Teaching was always something that I had wanted to try out and so when the opportunity presented itself in the form of a TEFL qualification and the ability to travel to another country, I jumped at the chance.
The demo lessons that I performed while on my TEFL course however, would in no way prepare me for the real thing.
For starters, while on the course I taught adults exclusively. This made things very easy for a person who has never taught before. They are very interested in learning and would therefore listen for the majority of the class.
I finished the course and looked into what kind of jobs were available in both Japan and all over South America. I still wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted to work. After researching though, I was set on Japan. It provided more opportunities and a much larger salary overall. This, combined with a reasonable cost of living made it much more appealing. Once that was set I had to decide on which kind of schools I wanted to work at.
There are two options here, the first of which is an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) position. This would mean working in an actual school, which was great, but also ran the risk of being placed in very rural areas. It also meant very long hours and I didn’t know if I liked teaching enough yet to want to work that length of time each day.
The second and more appealing option was working at an Eikaiwa (Conversation School). This meant far less hours of work but at a price because the hours of actual work would end up being in the evenings, essentially eating up any social time. As a night person anyway, this didn’t really bother me as I figured I would just do things after finishing work.
So I chose to work for an Eikaiwa. The specific company I won’t reveal, but it’s one of the bigger ones.
I had two weeks of incredibly intensive training in which we would get taught the curriculum and methods of teaching in the mornings from 8/9am to about 1pm, followed by immediately travelling to a school and either teaching or observing teachers and then getting back around 12am, only to wake up at 6am and do the same thing again. We also had to fit in studying for a test at the end of the two weeks. Once that was finished it was such a relief to be able to teach real lessons by myself.
So what are the actual lessons like? Well, I teach kids ranging from 6 months old, all the way up to 18 years old, so it’s an extremely wide range of lessons and needs a ridiculous amount of energy. I also teach at 4 different schools in the area on a four-week rotation. Essentially, my day will consist of leaving for work at around 2pm and either getting a train or riding my bike to a classroom. Once there I prepare for the 3-4 lessons that I will teach for the day.The length of the preparation work is not too long now. I can probably prepare 4 lessons in about 10-15 minutes. When I first started however, it would take at least an hour, as I had no idea what to do and would massively over-prepare. Also, once you go through a week’s worth of lessons, it almost becomes like second nature to just show up to another classroom and get everything I need setup quickly.
Teaching itself varies depending on the lessons. For example, when teaching the very young kids, half of the battle is keeping their focus and making the lessons as fun as possible. They have so much energy and so I make sure to include an active game within each section of the lesson that will get them up and moving, but that still helps them to learn the target language.
In terms of older kids, it’s still about keeping their interest but the active games tend to be replaced in favour of things such as Jenga and team games. These are teenagers who usually show up to my classes after a full day of lessons and another two club activities beforehand and so I try to take things easy with them. With the oldest classes games can be replaced altogether in favour of conversations. I may give them a topic and have them discuss it to the best of their ability using English.
Now, as for which classes are the best to teach, it ultimately depends on the kind of person that you are. If you are very extroverted and full of energy all the time then clearly the younger kids are more fun. However, I ultimately prefer teaching the older kids. It’s much more calm and because they are at a higher level, we can have conversations with each other and I feel like I get to know them better than the young kids. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy teaching the younger kids too. It can be a lot of fun and to be honest it has caused me to be a lot less self conscious about what I do in front of people – singing and dancing in front of 10 kids and all of their parents will do that to a person.
There are some frustrating things about the job, in terms of lack of flexibility with curriculum and unsociable hours, but I don’t regret my decision to do it for a second. It’s a great job and a lot of fun every day. I can’t say what it’s like being an ALT because I’ve never done it but I know that working for an Eikaiwa was a good decision overall for me personally and a great life experience.