The Pros & Cons of Being a Private English Tutor in Japan

Despite the growing popularity of online language lessons, teaching face to face and being right next to your student remains the most satisfying method of teaching and the most beneficial way to learn. At least, that’s this blogger’s opinion.

Perhaps it’s being able to pick out that hidden but perceptible moment of satisfaction in your student’s eyes when they understand (and can answer) your complex question about yesterday’s dinner. Or the glint of sweat on their brow when you up your conversational pace to something more akin to how you would speak to Jimmy back in Glasgow.

Whatever it is, there’s something about being in the same space as your student or teacher which gives the lesson a dynamic which can’t quite be justly replicated through a Skype call, no matter how impressive your broadband speed.

So unsurprisingly then, there’s still a massive market in Japan for face to face private lessons, in particular when the objective is to improve conversation. Teaching private language lessons can be a really good way of making some tasty greens to supplement your current income, or can even be your main source of cash flow. But it can also be a hassle.

With that being said, I’ve put together what I think are the main pros and cons of teaching private lessons in Japan, so you can see if it’s for you.

The Pros of Being an English Tutor in Japan

Teach when you want

You can choose when you want to teach. Arrange lessons around your life and not the other way around. So, if it suits you to only teach in the mornings so you have the evenings to trim your bonsai, that’s the freedom you have.

Get paid what you’re worth

You set your own rates. Students are paying for your lesson only. Not the cost of a language school and the associated administrative costs. You get it all, which means you’ll be able to get more from a lesson than you likely would in a language school and it won’t seem crazy expensive to the student.

You can teach the lesson you want to teach

You can be really creative in how you want to teach a lesson, and provided the student is happy with the learning experience, you can incorporate elements into your lessons that a private school might grumble about. Maybe not stand up in Starbucks and declare ‘Oh Captain my Captain!’ though.

Teach motivated students who make your lesson fun

And, whisper it, but you can also choose your students. This may sound a bit off (or creepy even) but it’s true to say if you have a motivated student and one really eager to improve, it makes the teaching experience far more rewarding. The chances are, if somebody is making the effort to come out and meet you for a lesson, they’re going to be eager to learn.

But it’s not really always that easy…

Unless the demand for a lesson with you is super high, you’ve usually got to compromise to get your students and keep them happy and progressing. Which could mean not teaching exactly when you want, where you want or even who you want. That old supply and demand thing.

The best way to get students is often through word of mouth, so until you build up a number of students who really appreciate you as a teacher, you might have to work pretty hard when starting off.

And then there are the cons…

The Cons of Teaching Private Lessons in Japan

Lesson preparation

Unless you’ve factored into your hourly rate (you should), you’re not getting paid for preparing the lesson, and sourcing out the learning materials to make the lesson a good one. You’ll need to prepare for the lesson beforehand and also consider how to improve it for the next lesson.

Time to arrange the lesson

You’re also not getting paid for arranging the lesson time and communicating this with your student. It might just be a few emails or messages on LINE or WhatsApp but when you’ve got quite a few students, this can take its toll.

Travel time

And then there’s the travel time. If you can schedule a day with back to back lessons in the same location with five different students, then go you. However, the reality for most private lesson teachers is a commute to get to the lesson location and then a commute back home. You might find yourself commuting for an hour to teach an hour. Or say you get a few lessons in the same day; there might be waiting around for your next student to show up. One lesson at 1pm and one at 4pm. You can find your day getting eaten up over two hours of teaching.

Lesson location

Finding a suitable place for the lesson can also be a tad tricky. Having the lesson at your home or the student’s home might not be appropriate, and is probably not recommended. Your new student probably isn’t a loon who plans to skin you and make shoes out of your leathered flesh, but there’s always the chance…

Which leaves coffee shops, the usual spot for private lessons. But they can be really noisy. What if you’re sat next to annoying crying child, or heaven forbid, worst of all, the annoyingly loud gaijin?

And even if it’s a quiet spot, it can be pretty awkward, more so if people can hear you delivering a trying lesson. Awkward for you and the student.

And also, how many cups of coffee can you really want to drink in a day?

The dreaded cancellation

It happens. And whether you then try to charge somebody for a cancellation at short notice is up to you. But the short of it can be that you spend time preparing a lesson, busting a gut to get to the lesson location in time, and then there’s a no show or the student cancels. If there’s a cancellation in your private language schools, it might mean coffee and a biscuit and maybe some work on the computer, but you’re still getting paid.

So, if you’re still thinking about giving teaching private language lessons a go, I recommend considering the following dos and don’ts.

Please do…

Take the role seriously

Finding students and maintaining a profitable rota of students isn’t really something which can be done half-baked. You need to put the time in to get students and make sure you’re delivering a quality learning experience to maintain those students.

Advertise yourself properly

If you’re using a student introduction site, like OrangoTeacher.com, create a profile which reflects you as a professional teacher. Don’t have a picture of you taken at last weekend’s Nomihodai, no matter how much of a fun guy you think you look. Take your time to fill out the profile completely and accurately and if the site allows it, add a short video introduction of yourself so students can get an accurate idea of what you sound like (and are like).

Have a structured lesson

Even if your student seems happy with just a conversation, make sure you move the conversation into areas which test and push your student. Give the conversation structure. Make sure the student can take away from the lesson something they have learned and areas where they have improved, or need improvement. And please, please, please…. don’t talk too much. The student might appear interested in you, but they’re there to improve their language, not to hear about your ‘zany’ traveling adventures (yawn).

Be friendly, but don’t be friends

This can be a common mistake teachers make. You want to be chummy with your students and want them to have a good time and enjoy your company and practice their English right? Just like friends! But then you have to ask them for 3000 yen for the privilege of ‘hanging out’ with you. Not like friends! Friends don’t charge friends for their company. And teachers shouldn’t just ‘hang-out’ with students. Yes, have fun, be friendly but above all be professional.

And absolutely don’t use teaching students as a way to make friends. If you think teaching private lessons might be a good way to find a girlfriend or a boyfriend, then you’re a creep, or worse.

Be Professional

Yes, above all be professional. Don’t arrive late, don’t arrive looking or smelling like you were out partying all night. Confirm the lesson time, fee and appointment at least once before the lesson. Students may pretend they were happy with your lesson, and hand over your cash with a smile and a convincing arigatou gozaimasu, but if you’re not providing a professional service, students are unlikely to stay with you.

Having a business card helps, be polite, control the lesson and remember, you are providing a learning experience for your client, who is your student.

So can you get started teaching private lessons in Japan?

There are different ways to get students and some might work for you and others not so. You can start by advertising your teaching profile in one of the many teacher-student introduction sites. There’s a few of them out there and it’s worth your while to add your profile to more than one of them.

You could also publish an advert in a local publication, which might be costly at first, but could get you a nice return on your investment (or perhaps not). If you’ve already got some students, you could tell them you’re looking for more students and hope they think you’re worth a recommendation.

There are other ways of course, such as handing out flyers or pining adverts to local shops or notice boards. Whatever you do, keep it professional. We do not recommend graffitiing ‘for English lessons contact jack on jackscheapenglish@yahoo.com…’ on an Irish bar toilet stall in the city.

Good luck!

This post was written by Adam, a former English teacher who has worked for many years in Japan for Nova and Kawasaki. He is the founder of OrangoJapan.com & OrangoTeacher.com, sites which helps language teachers find private language students in Japan. He can be contacted on adam@orangojapan.com.

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