Some readers’ responses to “The curious case of the eroding eikaiwa salary” by Patrick Budmar (Zeit Gist, July 3):
JET program is a dinosaur
Your article paints the image that only JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) ALTs (assistant language teachers) connect to their community, and that they leave Japan with continuing strong connections. However, the reality is that most of these ALTs see Japan as the place where they were worshiped and idealized as celebrities. Many don’t even bother to learn to speak Japanese beyond ordering a beer and some sushi.
I was an ALT on the JET program from 1997-2000 and lived in the country until January of this year with my wife, who is Japanese, and son. During my time as an ALT, I participated in various local festivals and studied the language and culture.
I felt the celebrity status and rode the wave of super-stardom as an ALT in a small city, and I understand how it can be intoxicating. However, I also tried my utmost to provide the best service I could. After leaving the JET program, I opened my own small eikaiwa (English conversation school) and continued to participate and contribute to the community.
The majority of my adult students were elementary school teachers, and over the years I kept hearing similar complaints about the quality of the JET ALTs now working in their schools. Their main complaint was a general lack of teaching ability and any real interest in Japan. Most felt like the ALTs were simply there on a working holiday and really didn’t care about whether or not they did their job.
This became apparent to me when a school that I was teaching at asked me to mentor a new JET ALT who seemed to be unhappy in her job. After giving a demonstration lesson and showing her how she could improve her teaching, she quickly told me that she didn’t care and was only interested in the job because it was easy, paid reasonably well and was close to Asia for holidays. Others that I met would regularly skip school on Monday simply because they were too hung over to go.
In my mind, doing away with the JET program and focusing that money on revamping the Japanese English curriculum would be money better spent.
A couple of things the government could do to increase cultural understanding, awareness and English teaching would be: a) to send graduate Japanese English teachers to an English-speaking country for a year to improve their English and their cultural understanding, and b) with regard to foreign English teachers, hire professional teachers who are correctly qualified and actually want to be in Japan.
Below I have highlighted some quotes from the article and commented on them individually.
• “Lackner has also seen the industry become more sophisticated over the years, with job listings increasingly demanding that applicants have teaching qualifications, especially from a ‘respected body.’
” ‘Teaching qualifications are now necessary to apply for some positions and are important, as it shows that one has a certain level of knowledge and is serious about the profession,’ he says. ‘As such, it will definitely help secure the job — and at a better pay grade.’ “
This should be normal practice. Would you willingly take lessons from someone who wasn’t qualified?
Having a TESL/TEFL qualification should be the minimal requirement to work at any school. How can you expect fresh graduates with no experience and no qualification to be any help in the classroom?
Anyone who has taught in a Japanese elementary, junior and senior high school knows that the image of perfect students eager to learn is a myth. Japanese schools deserve better teachers who are passionate and professional about their job.
• “While private eikaiwa institutions are based on business models designed to generate revenue and maximize profits, the original purpose of putting ALTs in schools was to improve the English of Japan’s youth.”
This generalization is wrong. Most eikaiwa serve to do exactly that: teach Japan’s youth to speak English.
Ask yourself why are there so many eikaiwa. The answer is simple: The schools are not doing the job. Most students after completing 10 years of formal English schooling are unable to communicate even the simplest of things. Therefore, in order to learn to speak, they need to go to eikaiwa.
The Japanese English teaching style hasn’t changed; it’s still heavily grammar based and test-orientated. Many schools rely on rote learning and regularly ask their students to memorize up to 100 sentences that they will then be tested on.
This style of teaching does not create English speakers and, regardless of how many ALTs are sent to these schools, the ability of the students to communicate in English will not change until the system does. Anyone who disagrees is in denial.
• “Horowitz sees (the deterioration of English-language teaching in state schools) as a direct consequence of local governments’ newfound freedom to hire ALTs from private companies.
