Jobs for teaching English are well-known in Asia to be gateway jobs. They are the easiest way to get into countries like Japan, Korea and China with a work visa.
In Japan, there are various types of English teaching jobs. However, most jobs are only available to “native speakers”. This is a term referring to people from English speaking countries who have 12 years of education in English. If you do not qualify, a lot of companies may choose not to hire you as getting a certain type of work visa without this requirement can prove difficult.
What kind of English teaching jobs can you get?
English Conversation Schools (Eikaiwa)
These are private companies that hire pretty much anyone who has a good command of English. You do not need to be a “native speaker” to work in these types of companies. They are kind of the equivalent of an after school program or an English conversation tutor. Students (kids and adults alike) pay for these lessons on top of their normal school routine.
The work hours in these companies are usually much more harsh and they are considered to be some of the least rewarding and most demanding jobs in the industry. Some well known companies in Japan are GABA, Nova and ECC.
Most companies require their staff/teachers to work weekends, and night hours. The pay scale are on the low end, but some companies may promise a small year-end bonus or a contract completion bonus. Some contracts with these companies pay by teaching hour, which essentially means that you could be at work… but if you are not teaching a class, you will not be paid.
My advice: tread carefully with “eikaiwa”. Make sure you know exactly what your contract entails, and all the fine print. Do your research carefully. If the contract sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, it is rather common for foreigners to use eikaiwa schools as a stepping stone into Japan while actively looking for other work. I also have friends who are perfectly ok with the situation and stay for a good few years, so situations can vary widely.
Assistant Language Teachers (ALT)
ALTs are the ones that only hire “native speakers” due to work visa requirements. These are jobs located in public and private schools, where you teach English with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) in a classroom. Within this category, there are slight differences in how you can be hired:
Through Dispatch Company
Dispatch Companies act as a third party mediator to pair you with a local city’s Board of Education (BOE) who will work together with the dispatch company to determine which local schools you will visit and teach in. You report to the dispatch company. For example, if you are sick, you are required to call the dispatch company to take a day off - not the BOE nor the school. You are essentially the employee of the company.
Well known dispatch companies are Interac Inc., ALTIA Central and Borderlinks. Some previously mentioned eikaiwa companies like ECC may have a division for dispatch jobs as well.
Through the Board of Education (direct hire) (public schools)
A popular program that hires directly is the JET programme. The JET programme hires annually, starting their recruiting process in November. JET acts very similarly to dispatch companies, but everything is streamlined from the Ministry of Education to the BOE. Most JET positions are public high schools, but it can vary from location to location.
Some BOE may decide to take the hiring process upon themselves, skipping the step of having to go through the Ministry of Education’s JET program. Most of these position will only hire people who are already in Japan, and may be difficult to come by as most BOE don’t seem to like having the responsibility.
Through Private Schools (direct hires)
There are quite a few private schools in Japan, especially in big cities. Most of them hire directly, but some have started to use dispatch companies. Some schools will also only hire within Japan, but there are some who hire internationally. The other thing is, while it’s not a requirement, most schools prefer their ALTs to have a good command of Japanese. You are more likely to be asked to do other activities outside of teaching in these positions, such as being the advisor for a school club, so knowing Japanese is an asset for them.
Jobs in international schools are considered some of the most stable jobs in the country. However, they are usually only available to those with teaching qualifications back in their home countries. If you are planning to stay long term to become a teacher, I highly recommend investing some time to get your qualifications first.
Jobs in university are rather sparse, but they are there. This is not a field I’m familiar with, but similar to public and private schools, University jobs can vary between direct hire and dispatch. University jobs are usually teaching classes on basic conversational English to freshmen.
Another type of University-related job is working in a drop-in English conversation hub. Some bigger Universities will have a hub dedicated for any student in that University to drop in anytime, for the purpose of practicing conversational English. Your job there would be to facilitate those conversations and occasionally create activities to promote English use.