Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life As an Eikaiwa Sensei

I realized that in the past year and a half that I've been living in Japan, I still haven't done any posts about what I actually do here, which is teach English. I work for a very small private conversation school, called an eikaiwa (英会話) in Japanese. My school has a little under a hundred students and two locations. I work with one other full-time teacher and one part-time teacher who are both Japanese and speak English fluently. 

So a typical week for me is something like this: in the mornings I teach at youchien (幼稚園), or a Japanese kindergarten. Youchien are really different from the American concept of kindergarten. They're private or public schools with three grades, nensho, nenchuu and nenchou, and many of them also have day care services for younger children. The kids learn lots of pre-school subjects, including reading and writing, English, sports, etc. They also participate in special events during the year, like the sports festival in the fall and the happyoukai (発表会), school play, in the winter. I see most of my kindergarten students about once every one or two weeks.

Last year's Happyoukai included a Yoshi dance. Could these kids possibly be any more awesome?

After youchien, I usually have an hour or two lunch break, and then I teach at the eikaiwa. A typical day is about 2 elementary age classes, a couple private lessons for either kids or adults, and then high school/junior high classes at night. I have three really long days during the week where I work from 9 AM till about 8:40 PM, with an hour or two break in the middle. I also work every other Saturday, but it's a pretty short day (11:00-4) with only a few private lessons.

So basically I play games for a living. It's a good life. :)
Many of my foreign friends here are also English teachers, and most of them are ALT's. An ALT is an Assistant Language Teacher who works at a public school. They teach elementary through high school. There are pretty big differences between being an ALT and working for an eikaiwa. ALT jobs differ depending on whether you're in the JET program or work for a private company; JET's get paid well and have a lot of vacation time, but the program is fairly competitive. Private company ALT's also get a lot more vacation time than an eikaiwa teacher (about a month off in the summer compared to my two weeks and other eikaiwa's with only one week). 

However, one big benefit to being an eikaiwa teacher is having more freedom over your classroom. I never team-teach except at a few of my youchien, and while my school's routine for each class is already decided, it's fairly flexible and I'm able to be creative with the activities I choose to do. Also, some eikaiwa pay very well (provided you have experience and a teaching certificate) and some offer nice benefits. But be prepared to work long hours for those perks!

I'm glad I chose to work for an eikaiwa. I really like having freedom to teach creatively and I like the small class sizes (I never have a group larger than 8 students, except at the youchien). It's also really fun to teach all ages; I have students as young as 3 and some who are in their 70's. And I love teaching at the youchien. The kindergarteners are so cute and so much fun to work with, and it's a really interesting cultural experience for me to see what early education is like in Japan. My job can be stressful and demanding at times, but it's been a really rewarding experience and I'm grateful to be doing something I enjoy, in a country that I love.


  1. Favorite Post EVER! Seriously, know we talk but it's really cool to see pictures with explanation about what you do. So awesome, do more of these.

  2. Thanks, Arika! I'm really glad you liked it. I was kinda hesitant to write about work because I thought it might be a little boring... I'll try and do a few more posts about it from now on. :)

  3. It is wonderful to read a positive blog post about teaching in Japan. I hope you still enjoy teaching eikaiwa. I could never handle teaching kids. Are you still enjoying life in Japan?

  4. Thanks! Teaching kids is definitely not for everyone- I love it, but there are days when they drive me a little crazy, too. Are you still teaching? Where did you teach?

    I'm still happy with my job and life here, it's always an adventure!