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Teachers of English face unregulated, unfair system at universities

Dear minister of education Tatsuo Kawabata,

Regardless of education and experience, once an English instructor starts work at certain universities in Japan, they are placed at the bottom of the list for promotion or advancement — a practice which ignores the internationally recognized principle of being able to transfer experience from job to job as long as one remains in the same profession. Surely, this can’t be right.

In short, this means that a highly educated instructor with better qualifications and more experience than another instructor may have fewer advancement opportunities and teach less classes — and consequently be paid less — than a more junior instructor.

For example, while working for a university in Tokyo, the director of the Foreign Language Department verbally agreed to allocate me more than six classes per week. At the end of my first year, I began to ask for exactly that. At the beginning of my second year, not only did I not receive them but found that an instructor with less than half my experience and no Master’s had been given the two extra classes I was asking for.

The savings incurred by practices such as these are minimal to universities, but the cost to students is incalculable.

Once a person becomes a university instructor, there are no quality controls in place regarding their teaching. In language schools and some vocational schools (two-year colleges), most instructors are observed and given advice to improve their teaching.

University instructors are not observed. The only quality control governing the classroom practices of university instructors are the student surveys that they are required to conduct towards the end of their courses. I have actually met a first year university instructor who curried favor with his students by giving them candy on a regular basis.

Instructors also have no control over which classes they will teach from year to year and, sometimes, not even the number of classes, which directly affects their income. Therefore, highly educated foreign instructors working on a part-time basis have little or no control over their annual incomes.

I have been a university instructor for the past four years and have taught English in Japan for the past 12 years. I also have a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate and a Masters in Applied Linguistics. I was told in early 2009 that I had a good job. However, due to the number of classes I was allocated, even with my qualifications, I was too embarrassed to admit that I was living below the Japanese poverty line. KARMO THARN Tokyo

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