Please think twice about becoming an English teacher.
Sure, it’s probably the easiest way for a native English-speaker to find work, but there are some things that you need to know. The whole purpose of this article is to educate you on the practices of the so-called “Haken Gaisha” or the Recruiting Services (head-hunter company, agency) that are employed all across Japan.
In my 12 years of employ within Japan, I have worked for 3 separate Haken Gaishas. I won’t name them because then I will be legally liable. The most of them share many common traits, but some are certainly better than others. I am currently in the employ of one of the worst I have ever had the non-pleasure of knowing.
Let’s take a quick look at the past.
The first Haken I ever worked for came shortly after I moved to the Tokyo area after 7 years living and working for basically the same, small company the entire time. I left because of personal reasons and a desire to do something new and to possibly “up” my career.
The first haken I worked for placed me in an all-girl’s, private JH & HS. I had the most fun imaginable at this particular school because of the wonderful people I worked with, the ability to participate in whatever after-school club I wanted, etc.
I should note here that I was the only foreign teacher contracted through an agency, whilst the other 5 foreign teachers were direct hires. Alas, due to financial cuts and other restructuring endeavours, I was the first to be let go. Goodbye to the best year and a half ever.
Of course, my agency/school didn’t have the decency to let me go on the off season, but rather right after the end of 1st term in July… which makes it very difficult to find any *real* work during the summer vacation. I picked up a temporary English teaching job whilst hoping something else would turn up.
My next stop was with another Haken Gaisha to teach at yet another all-girl’s JH/HS, but this time I would only be teaching JH level, whereas before, I taught all levels except for the upper HS grades. At this particular school, there were just me and one other foreign teacher. The other teacher was also employed by the same Haken and had been at that school for 6 years. She never failed to remind me of this fact. Good for you. My first year at this school was relatively uneventful and fun. The second year was utter hell, and both me and my co-worker couldn’t understand what it was. Why things suddenly went to crap. It turned out that her father was very ill, and so she needed to leave. I was very unhappy at this school and received absolutely no help in reigning in belligerent students. I had the worst time with my JH2 (8th Grade). All of my JH1 were angels and a joy to teach, JH2 was it and miss but the majority were shit, and JH3 were hardly ever present, mentally–some were good, others were just as bad as JH2, maybe worse.
Now, this particular Haken that I worked for came for periodic “visits” to the school, which is great. That means they’re actually trying to do their job by being a facilitator between the foreign teacher and the school. But no matter what problems or claims I had regarding the job, a class, a teacher, nothing was ever done. It was always the JAPANESE teacher’s side that took precedence. No matter how much information I relayed or evidence I gave, I saw absolutely no results in my favor.
At this particular school, there was one Japanese teacher who I knew didn’t like me. The first year that I team-taught with her, I had no qualms working with her. I liked her nonchalant approach toward teaching in which should a topic come up you could have the freedom to expand on that particular topic if the class is still engaged and interested. But this particular teacher was the most lazy individual I have ever had the non-pleasure to know in my entire life. She would always pass on her own work to someone else, and make it seem like that’s the OTHER person’s job. Um, no. Your work is not part of my contract. There were many other issues that I had with her, but personally I had nothing against her, even though I knew she had a ton of things against me, and I knew she actively enjoyed in talking about me behind my back to any and all teachers. I will never claim that I am perfect and I do occasionally make a mistake, but I felt like she would quietly report on my flaws to my supervisor whenever possible. I don’t need that. Who the hell do I report to regarding your plethora of blunders?
Generally, the contract renewal discussion will occur sometime around November or at the latest December. I didn’t hear anything until late February (the end of the Japanese school year is at the end of March), and this was the news that my contract would not be renewed. I entirely blame that one teacher who hated me. I didn’t particularly like her either, but I didn’t allow that to affect my teaching. It really made no difference. Some of the classes I unfortunately taught with her were some of my best groups of kids. They were fun, no thanks to her. And still I was suddenly out of a job. Thanks, agency for sticking up for me. I asked them what the deal was, whether they could help me get another job through a different school, and I was pretty much ignored.
Thankfully, my contract was still through the end of March even though my classes were finished at the beginning of March. I received my last paycheck at the beginning of April, which gave me about a month or two to apply for new jobs.
There was NOTHING available at this time because the main rush occurs during the early winter months, at least 3 months before the new school year. I went to as many interviews as humanly possible throughout April, but nothing really turned out. There were several that I thought I would get a call-back, but nothing.
Eventually, I got desperate and was ready to sign anything that was offered to me. And yet, when I got two job offers, for a moment I thought… Wait a minute. What if I can work TWO jobs for a little while? That way, I could pay off my debt and maybe make a profit for once!! WOW!!!
I was so excited!
