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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Teaching English in Japan a Nightmare

I've heard the stories from those teaching English in Korea and thought they were bad, but they have NOTHING on Japan.

DAVID Dormon, a former department store salesman from Sydney, signed up to teach English in Japan and look where it got him: fighting a lawsuit against a powerful company, in a battle of wills with a supervisor who kept a shame file and grasping at an insecure visa. The lawsuit - over demotion, a pay cut and intimidation - concluded with a win and compensation for Dormon.

But he resigned anyway, ending the humiliation of dealing with Japan's leviathan language school, Nova, the country's biggest employer of foreigners. "I felt very stressed, alone and unappreciated and I was very happy to get out because I was hating every moment," he says.

His was an experience that is becoming increasingly representative for Australian teachers in Japan. "Australians are being exploited as English teachers in Japan, especially by Nova," he says.
Maybe it is because I'm American who talks mostly with folks from Korea, but I had never heard horror stories out of Japan. So what is it like there?

Jim Richards, 34, a former information technology worker from Wahroonga, has spent three years teaching English in Japan and says there are many traps. "A lot of people see the advertisements … and think it will be like schoolroom teaching and lots of fun, but when you get here it is more like doing factory line work," he says. "The whole teaching-English-in-Japan thing is a complete fraud and the experience can be quite bitter."

Recruits expecting excitement find monotony. The welcome mat is in reality a stopwatch-driven classroom that allots about six minutes of "free time" between lessons, a couple of minutes "warm-up" with students and a 40-minute class that must be done word-for-word from company textbooks.

Richards's advice to new hands is to think about going to China, South Korea or elsewhere in Asia. But for anyone set on working in Japan, the Nova language school should be the last option, he says. "If you come over with Nova then stay for six or seven months and start looking for another job." Once you find one, resign, and leave before the visa expires.

New teachers should also bring at least $2000 in savings because it is almost impossible to settle in and survive on the 200,000 yen ($2200) monthly starting wage, Richards said.

Richards resigned from Nova after getting fed up and now works at FCC in Fukuoka, which he says is better.
Wow! That sucks!

A final word from some foreign English teachers in Japan.

Kara Harris, 28, an American, also had a sour experience. She says she was in negotiations with Nova over her sixth consecutive contract when she asked to be made permanent. In reply the company offered her a 12-month extension. When Harris went to the union, Nova responded with a list of accusations including that she was unco-operative, hostile to other staff, had fallen asleep during work and was a poor dresser.

Successive courts have since found that Harris was unfairly treated by Nova, and she has negotiated a financial settlement. She is returning to the US where she will study labour law.

Farley denies that Nova objects to unions or singles out union members. Very few employees were affiliated with a union, he said, but "if there are problems people should come and talk to me about it".

For teachers including David Dormon, the end can be especially drawn-out. Two years ago, when he was 30, Dormon was penalised financially and demoted for going out with a 21-year-old student at the school. He was also transferred to another branch.

Even though he says he worked hard to redeem himself, more complaints about him piled up in a shame file kept on him by a supervisor and there were new rebukes. The end came in an Osaka court-supervised settlement that gave Dormon compensation and a reference letter outlining his commendable record.

"The court case was nothing more than me fighting against something wrongly done to me," Dormon says. "I was disgusted by their actions. I felt very wronged. I realised very quickly that all the assumptions that I had about my rights as an employee and as a person did not exist in Japan."