English Teaching Job Description Red Flags. Read this and avoid getting a bad job in Japan.
Looking for a job is a minefield of potential problems and bad working environments, which is why I’ve been keeping records of all the English teaching jobs I applied to, digging into the wording and the psychology of the original job ad, and seeing how they match up with how the job really was in the end.
How do you know if the employer is going to be fair or if they are going to make you work unscheduled overtime? Will they get angry with you when you try to take a holiday with your paid vacation days?
Over the years I have gained a much better understanding of the kinds of red flags that might give you some indication of whether a particular job posting might be a good job or a bit of a risk. Of course it’s hard to tell so I advise questioning these things further rather than not applying, but I’ve noticed a few red flags on postings and at interviews that I think will help you in your job search.
Disclaimer: These are my observations from experience of some companies in Japan. Some of these companies were otherwise good jobs, so by no means does this list mean that you should throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. Just be aware.
Red Flag #1 – Requiring a two year contract from the start.
This is not applicable to universities where this practice is common, but otherwise most schools in Japan start with a one year contract. This is standard because it lets you both see if you are a good fit for the position and if the school is a good fit for you.
I signed a two year contract in my third year in Japan, and I found out pretty fast that the working environment was aggressive and staff were not kind to one another. The management couldn’t care less about the education and were solely focussed on the sales and marketing to get more students (and more money). I stuck through that contract with the frankly awful conditions for one year because I cared about my students, but I could see why they wanted to lock people into a two year contract – otherwise they would have to get all new teachers every year!
When one of my co-workers decided to leave due to stress, the school owner threatened to sue her, said that she had to pay for an ad on Gaijinpot for her replacement, and called her in the middle of the night to shout at her down the phone. Crazy!
The kind of schools that are very outwardly focussed on the sales pitch don’t always notice when they are making working conditions at their schools difficult. If you apply to schools with this kind of contract and get an interview, ask what their reasoning is for the two year contract. If you do get an offer, it might be worth negotiating the contract down to one year. Say that you want to make sure it is a good fit first, which is totally fair. If you like it and they like you it’s almost always possible to re-contract in my experience.
Red Flag #2 – Advertising a full-time position as “part-time”.
Some schools like to do this when they don’t want to pay your national insurance contributions. In Japan it is a legal requirement that any staff of a company working more than a certain number of hours per week gets company sponsored social insurance (health and pension, called 社会保険 Shakai Houken), but this is expensive for companies, so in recent years the number of part-time employees has grown a lot. Then companies might expect employees to work unpaid overtime called サービス残業 (free work), and greatly exceed their contract hours.
As an English teacher this will likely be somewhat expected, but much less than if you were a Japanese worker in a big company. My junior high school teaching position said I could leave at 4pm, but I almost never left before 5 or 6pm because I was doing other work, or joining club activities because it looks bad to leave so much earlier than the 校長先生 (principal). I didn’t mind it so much and really enjoyed the club activities with the kids, but you might want to be prepared that at a lot of teaching positions in Japan this will be expected implicitly.
Red Flag #3 – “On-the-job training and support” rather than specific training.
I’ve seen this at two jobs of mine, and what it meant in practice was me teaching myself while on the job. I took one position where I was totally unsupported, and the reality of the term “ample on the job training” basically amounted to no training at all, just experience. Training and experience are different and a good company would specify what kind of training they offered.
If you see this, it doesn’t mean that they don’t offer any kind of training, it just means that it is something that you should question at interview. Ask what that means and really listen to the answer. If it sounds like they just mean that you can ask questions if you don’t know what to do, that might mean that there is little to no training. It can become hard to ask questions in some working environments as, depending on your specific situation and co-workers, it can make other teachers and management think and act like you don’t know how to do your job.
Red Flag #4 – “Throughout the year there are various school activities/events.”
This means that they are going to require you to come to work on Saturdays and probably Sundays to help out with events. Usually the school will organise these things with the Japanese staff, and give you some instructions for places they want you to stand or tasks they want you to do throughout the day.
Usually the events are fun, but it is going to be a lot of work that they say is factored into your pay, but basically means working a really long and demanding day for free. Just keep it in mind if you go to an interview and find out exactly how many of these days there are. One of my schools had 16 days of events in the year including two overnight events that I had to go to and wasn’t paid any extra for.
Of course you want to be a part of the school and go to events with the kids, but when the school doesn’t say exactly what these are in advance, or if they have a lot of them, then you end up just working a dozen days in the year basically for free.
Red Flag #5 – Vague wording about what the teachers actual responsibilities are.
If they aren’t going to tell you what they specifically expect you to do, that probably means that they intend for you to do anything they ask. Some of the time that’s going to be okay, but sometimes that’s going to mean doing things that you weren’t expecting would be part of your job.
At one school I worked at, the job description said “Helping keep the school clean, including your own classroom and common areas.”
That sounds fair but what it ended up being was me having the responsibility for keeping all of the toilets and toilet areas in the school clean… for a year! For a whole year at a kindergarten I had to get to school and clean the toilets when everyone else was preparing for their classes. I don’t want to have to do that again, so when I see “helping with cleaning responsibilities” on a job description, I inquire further.
You might really need a job and so some of these things you can put up with. I’m no precious snowflake and I never complained about helping clean the schools or coming to support the kids at weekend events. This article is here just so you can predict what you are getting yourself in for.
If you are a great teacher, you can negotiate these things. You can find the better jobs in Japan that require an experienced or qualified teacher, so you have more leeway to get a decent rate for what you do.
Don’t forget to come back next time where we will talk more about long-term strategy for English Teachers and how you can build up your CV to get basically any teaching job you want!