Many people interested in Japan are interested in moving there. Quite often that means an interest in teaching English in Japan either through JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) or another program.
If you want to get a foot in the door to work in Japan, or to get better at Japanese I strongly suggest applying to JET or another teaching program in Japan. You don’t need any Japanese language experience or qualification either.
I’ve asked a few current teachers for advice on their teaching programs, working in Japan, and advice for people interested in teaching in Japan.
1) Why did you choose to do JET program?
Sara – I chose to apply for the JET Program because it combines all of the things I am most passionate about: Japan, Japanese language, English, education, intercultural communication, international exchange, etc. In this job, I am able to use my past experience teaching and mentoring children, utilize the communication skills learned in my college courses, and continue to review and study Japanese. Then there’s the incredible bonus of getting to impact the lives of kids and see them grow and learn!
John – I choose the JET Program for a few different reasons. First of all I worked in Korea for a private school straight out of university. During my time there I decided that I wanted to work in public schools, because I felt that everyone should have access to a good education, not just the privileged. Also, I come from a small town in New Hampshire, USA, and I was able to go to university, due to great teachers during my K-12 studies. Secondly, I studied Japanese in high school, university, and I studied abroad in Osaka Japan. So, I wanted to return to see friends, and get better at Japanese, due to how much time I had already put into it. And lastly, the JET Program is one of the best programs for teaching English in Japan. It has a huge and diverse group of teachers from all over the world. And, it’s one of the highest paying teaching jobs when first coming to Japan.
Sam – JET is the absolute bomb! It’s the best program in Japan for teaching and immersion. Nothing else compares no matter what is offered on the other company’s plate. It’s not to say that foreigners can’t have a great experience as an ALT or eikaiwa teacher, but they do not offer the same value as JET. It’s a government program back by MEXT and BOEs. JETs are not looked down upon as private dispatch employees. I’ve worked privately with Interac and I’ve taught eikaiwa as well in Osaka, but they don’t offer the satisfaction as being a JET in Japan.
There is nothing wrong with that route, but the JET experience is totally different in what’s offered. For example, I can attend school events anytime for work (and still get paid). I’m always at the same schools and area, so I’m not moving cities or work places. I can see my students grow and work with teachers who are experienced with ALTs. There are freedoms to pursue activities that offer cultural exchange with people in the community because JET has relations with the local authorities in cities, so we are invited to participate events or programs. It’s a pain to get into, but it offers an incredible experience; however, every situation is different…. Some people are thrown in rural areas or their predecessor left a bad rep while on JET. Not everywhere is perfect.
2) How long did you/have you been doing JET?
Sara – I’m currently in my second year of JET. I began in July of 2014.
John – I have been working with the JET Program since August 2013. I’m currently on my 3rd year’s contract, which will end August 2016. This winter my board of education may ask me to sign another contract to stay for another year. I may stay longer, since I still want to get better at Japanese.
Sam – I’m starting my third year and planning to stay a fourth.
3) Where are you teaching?
Sara – I teach out in the semi-inaka of Tohoku. I’m about an hour’s bus ride from a large city and a few hours by Shink away from Tokyo. Up a few cities and towns north of me the true inaka begins. I teach junior high school and elementary. My main school is the biggest junior high in the entire prefecture with over 850 students. Each grade has nine classes of about 33 students and there are two special needs classes. I teach with 7 JTEs. Because of the size of my main school, I am only able to teach at one elementary school once or twice a week. It is one of the feeder schools from which nearly all of the students later attend the junior high school I teach at after graduation.
John – I am teaching in Katagami City, Akita Prefecture, Japan. Akita is really rural, and even though Katagami is considered a city it only has about 33,000 people. Katagami is a fairly new city after the merger of three small towns, Iitagawa, Showa, and Tenno, in 2005. The former names are still recognized, and I live in Showa Town. From my house I can see rice fields; Katagami’s economy is mainly agriculture and fishing. I work at two public junior high schools, four public elementary schools, and one after school conversation class for 3rd and 4th graders in Katagami City.
Sam – I’m a municipal JET, so I teach in Kumamoto City. I have three schools, two junior highs and one elementary.
4) What’s your advice for people looking to do JET?
Sara – Firstly, reevaluate your reasons for wanting to join the Program. Are you coming to travel Japan and party on weekends? If these are the sole, or even major reasons you want to join… then don’t. It’s not fair to the students or your coworkers. My advice would be to make sure you have your priorities in line before considering applying to the position. Make sure that you’re willing to work extremely hard for the sake of your students. Otherwise, just take a vacation to Japan instead. Party at home in your country. JET is work, not vacation. And it can be extremely difficult and exhausting work. Make sure you’re willing to put the students ahead of yourself. Of course you can have fun and explore Japan and its culture. But keep in mind that you will be expected to work and be mentally present when school is in session.
Second, be absolutely meticulous when filling out your application. Thousands of people want the job you want. Don’t let something like following a direction wrong or even spelling a word wrong hurt your chances. The application is difficult, but it’s well worth the effort. You can do it!
Lastly, let yourself be open to possibilities. I challenge you not to specify where in Japan you want to be placed or if you want to be in the inaka or city. Let yourself be surprised. You may be amazed by how much you enjoy a setting you expected to hate. The spirit of JET is being open and adventurous and taking on things that are outside of your comfort zone. Let that start on your application!
John – ESID (Every Situation is Different). You’ll hear this all the time, from people who have done the JET program. There is a lot of truth to it, but I didn’t understand exactly what it meant until I worked here.
Some JETs work in schools: high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. A few JETs work for government organizations due to their high level of Japanese prior to coming to work on the JET Program. Some people have one school, and some people have a lot more. Some are expected to do town administered eikaiwa (conversation classes), and some don’t. Some have huge apartments or houses, some have small living spaces. It’s hard to say what the job will entail, and what living here will be like, since everyone has a different situation.
My job has even changed with me from how it used to be with my predecessor. So, maybe try to think about it this way: You are a puzzle piece that will need to fit into a very big puzzle, which you might easily fit into or you might need to be flexible to get in there. More often than not, you NEED to be flexible to find your place here.
Also, living in rural Japan with people who have never seen a foreigner before, it takes time to establish work relationships and friends. Now I feel like my life is normal again after living here for so long, but at first it was fairly lonely, and I had to be very sociable and outgoing to make these relationships with my coworkers and the Japanese community. Of course it was easier to befriend people in the JET program, as we are all foreigners in the same boat banding together, but it takes a lot more to break into the Japanese community. So, if you are ready for an adventure that will completely invade your person space, but at the same time make it worth it, I will suggest giving the JET Program some thought.
Sam – Apply if you want the best experience in Japan other than KGU. Don’t hesitate while doing the application or you will fail. JET likes outgoing applicants. Most JETs are extroverted to some extent… Outgoing and positive vibes make great JETs. The biggest advice is to be flexible. The JET program loves flexible people who can adapt to any situation. If you can make light out of bad situation, then JET suits you.