If you’ve never seen a contract for an English teacher job in Japan, then you’re in for a shock! If you don’t know what to look for, then you might be in for a horrible surprise down the line. And this goes for pretty much any teaching job in Japan – dispatch companies, private schools, universities, even international preschools.
So, in the interest of due diligence, here are the questions you must ask before signing that contract.
1. Will I get paid for the summer?
Imagine this scenario: you’ve used the Jobs in Japan site and found a teaching job offering ¥300,000 a month, but when your paycheck arrives it’s for ¥275,000. What’s going on here?
Well, because schools are closed for the summer vacation in August, you don’t have to go in and teach. Great! But… that also means you won’t get paid for the month. To counteract this, your company will take your monthly salary, multiply it by the 11 months that you do work, and divide that by the 12 months in the calendar. Most teaching jobs advertise a monthly salary, so make sure to ask if you’ll be paid for 11 or 12 months of work.
2. When will I receive my first paycheck?
In Japan, it isn’t uncommon to receive your first paycheck at the end of the second month. The number of new teachers who arrive in Japan, and are caught completely off-guard by this, is high! Asking this question BEFORE accepting the job will let you know if you need to bring a fairly sizable stack of cash with you (also, bear in mind that it’s usually within these first 2 months of no salary that you’ll want to pay a deposit on an apartment, sign up for a mobile phone plan, set up your WiFi, etc., so you’ll have to make sure you’ve brought enough money with you to survive and get established within those first 8-or-so weeks with no income).
3. What ages will I teach?
For my first teaching job in Japan, I worked at an international preschool advertised for children 3 to 6 years old. But it wasn’t long before they started adding 2-year-olds to my class, and shortly after I started they began an after-school program for kids up to 12 years old. In the space of just a few weeks, my job description completely changed and I had to prepare materials for elementary school English classes, which was not something I had initially signed up for.
Make sure to confirm what age group you’ll be teaching. It’s not unheard of to apply for a job, expecting to work at a junior high school, and when you arrive for orientation, you’ll see they’ve changed it to an Elementary school instead. If you can get a concrete answer during the interview, you’ll avoid any surprises.
4. How many schools?
This one ties into the previous question. Some foreign English teachers are sent to a different school every day, having to lease a car and commute for well over an hour. If that is ok with you, then great, but if you want just one school, make sure to clarify that in the interview. Realistically, you may not be able to secure a position at just one school but it’s definitely a good idea to know what your schedule and commute times will look like.
5. Will I teach special needs?
There are a lot of things that new teachers get nervous about, but the one thing I get asked for help and advice on more than anything else is teaching special needs English classes. Chances are you won’t be sent to an exclusive special needs school, but almost all mainstream schools, especially junior high schools, have a few separate special needs classes.
6. Will there be training?
On the topic of being prepared, now’s a good time to ask if there will be training. For my first teaching job in Japan, the outgoing teacher had the responsibility of training me. Unfortunately, his “training” consisted of one day of me watching him say goodbye to the students, and these sage wards of advice “Just do whatever you want”.
That was it!
I had to spend months working at home in the evenings to come up with an entire curriculum of lesson plans, games, and activity ideas.
On the other hand, the company I work for now provides a week of on-boarding training, coupled with regular on-the-job training sessions, lesson observations, and monthly training meetings. So, it’s best to find out before you actually get put in the classroom whether you’ll be equipped with the skills and resources you need.
7. How long is the contract?
A lot, and by that, I mean most, English teacher positions in Japan offer a one year contract. That doesn’t mean you can’t stay for longer, it just means that you have to secure a new contract and apply for a new visa each year. Dispatch companies are particularly notorious for this, as they often only receive short-term contracts from the local board of education. Independent language schools (eikaiwas) will usually offer the same short-term deal. Some government programs (JET), universities, and international schools offer longer contracts, but these are few and far between.
Alongside this, you may not get a contract renewal offer until about 3 weeks before your current contract expires… This can be very stressful, as you can imagine!
I know that the information above can make it seem like teaching companies in Japan are full of nefarious recruitment tactics, and while there are some “black companies” out there, the majority just have HR departments who don’t operate in the way we are used to. But with the 7 questions outlined here, you’ll be able avoid any grim surprises!-