While English is a required curriculum after for students in Japan fifth grade, the rigid Japanese education system is not designed to encourage English fluency. As such, students often memorize bits and pieces to pass their exams, but are far from capable of holding in-depth conversations. As a response to the overwhelming population students looking to learn more, entrepreneurs created a system of private organizations, or schools, focused on learning English from native speakers. These English language schools are called eikaiwas.
What is an Eikaiwa?
Stemming from the Japanese translation for English language conversation, eikaiwas are exactly that: schools created to help support the public education system in its quest to improve the English conversational and grammar skills of students.
Eikaiwas can be found sprinkled throughout the entire country: from big chains in bustling cities to smaller eikaiwas in quaint rural villages, there is an abundance of centers created to help improve Japanese students’ English. This has also yielded a phenomenal opportunity for teachers – cities and towns that were previously limited in teaching opportunities now have plenty thanks to eikaiwas.
The higher demand to learn English doesn’t stop with young students, the need for adults and workers to improve their comprehension is growing as well. It’s not uncommon for these eikaiwas to support a range of student ages and abilities – afternoons might see pupils coming directly from school while the the night it reserved for older and more advanced learners that come from work.
Because this type of learning is often supplemental and not mandated by a school or company most students are quite driven in their pursuit of English. Adults especially are paying quite a bit of money to further their schools and expect their teachers and curriculum to be as professional as they are. In addition, class sizes are quite small (especially compared to public schools) and teachers tend to find their students more engaged as a result.
Working at an Eikaiwa
Native English speakers are always in high demand in Japan and eikaiwas are no different. This demand has made these training centers a popular ‘first job’ for ESL teachers as they often require minimal qualifications and offer training in lieu of experience. Because of this flexibility, working for an eikaiwa is a great way for budding English teachers to gain some invaluable experience abroad.
The average teaching day is no more than 8 hours with 5-6 hours of actual classroom time broken into 5 or 6 classes. As most of these schools operate in the afternoon and evenings, working at an eikaiwa is most suited for people who are not early risers and classes can run as late as 9p.m. In addition, to accommodate more students during the weekends, almost all eikaiwas operate Tuesday through Saturday, leaving the teachers with a nontraditional weekend. Some find the shifted schedules very rewarding and prefer having Mondays to explore or run errands.
Another great benefit of working for an eikaiwa school versus a public school is the higher salary. Generally, teachers take home more money in a shorter period of time than their colleagues in the public school system.
Downsides of Working for an Eikaiwa
As is the case with most jobs, there are going to be some downsides depending on your preferences and personality. One of the biggest issues teachers have when working for eikaiwas is feeling like a salesperson. Because these schools are decidedly businesses, they live and die by student enrollment rates.
Foreign teachers play a huge role in this and are often deemed the face of the operation. Expect to play a part in recruitment and have any bonuses tied into your ability to attract and retain students.
Also worth mentioning is the likelihood that you will have to travel to various schools as part of your job. As many eikaiwas operate as part of a chain, it’s not uncommon for them to expect their teachers to teach at multiple locations in order to satisfy their hours. While this is always worth asking about, expect quality schools to disclose this upfront and have it included in the contract (make sure they pay for your transportation as well).
Should You Work for an Eikaiwa?
If you’re looking to get your start teaching in Japan then working for an eikaiwa is a great way to do it. They almost always offer some form of training if you lack experience, often use an established curriculum to cut down on lesson planning, and provide a social network in the form of the other teachers. Plus, the jobs are abundant and available in almost every city you’re considering.
From a teaching standpoint, the more personal and intimate settings provided by eikaiwas classes encourage greater participation and bonding with students. Another great benefit of working for an eikaiwa is the allowance for creativity in your teaching style. Since the courses and instruction are not mandated by the state, you have the freedom to teach grammar and conversation skills in whichever format suits you and the students.