours though… Sometimes it have felt like we were going to crack, but we made it through, and we made it through together.

Maybe you are thinking about running your own language school in Japan. For some of you, I highly recommend it. For me, it has been the greatest journey, but it also really isn’t for everyone. The hours are terrible and the renumeration per hour, for the first several years, is worse than working as a checkout clerk at Safeway.

I have learned something of myself, and it is that I am basically unemployable. I mean, I could get a job, I suppose. But I would probably be a huge pain to any manager that I had to report to. I guess I am basically unmanageable. That is probably a better assessment.

I think that it takes a certain kind of stubbornness to do the work that we do. You have to be like a dog with a bone. You have to do all the stuff you don’t want to do, and at the beginning every job is YOUR job. You plan, you type, you clean, you polish, you wash windows, you vacuum, you scrub toilets, you make copies, you buy supplies, you pay all the bills, you smile at everyone, you teach all the classes, you get boogers and germs and flecks of god-knows-what landing on you from coughing kids, and everything that goes wrong is your fault, and everything that goes right was “luck”.

You have to be okay with that. You have to develop a thick enough skin so that when other expats tell you that you “just got lucky”, you need to agree with them. That is also a truthful thing. Not one of us can tell where the hard work ends and the good luck starts. You will need every drop of good luck that comes your way too.

There is a kind of absolute truth about starting your own business, company, or school and I want to share that with you. The eternal truth is that the first three years of your company will be a living hell. Every, and I mean every single moment, of your waking day must be at work. You must obsess on all the details, track down every single yen, penny, and peso. You must know all your numbers and know how much everything costs. You must make plans and write them down, every day. And you need help. If you have a spouse to support you, that is great. You need them for every step of the way. It is a hard and lonely and rough way to live. It is no wonder why many people, even with the best intentions, high intelligence, and plenty of guts, don’t make it.

If you embark on this path, it will not be fun. For three years you will not buy new socks. You will not buy new clothes or go on a vacation or go to the beach. For three years you will be standing against a giant rock and giving it everything you got. You will push as hard as you can, keeping the pressure on, and incrementally increasing it each and every day. You will have dark moments when you want to cave in. But you must not. You must keep pushing. You must keep the pressure on.

Because at the three year mark, if this thing is going to move, it is going to creak and groan and then that big rock is going to start to roll. When it starts to move you got to push even harder and keep it moving forward.

Now you have the most coveted power of any business-momentum.

Momentum gets you ahead of the game, and gets you to the next place you need to be. Momentum gives you credibility and energy. It builds you up and gives you the encouragement and the authentication that you needed when everyone around you whispered, “It’s not going to work out for you…”Momentum is what you need and crave every single day of those three years where you think you are going to lose your mind pushing against a giant stone.

But, if you got the “dog with a bone” personality, and you want it to work more than anything, you got a chance. It can be worth it.

The school called “englishbiz” at three years old looked very different that the englishbiz of today. We have changed a lot, we have grown a lot, and we have evolved a lot. But the first three years were very essential to our own mental development and training. We now know what needs to be done to move “the rock”, and although we most certainly do not want to go through those wretched three years of poverty again, if we really had to do it all over, we could.

Sometimes you get luck. Sometimes you get the rock to move. There really is a combination of the two mixed in there together. Impossible to see, but what you do know is that when you have no choice in what to do, all you can do is move forward, to push forward, and to try as hard as you can until you feel like your heart will just burst out of you.

So, I guess I did not give you any “hard data” about what you need to start to build a school. I didn’t tell you about how much of a budget you need, loans, financing, leveraging your assets, and negotiating in the board room.

We didn’t have any of that. We had no money. We had no family support, on both sides of our families. We just had each other, and we had a passion to make a great English school for kids. I think that was a good thing. It forced us to find creative solutions to problems, to negotiate persistently, and to not take anything for granted. We went on working without a net and a buffer, so it made us resourceful and prudent. I think that this is really the best way to start up a company. Start lean and be aggressive in having top quality service and cut things to the bare minimum so you discover your own core strength and purpose. Throwing cash at a problem usually makes it worse. Having to find a personal solution pushed us in a better direction.

It has been several years since we started this journey. I am glad to share it with you. I will keep adding things here as we go along. I hope it encourages you to give some thought about what you want to do in the future and where you want to be. I am so very happy to be the president of englishbiz. It required an investment of, well… everything I had, and every ounce of strength  I had. It still needs a lot of work, and I am glad to do it. There are a lot of kids that need us.

But now, now things are different. I have pushed our stone a good ways down the path. I can push it across the flat ground and keep things going as is. But there is a hill ahead, and there is a greater work that we can do. I need some people to come along with me on the next stretch of the path of this company. We need to push this thing along together. I have some ideas for how to get it done, and I need some smart and interesting people to come along and join us as we go further ahead, further down the path, and then up, up, up the next hill.

To be continued…

ESL Issues: No. 5- Who is to Blame? You, of course.

Have you been in a situation, as a teacher in a school. that the lesson goes bad, or the kids are rowdy, or someone suddenly bursts into tears (the kid, not you, that is)? Being a teacher in a language school has a lot of moving parts. There are a bunch of kids, all from different backgrounds, ages, different levels of parental expectation, different levels of maturity, and personalities. There are different things to be taught. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are a bit dull, and some get the kids excited. There are different kinds of teacher types. There are different phases of the moon. There are, in short, a whole bunch of things that may account for why a class does not go off perfectly.

