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6 misconceptions about teaching English at a Japanese university

11 Comments
By Alfie Blincowe

A lot of teachers I’ve met in Japan dream of teaching English at a university. There is a prestige that comes with the job and a lot of perks, though it’s not as cushy as some may think. Unfortunately. Because these jobs are less common than assistant language teacher (ALT) or eikaiwa (English conversation school) positions there is a lot of false information and misconceptions out there, here are just six.

1. You don’t need an MA or Ph.D. to teach at a Japanese university

This is the biggest misconception. You’ll need these qualifications if you want to be a course leader or teach classes in Japanese, but to teach normal English classes at post-secondary institutions, the bar is a lot lower. I became a teacher at two universities in Japan at the age of 22 with only a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE, half of a master’s degree) but I worked with teachers who had never studied at graduate level.

worked for a dispatch company that sent me out to classes. I didn’t work directly for the universities, but I did teach their courses on campus. These jobs are surprisingly easy to come by, often employing people with no teaching experience and no Japanese language skills. These companies tend to hire applicants around April or September and will put you straight to work teaching university classes if they have them. For some of the fancier clients, the company may want to only send their most experienced teachers but larger universities can be desperate for anybody.

I met English teachers who were directly hired by universities, they held master’s degrees but in a variety of subjects. Some of the older teachers didn’t have a post-graduate degrees, but instead held over 20 years of teaching experience that was considered just as good. Recently, universities have shown a clear preference to applicants with an MA in TESOL or general teaching — but it’s still not mandatory.

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11 Comments
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Very badly thought-out piece.

Given the headings, calling it something like "6 truths about teaching at a university" would be more logical.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

but it was also happy to hire dispatch companies

You will have to resort to a lot off gestures and drawings

Of the six misconceptions listed, only the first one is actually a misconception, the others are factual statements, e.g. for number 2 to be a misconception it should read "It's a job for life".

You can't get the staff, not if you are only offering one-year contracts.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Of the six misconceptions listed, only the first one is actually a misconception, the others are factual statements, e.g. for number 2 to be a misconception it should read 'It's a job for life'."

Exactly. Boy, that was confusing at first. The author's point with number 2 is that it is a misconception to think of teaching English at a Japanese university as a job for life. Some people can make a career out of it. I know one person, not a citizen of Japan, with an M.A. in education who's been teaching at Japanese universities for close to 20 years. But this person has bounced around every few years with full-time positions at numerous schools and always teaches extra classes at other universities on the side to supplement income, and I don't think tenure will ever be a possibility without a PhD in hand.

It's hard for me to see the appeal of academic employment if tenure is never going to be a possibility.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is not a university teaching position you are describing. You are describing a dispatch employee sent to teach conversation as secondary part of the curriculum.

The Ministry has guidelines for hiring of instructors and professors and according to the background you described, you would not have made the initial cut.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think I read this a few days ago when it didn’t have a comment section here (and I don’t do Facebook so couldn't comment over there). Didn’t read it again now but I remember being initially confused because from the headline and first paragraph one would expect the numbered items to be the misconceptions. But reading the contents, it seems otherwise.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

6 misconceptions about teaching English at a Japanese university

I'm so glad that those misconceptions have been put right. So now I know that you do need an MA or Ph.D. to teach at a Japanese university, that it is a job for life, that teaching at a university is just lecturing, that you do get to control everything about the classes.... and that some of your students might have "never seen a blonde person before".

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I wasn't aware that universities used hakken people in the same way as ALT jobs at schools.

I'm probably naive but I would have expected better of universities. That's even having heard various stories about lecturers not getting tenured any more.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yeah the article makes it quite clear what level of qualifications are required.

I wouldn’t go around telling people my profession doesn’t require education or certification (in some cases). Kind of puts doubt on everyone even those who do have it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Interesting article Alfie. You seem to be enjoying yourself and nurturing hobbies that may lead to a future profession. Many mock English teachers but having fallen into the corporate golden handcuffs trap I am very nostalgic for a job in which I used to laugh a lot and learn interesting things about Japan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

These jobs seem to correspond to grad students from other countries who would work in the language lab at my university.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's impossible to generalize about any of these things - great differences exist, even within univeristies in the same city or region. Where I teach, everyone other than the adjunct faculty has a Ph.D. About the only generalization you can accurately make is that the further you go out in the countryside, the lower the level of qualifications required of "English teachers"- which is a function of supply and demand, and the fact that they administrators like them because they can be used to decorate advertising brochures, and can be hired and fired a lot more easily than their Japanese counterparts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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