Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Teach in Japan - the streets are paved in gold

In the 1980s and 90s Japan was a lucrative destination for foreigners with minimal qualifications. English teaching in particular brought many foreigners, mostly with no English or teaching qualifications to Japan, looking for

When I came here in 2002, I never saw an English teaching job advertised for less than 250,000Y/month.  That was the bottom of the barrel.  With any experience it was not difficult to find a job for 300,000/month, which was easy to supplement with private lessons at 4,000/hr.  Schools, language schools, universities paid transportation (a standard practice in Japan) and paid teachers through the school holidays.

There was grumbling about agencies taking a big from salaries with schools preferring to use middle men to hire rather than negotiate directly with foreigners.   It was understandable from the schools point of view - there were plenty of teachers here who had had no training and had little understanding of Japanese culture.  Misunderstandings between schools and foreign teachers, helped justify in the minds of schools the need for an employment agency.  Local governments also resorted to this, mostly because it was easier, though they don't hire Japanese teachers in that way.

Eight years later and the situation is drastically different. Wages have fallen drastically.  The company that I worked for initially in 2003 had a starting salary of 300,000/month.  Their starting salary is now 270,000.  Parts of Saitama prefecture that used to pay 300,000 a month to Assitant Language Teachers on the 'JET Program" with transport paid for, are now offering 190,000Y for the same job, with no transport allowance.     The university that I am working at part time in April has minimal full time staff and part time teachers are not paid through the holidays, nor is there any allowance for materials used in class.  The classes are  large and I worked out last night, each 90 min lesson I would be paid less than 300Y/ student.!

At the same time as the salaries and conditions have deteriorated, the qualifications of teachers has risen, dramatically.  Most full time foreign teachers that I know have of their own volition done Masters degrees in English related courses.   There is no employer contribution to the cost of the course as there would be in Australia. 

I haven't seen anyone writing about the deteriorating conditions... not sure why ... perhaps I need to read more widely.  There are several reasons I can come up with, mostly based on annedotal evidence.

1.  The first is there is a big over supply of teachers.  NOVA, the biggest English language school collapsed  in 2007.  It had branches across Japan and employed more than 4,000 foreigners (and several thousand Japanese).  Although a lot of the teachers would have repatriated quickly, I suspect there is still a lingering effect.     This means universities and schools can pay less.  Older teachers who were hired in the heady pay rates of the 90s are being sacked and replaced with part time teachers who cost a fraction of their salaries.

2. Recession mentality. The shift to part time workers and subsequent reductions in wages and conditions, is happening across all industries, not just teaching. It is affecting Japanese at least as much as it is affecting foreigners. The society is becoming totally divided into full time workers who often work ungodly hours but who receive reasonable salaries and part timers / underemployed.  Entrepreneurism seems much less than a lot of places.

3. Recession mentality also has affected the willingness of companies to shell out for workers to learn English. Company classes have always been the best paid and probably had an indirect effect on university salaries.

4. Declining population, As the population of young people shrinks, see diagram, schools and universities are competing for fewer students and unviable university campuses have begun to close. Universities, schools and govt. education boards are under a lot of pressure to reduce overheads.  Teachers salaries are the highest cost and the easiest targets.

5.Fewer Japanese are learning English. The population of young people is dropping, which means the no, of people taking mandatory Japanese is declining (though this is somewhat offset by English teaching being introduced in primary schools.)   According to Japanese media, young Japanese are less inclined to want to travel, go skiing, and take part in general outdoor risky behaviour. (I don't have a source for this info, but it seems to be widely considered as fact.)

6. English teachers here are often not of sufficient fluency in Japanese or an alternative speciatlty to get jobs in other sectors.  Though it's been a while since I have met someone teaching here who speaks no Japanese.

I'm going to apply to do a Masters in International Relations at one of the universities here, when applicaitons open in April.  It will be good to study again, make full time university work a possibility (prefereably teaching content subjects rather than English conversation or exam preparation subjects).   There are so few humanities jobs in international schools here that it doesn't make sense to sit around waiting for someone to leave or die.....
But masters here are a funny thing, you have to have one to get university to work - which makes sense since universities are places of higher learning.  But it is quite ok to be in a totally unrelated field to what you are teaching. From my point of view though when teaching English as a compulsory subject to non English majors, a  teaching qualification is more useful than a PhD or masters in an unrelated field.....

I'll spare you my cynicism.

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