Why do you come here? A question that inundates any weary traveller from curious Japanese nationals. Perhaps a slightly more educated question would be why do you stay here? So long after you originally intended? Perhaps, after leaving your loved ones behind, arriving fresh F.O.B, bachelor’s degree clutched firmly in trembling fingers, you realize you found something or someone that anchors you to your now-adopted homeland.
Maybe the job market where you come from, in its current state, can only be described as hostile. Necessitating the need to shiv the more experienced applicant in order to climb the next greasy rung. Either way, that sudden visa extension means one thing and one thing alone; you my friend, need a job.
Interestingly enough, if Eigo be the words you speak and you speak those words well, you’re a pretty valuable commodity. Possessing this valuable skill opens up the job market significantly, with recruiters often replying the same day of your application, stumbling over each other for the opportunity to cage the Gaijin and make it dance. Two of the most common options; teach adults one-to-one in a booth for a massive conglomerate or become an ALT (Assistant Language teacher) for a massive conglomerate working in tandem with a local school board, both have their advantages and drawbacks.
Booth teaching will see you in a suit, sat through maybe a couple of days training at a push and hammer home the only true maxim; whatever the client wants, the client gets. Sit in your assigned booth, teaching and discussing whatever the client decides; be that English, your home country, politics, your marital status or your sexual orientation.
On your worst day you’ll be told (as a native speaker) that you’re incorrect, nigh on impossible to understand, indescribably ugly, too fat or you have a very pretty mouth. On your best day though, you’ll get on like a house on fire and genuinely be able to brighten someone’s day, maybe even making a friend in the process. Be warned and prepared for anyone who walks through your door, usually a broad spectrum of personal hygiene; Stinkers, Scratchers, Sweaters and Space-Invaders. Tag that little lottery draw with an equally impressive array of social skill levels; ranging from the equivalent of opening the Ark of the Covenant to someone so dry you get the impression they just want you to flog them like the dead horse they are.
Sexual harassment can also make a weekly appearance, especially for female teachers, but these are often isolated incidents and can be resolved by grinding your manager’s head against the wall until they concede that their lucrative client actually is a sexual deviant.
Booth teaching requires little to no preparation, can be pleasing to the bank balance if you book well and if you’re bored, tired or hung over you can coast through a lesson on your laurels. Just ask a rhetorical question.
ALT is a different breed altogether. Set schedule, reliable pay-cheque and it’s never, ever boring. Clientele ranges from screaming 1 st graders all the way up to utterly disinterested high-schoolers.
Your placement is also entirely at the mercy of the school board; while some lucky recruits get partnered with one school, getting to know the layout, pupils and staff intimately, others get lumbered with four, five or even six different schools. Should you be the latter you’ll be required to memorize the school routes, classroom locations, teacher names, and learning materials for each institution. Deep joy.
This of course is worst-case scenario and if you’re up for the challenge people are in sore need of you. While each of these two options has it’s own wildly complex matrix of intricacies, here is a crash course; booth teaching is generally more relaxed and allows total control over your teaching style and working hours. It requires little to no Japanese language skills and you can have some pretty interesting conversations while learning about the country you now inhabit.
Being an ALT is cultural induction via immersion method. It’s energetic, fast, gritty and requires a keen, adaptive mind. Never a dull day and your students become good friends in relatively little time. Japanese helps.
People come and go from both professions, usually switching from one to the other after finding an obvious preference. Booth teachers can’t stand the idea of being an ALT and vice versa. So rest assured that if you don’t like one, you’re destined for the other.