Feb 15, 2016
Some people find it easy to complain about being a teacher in Japan. I see it all the time on YouTube. Videos and top 10 lists flood the internet with titles like "Here's the ugly truth of teaching in Japan" or "Here is the REAL reason teaching in Japan sucks!" While, it can be argued that Japan might not be as advanced as other countries in English education, or that things need to change, these videos usually aren't about that at all. I often see them as nothing more than an opportunity to get "likes". Sometimes, I see it as people expecting Japan to fulfill some sort of misinformed dream they've had about what it's like to live/work in Japan. Others think that running away to Japan will fix all their problems. Then there are those that...well...just suck at teaching. Although I feel like I could write about any of those, this article isn't about that at all. What I want to talk about is the act of complaining about your job.
The act of complaining itself will destroy you as a teacher. Complaining does nothing more than distract you from your job. Sometimes you might see your ALT job as being nothing more than glorified babysitter. Other times you are going to see the workings of the Japanese education system and cringe. Some days you are going to absolutely love and never want to do anything else.
Somewhere in between all of that are your students. The reason you are teaching. Your job doesn't exist to make YOU happy (read that again, maybe a few times because I can't stress the importance enough). Your job exists to educate the students in your school or schools. That's huge! That should scare you! It most certainly scares me. To think that I have some sort of hand in the education of these children...it really makes me think about my actions. And my actions are constantly under a microscope in Japan. (Read my other article about your conduct in Japan.)
You are going to have some rough days, some rough classes and certainly some out of control students. It's happened to all of us. I should probably let you in on a little secret. I've never won a Grammy. Have you won a Grammy? I doubt it. Guess what? You're probably going to have to sing in class. Don't complain. I've also never won any awards from the Royal College of Art (voted as the top art school in the world by topuniversites.com seriously...I googled it). I'm going to assume you're in the same boat. Guess what? You're going to have to draw pictures in front of 40 students. Don't complain!
Your students are depending on you! You are their teacher. They might not always show it but if you are there for your students you will earn their trust. It's going to take some time if you're new to a school. Rest assured, if the students see you as someone that cares about their education, cares about them, they will open up. They will be more willing to learn, and be excited when they see you. Like I said this can take some time if you are new to a school. Usually this takes 2-3 months. People need time to figure out who you are. This is also true for the teachers you are going to work with as well. Take that time to show them you are someone they can trust.
There is no magical Utopian school where your students love you instantly. It's going to take time and it's going to take effort. More than anything it's going to take a person that is willing to be flexible and willing to accept a challenge. Nothing is perfect. Teaching English in Japan can be a challenge. At the end of the day you could complain about it or you could change it. As a teacher you should be creating an environment for your students where they feel free to make mistakes, free to ask questions, and free to learn. Don't hinder that by complaining.
I recently made a video about this as well. There might be some content overlap but give it a watch!
Andrew Higgins has been living in Japan full-time since 2012. He is a junior high school ALT, softball coach, lover of okonomiyaki (Osaka style), and all things Girls und Panzer. He makes YouTube videos about living in Japan. You can follow his adventures at facebook.com/HigginsInJapan
I think for any foreigner there can be tough adjustments to make when choosing to live in Japan, and it can be important to find safe places to vent those frustrations. That said, I don't know that an angsty free-for-all rant on the internet is one of those spaces. Plus it is always good, as I think you touched on a bit, to really figure out what your beef with any particular frustration is. A lot of the frustrations I hear (and admittedly those I have myself) can be boiled down to "they are an integrated part of a society that does x/y/z. I am from a society that does not." But I choose to enter the society that does x/y/z, so it's not their fault for annoying me! Slightly unrelated- I don't know if you have ever heard of "Let's Speak English!" but it's an online comic by another teacher who I think does a really great job of sharing her thoughts and quirks in a fun and constructive way. (http://www.marycagle.com/)
@KpQuePasa Thanks for the comment! I agree, I mean this blog has been a way for me to vent my frustrations so I can't blame people for wanting to do that. Something I did mention in the video there are legit reasons to complain. Violence, abuse, not getting paid...stuff like that. It's just when people complain about doing the things in their job description that gets to me. Especially, when some of them aren't really here to teach in the first place. And yes, that comic is pretty great!