AEON, ECC, Berlitz. . . if you have ever considered working in Japan you’ll know that these Eikaiwa companies offer competitive options. Visa processing, subsidized housing and attractive bonuses to name a few. But after the ‘difficulty’ of securing a position, what are the challenges of working for a major conversation school?
You might think that not having to start work until 12 or 1pm is a plus, and it is for all those non-morning people out there. But the flipside to that argument is having to work past the time most people will have finished work for the day. Even then, it is unlikely that you will finish work before 9pm each day (sometimes later, especially considering Japanese workplace etiquette). This is awful for numerous reasons. One, you can never make mid week dinner plans with any of your friends, nor can you make Friday or Saturday night dinner plans, as everyone will already have fed and be well on their way to drunkville by the time you’ve even got on the train to join them. Two, your entire body clock will start to get out of whack as you wake up at 10am after going to bed a 2am and eat at odd times of the day like having a large meal at around 10pm which can never be called a ‘healthy eating habit’. These hours are not conducive to a healthy work/life balance.
So now not only do you have to work until the late hours of the night but you also have to go to bed early on a Friday night knowing that the hardest day of your week will dawn in the morning. Seriously, in no world is it okay for Saturday to be the busiest day of the week. Maybe during your part time uni job it was okay, especially if you worked in a bar or pub but that’s hardly work, especially if people are buying you drinks. Trust me, no one is going to buy you a drink at 4pm on a Saturday while working as an English conversation teacher. While all your friends are nursing their hangovers from Friday night in preparation for Saturday nights shenanigans, you’ll still be teaching in your small basement classroom, counting the minutes till its time to leave.
Being cheerful all the time
As a conversation school teacher, the most important part of your job is not actually teaching. It’s making sure students are having fun while you look like your having the time of your life. This goes for all hours of your 9 hour day. If you are in the public space, you must be a) smiling so hard you look like you’ve overdosed on pseudoephedrine and b) look so happy to see your students that they feel like you might have a secret crush on them. Of course this is all good customer service 101 but there is something about the over-the-top expectations of ‘cheerfulness’ that separates this kind of behaviour from regular customer service. And it will make you more tired then you’ve ever been before in your life.
Teaching the same material over and over and over…
Conversations schools each have their own lesson plans and structures and as an employee, you have to adhere to these plans and lessons, no exceptions. Oh there might be some schools who appreciate a bit of creative flair but there is still limited room for that. Most have a rotating 3 months schedule for lessons thus, if you work there for longer than that, you’ll have to teach these lessons again and again. While this makes work easy, it also makes work super boring. I dare you to try and not fall asleep during the listening sections.
The strict office environment
Japan’s office environments can differ greatly from those back home. Professional dress takes on a new level as for women, high heels and make up are a daily staple and for men, don’t even think about not wearing a tie. This is all fairly simple compared with other details such as making sure you arrive 15 minutes before your start time everyday and not leaving before all your students have left the lobby (which can take a long time, especially when the more loquacious students have nothing to do on a Saturday night). Once, I was told off for yawning in a meeting. There are lots of little micro behaviours that are not acceptable in the Japanese office environment and you have to remember that while working at an Eikaiwa, you are working for a Japanese company, no matter how many foreigners you see in head office.
Of course, there are also a lot of positives to working at a conversation school and I know lots of people who have been happy to work at the same school for 3, 4 or 5 years. How much of a challenge you really face can depend entirely on the school, the type of people you work with and the company you choose. My advice? Make sure you choose wisely.