The first job I went in to sign the contract was for the 3rd Haken Gaisha. I wasn’t all that keen on this particular one but they told me that it was only a MORNING class and I could leave in the early afternoon if I wanted to work somewhere else until the eventing, essentially earning two separate wages! I was also told that I would only be teaching 3 classes in the morning! Imagine my surprise when I went into the office to sign the contract only to find out that I would be stuck at that school until 4pm every day. Um, this is not what we discussed. I wouldn’t be able to teach the other job up in Tokyo from the afternoon with this.
I didn’t have much of a choice in the moment and signed the contract, thinking that I could go back on my decision quickly if I needed to. I spoke with the other school if I might be able to teach only Friday and Saturday (my other days off, since I would only be teaching M-Th), and they seemed interested with that, but later I heard not a peep from them, even when I tried to contact them myself. They ignored me.
So, essentially, I was stuck with the 3rd Haken Gaisha no matter what.
I was dispatched to three different kindergartens about 40 min by train from my house. It’s not an unprecedented distance by any means (I probably traveled further for some of my other schools), but station-to-school walking distance also figures into everything. My Haken Gaisha told me that all three schools that I would be traveling to were “close” to the station. The nearest station is maybe 15 min by foot. Is this considered close? The furthest is about 23-25 min. Is this also considered close? No. They lied to me. Plain and simple.
Also, when I went in to sign the contract with this 3rd Haken Gaisha, I told them that I had been living off the last paycheck for about a month and I needed to be paid promptly the following month (May). They told me due to their payment schedules, I wouldn’t be paid until mid-June, which would be almost exactly 2 months after my last paycheck. I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to stretch my funds that thin… and told them so, asking if they could possibly give me an advance to help cover things, and I was told, “Okay, we’ll look into it for you.” I didn’t hear a response to this issue at all until I went in for another brief visit to drop off my Residence Card and Passport for them to renew it for me (a 1st for me). In all my 12 years of living and working in Japan, I had always renewed my Visa MYSELF. I had never been asked to relinquish my personal information to a company to get it done for me. I was very uneasy about this, but what more could I do? I had no choice but did what they asked. At the same time, I asked them about the question I had asked before–about the advanced payment. I was told, from the same American man, that he didn’t have an answer yet and that their financial advisor had already left for the day. How convenient.
I heard back from them regarding this issue about a 4-7 days later from a Japanese worker at the company who told me that the company does NOT pay out any advances, whether you’re Japanese or foreign.
Now, wait a minute. This sounds like something that had already been set in stone, and yet the American dude didn’t know the answer when I asked about it…TWICE!? Yeah, he blatantly lied in my face, TWICE. Insert two particular vulgar words here: _________ ____!
So, I was left to fend for myself through a little more than 2 months on one paycheck. Thanks to my parents, who had sent me money orders for Christmas or my birthday before, I had a little bit of a savings. I went and cashed that money and was able to make ends meet.
Then I heard word about my dad’s condition. I knew he was going in for more heart surgery, but I didn’t think much of it. He had already gone in for similar work, why would this be any different? He needed a triple-bypass this time, though. I knew it was serious, but… I couldn’t allow myself to get worked up about it.
Eventually, I heard from my siblings that the surgery was successful but he suffered a major stroke in the process…and his prognosis was uncertain. For the next week and a half, his condition worsened, and I didn’t know what to do. I had no savings. I had no money to go home.
I spewed word of this to the principal of my school, whom I did not have a direct contract with (there is no legal connection between us whatsoever), and they felt compelled to help me go home. They purchased a 2-way ticket for me to go home and say goodbye to my father with the hopes and my reassurance that I would be back. Of course, I would be back. I couldn’t leave all my things and my cat stranded in Japan!!
I came back and almost instantly got a message from my agency. “We heard from the school that you’re back in Japan. Why didn’t you tell us? This is against Article 2345566 of the contract! Contact us ASAP!” I’m not kidding, it was at least 3 pages of pure text.
… … … … …
I had just lost my father.
I am severely jet lagged.
I also managed to catch a wonderful cold en route.
I was in no mood to deal with their bullshit and I told them as such.
“Thanks for your concern but I do not have the time nor the energy to read your wall of text at this time.”
The next couple of days was a blur because I was literally unconscious for much of it. I got back in Japan the evening of Monday, June 20. I wrote to my principal that I arrived but asked for a couple extra days to recoup due to jet lag and illness, of which they agreed. This is probably why my agency was pissed because… I didn’t message them first. Sorry, I was tired and felt more obligated to the SCHOOL above all else.
Then I got word from the agency that they found out the school paid for my airfare and I was told this was against Article 6462845 and that I was required to repay this loan ASAP.
Yes. I am okay with repaying this. I certainly will. But they specifically told me not to worry about it. It was a gift. They knew what predicament I was in and wanted to help. As a fellow human being.