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In a lot of ESL classrooms, when things go sideways, it is the teacher who must accept the full blame of the situation.

There are times in any language school that a parent will have a question, a problem, or a concern with what is happening in the classroom. Sometimes the parent’s concern is completely understandable. Sometimes the parent’s request for special treatment, or permissive behaviour with a wild child is really not okay. It is difficult to know the exact details of every situation, but when there is a concern that comes up we do not immediately start yelling at our teachers.

It is our practice to take the time to discuss the problem or issue with the staff that is affected, and to get more information. At times the teacher made an error, so we discuss it and work to remedy any root causes. At times the client is over-demanding, so we need to do our best to handle that situation. In an englishbiz school we do not leave our staff “in the lurch”. We have a lot of work to do together and it requires teamwork and trust. If we cannot support and stick up for each other, we will have serious problems later. Our policy is to approach issues calmly and rationally. It is the ONLY way, as far as we are concerned.

Of course the teacher is responsible for the quality of the lesson and to be prepared and ready to do a good job. We think that this is a given. But there are also lots of times when there are other factors involved, and from this position, it is the owners who are, in the end, fully responsible for what happens in the classroom.

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That is how I feel about that. The buck stops with me. If the class material is not right, I need to work with our team to fix it. If the kids are out of control, we need to get the right solution in place for better class management. If the parents are overly demanding, they will need some counseling and a time to discuss what we can and cannot do.

And if the teacher turns out to be ineffective in their work, we need to either train them up to a point they can handle the job, or counsel with them about what we need to do together to make everyone happier. Sometimes that means a staff shuffle, sometimes that means additional supports in the classroom, and sometimes…… just sometimes, it means that the teacher is not really cut out for teaching. And that too, needs to be okay. We will speak kindly and gently and figure out when that teacher needs to set off in a new direction, in a new career that is outside the stress and challenges of ESL.

In the end, I think it is not about blame. That is easy to do, and blaming someone may give a sense of temporary satisfaction, but it is often not result-oriented enough to fix whatever problem was there in the first place. Lots of things can be fixed and adjusted. But sometimes someone is just in the wrong line of work. That is not something to blame someone for. Sometimes people just got to try something and later realize that they need to adjust their personal course.  We are totally okay with that on our side, and it may be a “blessing in disguise”, as it helps someone realize that they need to chase their dreams in a totally new direction.

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ESL Issues: No. 3- The Split Shift

It seems that nothing is harder to take from your employer than when he has absolutely no respect for your time, your life, and any hours of the day that should be your own. This is the situation of the split shift.

If you do not know what the split shift means, please allow me a moment to explain. The split shift is when your usual eight hour work day is broken into two pieces. Maybe you start work at 9:00am and then stop at 12:00pm. You get a one hour break, but then you don’t come back to work until 4:00pm, and from there you work the other five hours of the day. In this case, your working day will end at 9:00pm. Twelve hours later you are back at work.

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Don’t you dare leave that office!

In the split shift you are told by your employer, “The hours in the middle of the day are yours!”

Sounds great? Not really. After you have gotten out of bed, prepared yourself for work, traveled to work and are probably away from all the places you would go in your off-hours you probably have no place to go. So what do you do? Go to the gym? Hang out in an internet cafe until you start work again? Stay in the office and goof off? In any of these cases, you are not really free. If you were to go home and change out of your clothes you would have to get re-dressed and then travel back to work.

Sadly, this is an all-too-common practice of employers who do not value your time, value your schedule, and somehow believe that your only purpose to be around is to work for them. This is not correct. At englishbiz, we believe that our teachers and staff need time to be with their friends and families. They need time to go and pursue hobbies or down-time. They need time to socialize and to make friends. They do not have be tethered to the school for twelve hours of the day, with a big “break” right in the middle.

In no case this should be acceptable, except in the case where the teacher is paid per hour and at a substantial rate, and this kind of schedule is one where both sides agree. For salaried positions, this kind of abuse of time is not acceptable and is a sign you are not working for someone who has empathy for others.

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Another sneaky abuse of staff time is the “travel time” between locations if classes are not all taught at the same place. In these cases, some employers tell you that the travel time in the middle of the day is uncounted and unpaid. You may also be encouraged to just have your lunch on the bus or train as you move from place to place. Here again, this does not sound like a professional environment to be working in. Teachers deserve much more than this, and it is a “soft version” of the split-shift scheme.

To make matters worse, there will be, particularly in some larger schools and organizations, one or two staff who cheerfully agree with such an employer’s expectations. They say things like, “Well, I would just work more at home anyway,” or “I think this is what I need to do to get ahead here.” That may be partially true, but what it does is create a very anti-social work environment where people are afraid to have a life outside of their work. It is already too much that cell phones keep us umbilically attached to employers, but when your “competition” at work is already planning on how to dig your grave in an environment where continual accessibility is expected, there is only so long you can hang in there before you burn out.

The only proper way to hire a full time employee is to carve out a nine consecutive hour block of time. There is work, there is a one hour lunch break, there is work. Working time comes to eight full hours. Lunch is one hour. That is how most of the world works, and it is the way things should be done for a professional working environment.

Also, there should be ZERO overtime. But that is material for another blog. Stay tuned!!