Michael Jacobs is a university instructor in Japan and studying for his Masters degree online, and was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed by How to Teach English in Japan.
What advice do you have for people wanting to teach in Japan?
Prior to coming to Japan, I recommend studying the language to some extent. Just a basic knowledge of katakana could help make your initial days here quite a bit easier.
Finally, private English schools are one of the easier ways to come out here. If you don’t have a lot of money set aside, I’d suggest looking into them. They take care of your visa and sometimes help you find an apartment, which can be a huge hassle. But be careful, some are less reputable than others.
What have been some of your positive experiences while teaching in Japan?
Some teachers work exclusively with one age group. While I work at university, I have always maintained a few classes for adult students. These have been some of the best experiences, probably because the rapport is one a more varied level.
In addition, I used to work with kindergarten children, a really fun group to work with. They possess a nearly contagious enthusiasm.
Anyway, I suggest not focusing exclusively on one group. Maintaining a little variety will break up the routine a little.
What have been some of the challenges of teaching here?
As a foreign teacher, you have to remember that you come from a completely different educational experience. Thus, you may be used to a more interactive style of learning. It’s easy to say they have to come to your side, because research indicates the benefits of more interactive approaches. It’s more realistic that you’ll have to go over and meet them on their side, and then coax them out to somewhere in the middle. That can be frustrating.
How valuable is getting a Masters degree?
It depends what you want to do. If you want to work at private companies, it’s not really needed. Still, it does open you to a greater number of opportunities. The days of when it’s not needed are probably winding down.
How will it help you in teaching English?
It depends on what type of degree you get. Any certification will raise your awareness. Being more aware of what you are doing (and not doing) is part of being a better teacher. A lot of people get burned out because teaching has become just an endless slog for them. A higher degree helps fight against that, due to the raised awareness and helps you keep focused on improving your craft.
Can you recommend any university Masters programs?
I don’t want to recommend one, but I will suggest that you look at them carefully. Ask yourself if you actually like most of the courses and the course work. There is a difference. I remember talking to a colleague about our projects. I was researching on ways to reduce Education resistance in the classroom. On the other hand, he’d spent the semester working on jazz claps. While he likes that sort of thing, I don’t.
Or programs to avoid?
I shall tell you this: If anyone recommends Macquarie, ask them when they went. The Macquarie program has undergone some changes in the last 5 years. While stories going back a decade are very positive, more recently it’s been tales of woe, coupled with letters requesting that tuition be returned in full. My own experience could have been a case study on strategies to perfect the craft of de-motivation. It doesn’t look like they are going to change direction any time soon.
Online English Master Degree: What have you enjoyed about living in Japan?
There are a number of things. But as far as work goes, it’s been the research opportunities.
Online English Master Degree — What has been a challenge or what have you disliked about living in Japan?
You experience discrimination on a multitude of levels. While it remains an exception to the overall experience, there are times when people (Japanese and foreign) will try to redefine it as a different experience. It is more concerning than anything else. To what extent are you willing to explain this away?