Monday, August 14, 2006

The Forums About Teaching English in Japan Need to Take a Reality Check

"After reading what they had to say in the forums there, I almost decided to go to Korea, it is so negative. When I did ask, well what schools are good to work for?-no one answered."

--A.P., USA--commenting recently on a very popular forum about teaching English in Japan.

Many forums are too negative and distort the reality of teaching in Japan. At one popular forum, one of the moderators dispensing advice is a university professor, who presumably has been out of the loop of looking for a teaching position in Japan for many years, yet he is telling people incorrectly how to get a job in Japan.

In one forum, he stated that schools here won`t hire you unless you are already in Japan. In fact, most schools will hire you while you are outside of Japan. Why? They have to.

If you have a school in one of the -sized mid to smaller cities in Japan--(which comprises most of Japan), you don`t have many teachers banging on your doors to teach at your schools. This same moderator was listed for a forum talking about teaching in Africa, yet he lives in Kansai.

My point is that some of ths so-called experts are anything but. Yet they are espousing their opinions on the internet and you are reading them, and sometimes taking them at face value.

The people who post at forums rarely post anything positive about any of the schools they work for. There must be some positive stories but you won't read them there. I think it would be a great idea to set up a forum that has a positive story only section. As this would help to redress the balance and restore some reality to the debate about is working for an eikaiwa school a good idea or not.

Have a separate forum where people can only post positive stories--just to give some balance. If your purpose is to educate people, that requires balance. Even if you are "Debunking Eikaiwa," as the LJ quote reads, surely you should alert people to some good schools to work for?

Unfortunately, I just spoke with a teacher from America-quoted above, and she felt the site was so negative that she was debating whether to even come to Japan. If the situation were so bad here in Japan, then the forums would be doing everyone a service. But it just distorts the actual reality of teaching English here. Many of the teachers who post have had a bad experience at one school, yet in many cases still continue to teach there, and rant about it--ad nauseum at one of the forums. Can you say, "Get a life?"

You won't find the people who enjoy their jobs posting much. If they do, they will take a lot of abuse from the complainers already ensconced there, and they are too busy enjoying their lives to log on and post. Happy people don't usually rant.

Two somewhat famous webmasters did not enjoy their time at Geos. Yet I have a friend named Lee who loved Geos. He loved the fact that he had his own classroom, would brag about the fact in his animated way, and enjoyed teaching and his students. Lee doesn't post at Let's Japan to my knowledge though.

At times some of the teachers seem to want to pick a fight over things so inane. In one story, a teacher said "Sayonara," to his students as they were leaving. Being an English school he should have said, "goodbye." His manager told him not to do it again.

Had it been me, I would have simply said, "Sorry," and said "goodbye,"to my students the next time. But this teacher argued with his boss over it. A person was called from head office to have a meeting with him. I gather his local manager felt she couldn`t get it across to him that what he had done was enough to make some students quit. I can see both sides, but a simple "sorry it won`t happen again," would have sufficed.

I agree with the author that it is a pretty silly thing, but students quit over silly things, and a lot of arguments are over them too.

I enjoyed my time at ECC and the YMCA. I modelled Kevin's English Schools after the 'Y' to some extent. My point is we all have different experiences and we have to be careful about what we read, especially the negative stuff. Don't spend too much time at any one site, even here! Don't take my word! You need to explore many websites and read many books. You shouldn't jump on a plane and not be prepared. It is your life you are thinking about, so read all you can so you can select the right place for you to work. Both you and your employer will be happy for it.

By all means read as many articles as you can about teaching in Japan. You may relate to things you wouldn't like, but keep in mind that all Geos managers are not the same. Personality conflicts occur everywhere. I'm not defending Geos, and it definitely is not in my interest to do so, they are my competition for students and teachers. Indeed there are many things about Geos that I don't like.

My point is, I am in favour of being fair and I am worried that some people believe the negative postings at forums. I am concerned that it affects them to such a degree that they choose to teach in another country. That really is a shame when there are many good schools here, and it is a great, safe country to live and work in.

I have a conflict of interest having my own school so could not do this, but someone really should start a website about the good schools in Japan. It wouldn't be easy and small schools like mine would have a tough time, not having as many teachers to vouch for us as some of the bigger schools, but it is a badly needed site. So someone with some internet savvy, here's your notice.

There is a need for an unaffiliated site like this. Many people abroad are going prematurely grey trying to decide for whom to teach. Help them! There are many sites like Gaijin but schools pay to advertise. You can find jobs there but don't have any independent reviewers who can tell you about the schools. We need some independent reviewers who can give the unbiased low-down on various schools--ideally a few reviewers would be needed. It wouldn't be easy. Perhaps it is a needed service? Perhaps some teachers would be willing to pay for such a service to avoid getting into a situation they wouldn't like.

Maybe even an independent site like Ohayo Sensei should consider offering this. They are well respected, independent and have been around for a while now. If they or some other site already does offer such a service please let us know here.

In the meantime, I interview teachers by phone and face to face. If by phone, I try to reassure them that we are not one of the horror stories they have read about at such and such forum on the internet. Prospective teachers sometimes ask to contact one or more of our current teachers to ask questions about what it's like to work at our schools. I feel uncomfortable with this, never having asked any of my prospective employers for the same privilege and because I don't want to infringe upon the privacy or free time of our teachers. Our teachers are kind though and allow me to give out their Email addresses to prospective teachers. It's a bit sad that this is necessary, but some of the internet forums and the bitter negativity that a minority of teachers express, seem to help make it so.

About the Author:
Kevin Burns Owner, Co-Manager and Head Teacher of Kevin's English Schools-"The Canadian Schools in Japan" He also is a Lecturer at a university in Kanto.
He and his wife own and manager Merry Lue`s General Store
Burns also writes and edits a guide to Japan called Travel Central Japan

by Kevin Burns


Bunker said...

This post is useless without naming names! Someone didn't like what they read on the Internet! Oh, the humanity! If this teacher formed an opinion based on visiting a single forum, she's not very bright.

There is no such thing as the "Fairness Police" that you seem to wish for. That's the beauty of the Internet, you can freely express your opinion, and if you don't like it, you can seek out other sites that better suit your pre-conceived notions of what eikaiwa is.

John said...

I don`t agree. I don`t think you have to name names, the negativity about English schools is rampant at too many forums.

The writer is pointing out that you
can`t believe the forums and have to
read them with a critical eye.

Just check out the forums at ELT News or Let`s Japan to see what I mean.

It isn`t about pre-conceived notions as you suggest, it is about gaining
valuable knowledge in your quest to
become an English teacher in Japan.

Some of the forums do a disservice in that regard.

I`m all for freedom of speech and the internet, but some of the people
really are losers and don`t like anything.

ターナー said...

I agree with him about the negatively surrounding eikaiwa in the online community, but I wouldn't really call it too biased. Granted, I'm just assuming that the people reading blogs are intelligent enough to know that what they read is just one person's experience, and usually, writing in a weblog is more of an outlet for anger. But these stories are really more useful for incoming teachers - knowing the worst possible things that could happen. If we just paint a fairy-tale version of Japan and have people flying in without knowing some simple potential problems, they might be more likely to leave in the end.