Sunday, July 15, 2007

Work Abroad In Japan: Working At An Eikaiwa

James Allen

If you do a search on all the major eikaiwa - chain English cram-school companies, you'll find their websites, and then you'll find endless websites and forums totally SLAMMING them. It seems like every English teacher in Japan hates those guys. But should you pay attention?

Actually, take everything you read with a grain of salt. That goes for the websites, but also the haters too. I worked for an eikaiwa a long time ago, and I have some friends who work for them. I want to give you a little run down, considering the pros and cons, which I hope will help you make an informed decision.

I worked for one of the more famous one - which I won't name here. (But it shares the same name as a famous model of Chevy car from the 70's). I can't totally hate them, because they hired me and set me up in Japan. I also got paid pretty well, and got lots of experience teaching in a short period of time, much more experience than if I'd gotten an education degree back in the States. So, if you look at it from a totally utilitarian standpoint, those big eikaiwas will get you here and get you set up. When people back home say they want to teach in Japan, I always say it's a good way to get over here.

Basically, at an eikaiwa, you will teach 6-8 lessons a day (depending on the company). You will have tiny 10-15 minute breaks between lessons, but you have to use that time to write evaluations and get the next lessons ready. I don't know about other schools, but mine had it streamlined so that you didn't really have to do much evaluation or preparation. The hours are usually afternoon or evening, which is great if you're a night person.

Eight lessons a day is ridiculous, but you get used to it. It's amazing how quickly you get used to it. If I had to go and do eight lessons tomorrow, I probably couldn't do it, but when I was working for that cram-school I never even felt it.

It's tough, but on the positive side, you get tons of teaching experience. Not only do you learn about students, you also learn what kinds of activities and lessons work and don't work. I use that knowledge all the time to this day.

Now that I teach on my own and prepare all my own lessons and do all my own scheduling, I kind of appreciate that the school I worked for did all that for me. At those big companies, you just walk in, do your lessons, and walk out. You never have to take anything home with you, or worry about what you're going to teach the next day.

On the down side, these schools often use lousy teaching materials and have little concern for students' progress. In spite of that, if you are a good teacher, you can make the lessons valuable for the students. You can still care about students, even if the company doesn't.

At the end of the day, these companies are interested in MAKING MONEY, and little else. If you really want to be a teacher, this can be depressing. The lessons, the teachers, the students, the staff, are all interchangeable. This is why it's called "fast food English." For me, eventually this became a really negative environment and that's one of the reasons why I finally left.

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About the Author:

If you teach abroad at a large chain English cram school like I did, try to get the most out of it you can. Get ideas, learn about teaching, and have fun. If you think something's not right, figure out why, and keep that in mind for future English teaching jobs. Then, when you're ready, you can learn about decent non-eikaiwa positions at sites like:

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