” ‘I think the quality of English teaching is often reduced and the privately contracted ALTs do not get to know or connect with the community in the same way that JET ALTs often do,’ Horowitz says. ‘The result is that all the potential short-term and especially long-term benefits are not captured.’ “
This is a baseless statement. Private ALTs and JET ALTs are essentially the same thing; the only difference is that unlike JET ALTs, private ALTs can be fired for not doing their job, whereas JET ALTs simply get ignored while the school waits for the next intake.
Both private and JET ALTs require a degree of some sort. JET ALTs are not trained, nor is there any on-the-job training (not including workshops by other ALTs, which is basically the blind leading the blind). Some private companies require applicants to have some TESL/TEFL training.
• “There over 50,000 former JETs living all around the world, with many of them maintaining a strong connection to Japan and helping to facilitate business between Japan and other countries . . .”
This is a lovely image, but I wonder, how many of those ALTs really understood Japan? How many actually looked past their celebrity-like status and saw Japan? The majority of ALTs I have encountered were more interested in looking cool and being seen to be cool than actually connecting with Japan.
• “Some panelists urged reform of the (JET) program and greater oversight of spending, although the panel didn’t go as far as to suggest a specific budget cut.”
The JET program needs to be overhauled. It’s a dinosaur; it needs to be brought into the 21st century.
Emphasis needs to be put on the quality of the teachers and not the number of graduates. There should be professional training set up to aid these teachers, and Japanese language study and tests should be mandatory.
Hamilton, New Zealand
Salaries dropping, hours rising
This article was very interesting and informative.
I have one comment about the folllowing paragraph: “The question of how average starting salaries for teaching jobs currently advertised on Gaijinpot.com compare with those when the site started in 1999 is ‘impossible to answer’ because the industry has evolved and become more diversified, says Peter Lackner, director at GPlus Media, which owns and operates the site.”
I’ve been looking at job ads on Gaijinpot for several years, and it’s been pretty obvious that starting salaries have been decreasing and working hours increasing.
I think the reason that it was impossible to answer has nothing to do with the industry evolving (which it isn’t) and something to do with not wanting to upset the companies who advertise on the site.
The rest of the article was spot on but I thought the above point was very misleading.
On a mission to aid ailing Japan
I am returning to Japan on the JET program 10 years after my first stint (2002, the peak year).
I am not coming back for the money. I am taking a major pay cut from my government job in Australia. Not only am I taking a pay cut, but the JET program has also cut its pay rate in the first year, while keeping it “stable” in the second year and increasing pay in the third year. This is ostensibly intended to encourage ALTs to stay three years. However, on average it sees a slightly lower wage than ALTs’ wages prior to 2012.
This is on top of a wage that has not increased in over 10 years — and more like 15. So, inflation, cost of living, etc., are disregarded.
As many readers will know, JETs are paid more than eikaiwa ALTs, but have more restrictions on outside work. Either way, it would be hard to argue that either group are paid “well”.
So, you have a system where the work is the same or more and you are paying people less than they were paid a decade ago? Sign me up?!
So why am I coming back to Japan? Because in my opinion, Japan is in trouble and needs to get itself into gear, and I would like to help.
Japan has a lot of big issues to face: an ageing population, low birthrate, lessening of power in the manufacturing and tech industries, absolutely abysmal English speaking stats for university students studying overseas . . . The list goes on.
I am no super-ALT, but if I can get kids and adults excited not just about English, but visiting other countries and embracing new ideas and different ways of thinking, then I want to give it a shot.
If they don’t want to do that, well . . . sayonara.
Blame lies with dispatch firms
You could also put a fair amount of the blame (for falling salaries among English teachers) on the dispatch companies who have largely cornered the (ALT) market between them, offer poor, poor service, little to no support to teachers (despite their claims) and reduced salaries with no benefits, whilst often taking 50 percent of what they charge the client.
These institutions are doing no one any favours and deserve scrutiny.
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