I reiterated this to the Japanese lady at the agency, but I received no word until the American piped up and acted all chummy as he gave me his “thoughts and prayers”. Total butter language. I can see right through this asshole. I don’t believe anything he says any more. Once he lied to my face twice, he lost any respect I might have had for him.
The next day I heard the agency call the school regarding the airfare issue. I know this because I was in the room at the time and I could clearly hear what my boss was saying. She repeated several times that the funds were a GIFT. Not borrowed money to be repaid at a later date. A GIFT. The conversation seemed to end naturally and I thought that would be the last I would hear of the issue.
A day or two later, I got another email from the American regarding this issue as though the conversation the agency had with my boss never occurred.
Um…… what? Yes, Article 346582 says that an Employee may not borrow or lend to anyone. Alas, I never “borrowed” or “lent” anything. A gift is a gift. The contract listed NOTHING about a gift.
I received ANOTHER email from the American regarding this today when I wrote inquiring about my pay over the summer break in August. He said that even though the school has no classes in August I would still be paid–and he actually said YAY! here. LOL #$%6 ‘()
I am so beyond tired of dealing with these leaches. I am emotionally drained from my family issue, losing my father… I am not in the mood to deal with any extra bullshit from a fucking agency who is only out for themselves. No. f-c- y-u.
And it’s the kids that will suffer the most if I leave abruptly. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to cause a headache for my principals who have only treated me with kindness. I don’t want to leave these wonderful people and place that I’ve had the most fun at in these last couple of months. I don’t want to. But this agency is FORCING me to.
I was also informed by my agency that for the 6 days that I missed when I went to say goodbye to my father and attend his funeral that I would be held liable for those missed days. There is no such thing as Bereavement Leave. I would be docked my monthly pay a pro-rated fee. 220,000yen/30=7,333 x 6 = 43,998. That’s a little more than $400. So my monthly salary in August will be less than $1700. Thanks. I really appreciate that gift. I lost more than my father. I lost my financial standing. I’ve already used all of my savings that my mom and dad sent to me for Christmas & my birthday in April. I have nothing else to lead on but my US CREDIT CARD, which I have no direct way to pay other than wiring funds to the bank through my Japanese credit card, which I just paid off thanks to my income tax return this year.
I’m just so exhausted. I can’t handle any more. I don’t want to leave Japan, but I don’t see what more I can do. I don’t want to leave my company, but I may have to. I have a new interview at a different school on Monday… I don’t know my odds with this new thing… but it may be my last hope. I don’t really know. I’ll keep trying until I’m utterly out of options.
After 12 years living in Japan, this is a shit situation to be in. Is this all there is?
There is nothing special about me. I am good at my job but I have no higher level degree. I came to Japan shortly after graduating with a degree in Creative Writing. I know how to write, I know how to edit, I know how to coach for speeches. But there is nothing special about me. I am unconventional. I don’t like following strict rules. I like to act in the moment, be creative, and entertaining. Learning English as a Foreign Language can be so hugely boring and for so many of these kids, this is their one chance to become interested in learning English and/or the world in general.
So much about Japan is about continuing the status quo, especially with GIRLS. I saw so how these girls were coached and trained to be “good girls” that it made me sick. What the fuck does it mean to be a “good girl”? Submissive? Know how to cook? Able to support her man? Able to have children? Given Japan’s declining population, I can understand to some degree, but this sheltering of girls, treating them like fragile, million dollar pieces of cherished crystal… It made me sick. They didn’t learn anything about accountability. They didn’t learn anything about how to be in individual or how to do anything on their own. Because they’re fragile girls. We need to be gentle and help them! BULLSHIT! They can be held accountable for their own shit behavior just as the boys. If a girl is acting belligerent toward her teacher, she will be held accountable. She can’t complain to the Japanese pair teacher to get her own way. That pair teacher has no right to complain to the Head Japanese English teacher about said foreign teacher because a student threw a hissy fit. That is complete bullshit.
So, seriously. If you love Japan and think it’d be a great way for you to come here by being an English teacher, think again. You could get lucky, and I was for much of the time that I was in Nagoya, but… there are too many foreigners in the Tokyo area looking for work… It gives employers the ability to employ the least experienced person at the minimum wage, whilst us experienced, long-stays get the shaft. This is so wrong on so many levels.
And if you’re wondering why I won’t out these agencies by name… it’s because I can’t. It’s in my contract. They would hold me liable for “damages” to their company and sue me.
Just take this in general. Not all agencies are created the same. There are better ones. There are sucky ones. And the sucky one’s are clever enough to figure out how to use the law to their advantage, and this includes gag orders to cover their own asses…and it hinders other innocent people looking for work to know the history of an employer–to know what they’re getting into.
So… be careful. Do your research as much as possible. As questions. Don’t sign a contract even if you feel like you have to. You’ll be better off in the long run than to be gagged and chained with no other outlet.