Teaching English & Living in Japan: the Highs and Lows
by David Moser
Pictured: Tokyo Tower, by Richard Baladad
My name is David Moser, and I currently an ELT Representative for Cambridge University Press. If you have any inquires or requests, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at dmoser(at)cambridge.org.
I was an ALT on the JET Program up in Yamagata for three years starting in the summer of 2005 right after I graduated from a University in the states. I did team teaching for 2 Junior High Schools, but spent much of my time teaching solo in the 6 elementary schools in my area. Since the elementary schools had no real curriculum, myself along with a second ALT in the same city created a simple unofficial curriculum and lesson plans which is still being used by the city today.
I am now in Tokyo, currently working for Cambridge University Press as an ELT representative.
Some Highs and Lows of Teaching in Japan:
a. Being able to spend each day with children.
b. Actually seeing students change and make progress right before your eyes.
An example which really stays with me is a student in one of my junior high schools, who you could tell had a good understanding of the English language, but was never really too keen on taking his skills further than necessary to pass a class. Even though he could, going to a University to study further was not in his plans.
For the yearly speech contest, I was responsible for assisting in selecting and then coaching the student. We convinced this student that he should actually give it a try. He figured okay I will give it a shot, and we tried to meet as much as possible after classes were over. As we continued to practice each day, his passion grew more and more. He goes on to win the Regional Speech Contest, then follows that up with a first place finish in the Prefectural contest for a ticket to the nationals. Next thing you know he is in Tokyo speaking in front of a large audience. When it was all said and done, he became a top 30 finalist, and actually was number 1 for all of Tohoku.
With this journey, his confidence grew, and what he told me after the contest is still fresh in my mind. “Thank you for all the time in helping me prepare for this contest. I now want to keep studying English further,
and have decided I want to go to a university. I will also continue and try the speech contest again next year in high school. This time I will win it!” There is nothing like the feeling that you actually made a difference.
c. A great way to get immersed in a different culture, while teaching others about yours.
a. The lack of freedom in some schools for how they want English taught.
b. Students who cannot deal with classes which are not structured in a way they are familiar with.
c. For ALTs, there can be school days which can go by really slowly with only one or two classes.
What are some of the highs and lows of living in Japan?
a. Living in a place where everything is different from what you are accustomed to.
b. There is always something new to do.
c. The great people you meet.
a. (A high and also a low) Living in a place where everything is different from what you are accustomed to.
b. Can get lonely at first being in a place where you may not know anyone.
c. Facing difficulties in getting approved for simple things like credit cards and cell phones.
Advice on Teaching in Japan
If you are coming to Japan, make sure that you come with the right mindset. Do not have a pre-conceived notion of what living in Japan will be like, but with a blank and open mind with absolutely no expectation. If you do that, you will not be disappointed, and be able to better enjoy your time living and working in Japan.
How to be a more Successful English Teacher
From my experience, the best advice I can give is, your way is not always the best way. Be open to advice and ideas presented by those around you. Be willing to take the criticism with the compliments, as that is the only way you will actually improve.
A mindset some teachers start developing is that they want to completely revamp the educational system, without ever giving a thought as to why it has been structured in such a way for so many years.
Nothing is perfect, but simply criticizing it as completely wrong will not lead anywhere. It is best to learn to work with the system by helping to make small gradual changes in the right direction.