Japan, Teaching English in Japan

Must Love Kids: What It’s Like to Teach English in Japan

512. That’s the number of people who responded to an ad for an ESL teaching position on the job-hunting site gaijinpot.com (the craigslist of Japan). I know this because minutes after I optimistically forwarded the company my newly updated resume, gaijinpot (very considerately) sent me an email to inform me of this little fact.

63. That’s the number of people who responded to an ad for a job teaching children.

Yeah, here’s a little known fact about ESL teachers in Japan: None of them want to teach kids.

The fact that most of them do teach kids in spite of this makes visiting any given language school a funny experience. It’s like walking into an unemployment office, or an open casting call for Beauty and the Geek (minus the Beauties). There’s the former bartender with the body tattoo and a degree in forestry, the former Stop and Shop employee with the beard, skater shoes and dirty hair and the ever-popular, ‘pasty, scrawny, “I get mistaken for a middle-schooler” white dude’.

A random cast of characters. None of whom you’d imagine ever held down a salaried job before.None of whom you’d imagine would be entrusted with the safety of someones spoiled and pampered three year old. But there you have it. Dressed up in a wrinkled ‘teacher’ suit, they dance and sing and play Animal bingo.

And you know what? Some of them are actually pretty good at it.

Take the guy I trained as my replacement for my last ESL teaching job. He was this stocky, ‘handsome in a Clark Kent’ sort of way, wanna-be pro-boxer who’d just retired from a five year stint in the air force in Okinawa. His experience with children came down to “I have a couple of nephews” and the reasons behind why he’d turned to teaching ESL involved a need to fund his fighting career and because it was a step up from his previous job, working for a Chinese housecleaning service in Chiba.

True story.

During his first week of training, he had his students on the floor doing push-ups.’It’s this new teaching technique I came up with…tire them out a bit before class’ was how he explained it.

“Repeat after me! One…Two…” he shouted enthusiastically as the children awkwardly attempted to push themselves off the floor. Most of them only succeeded in slithering, snake-like, across the carpet.

“Why won’t they count with me?” he demanded, exasperated.

“Well, they’re, you know, not even two years old,” I pointed out. “I don’t think that they can talk quite yet.”

But (and I swear this next part is completely true), he got better. I don’t know if it was his sheer determination or his unfaltering confidence “If I can handle basic training, I can handle kids- no problem” but he eventually developed this kick-ass teaching style that totally worked for him. He was able to establish himself as an authority with the hyper problem students, and they actually respected and listened to him. He even succeeded in encouraging my shy middle school students to speak – out loud and in full sentences! Amazing.

On Tuesday, I thought of him as I was crawling army-style through the mud in my gray ‘teacher’ pants from Zara. I was gripping a giant Oni (demon) head in one hand (in order to keep it from sliding off my head) and pushing thorny bushes away from my bare arms with the other.

The students and I were ‘celebrating’ a Japanese holiday that involved throwing beans at a demon (me) in a forest (a wooded area in the park that consisted of three trees and a broken park bench). The ritual was supposed to symbolize cleansing the new year of bad luck, but I think that most of the meaning behind it was lost on my class of four year olds. Either that or they just didn’t care.

After I’d made my grand entrance, galloping and growling lion-style, in my best Japanese demon impersonation, I’d expected them to shriek in terror. But they all just blinked at me, dumbfounded.

“Look, Reannon’s wearing an Alien mask,” one of them pointed out in this slightly bored tone of voice.

“Rooooar. I’m an Oni…” I growled sounding a lot like Yoda. I fake-clawed at them with my fingers.

“Your eye is falling off.”

I swear, the students at the international school are some of the most jaded, world-weary bumps on the logs I’ve ever encountered. They’ve already got this blase ‘been there, done that’ attitude about the world; it’s remarkable. One of my students is not even five years old yet and has lived in Thailand, Bali, Hong Kong and now Tokyo. She’s in the process of establishing a career in modeling and I’ve got her pegged as the next Dakota Fanning. I love her.

But sometimes I feel that perhaps I need a break from working with children. I mean, there’s nothing better than the warm, gushy feeling you get when a child presents you with some balled up piece of newspaper they’ve taped together during art class with a sweet “I made this for you” or when they earnestly inform you that tomorrow they’re going to “send you in a rocket ship to mars so that the aliens can chew off your legs.”

But you can dress it up however you want, the fact is, I get paid to wipe snotty noses. And after six years of poop jokes and the Itsy Bitsy Spider and books that rhyme (Dr. Seuss, I hate you), I’m feeling a little burnt out.

So perhaps this whole “laid off” business is a blessing in disguise. Maybe it’s time to try working with a segment of the population who can actually pronounce the word ‘population’ and know what it means.

3. That’s the number of job interviews I have in the next four days.

0. That’s the number of job interviews that involve a job teaching Adults.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!