Why are there so many bad English teachers in Japan? Part Three

Here is the next part of my serious attempt at examining why there might be so many bad teachers in Japan. Having already examined why worse teachers might come out to Japan, now it’s time to examine:

Why do good teachers leave Japan?

Note that this is now the new, improved version of this post, organised by categories and with the proviso (as demanded by the punters on Rave’s ESL Au Lait) that it is possible that some bad teachers leave for some of the same reasons:

Personal Reasons

  • Women often leave because of the lack of dating opportunities
  • Those that don’t have this problem still find they lack female friends due to female friends leaving
  • Lack of progress with learning the language and/ or making Japanese friends makes people want to try somewhere “easier”
  • The lack of a summer break like most schools in Europe take means, strangely, that people are likely to think their time is up after a year and leave at the same time as all their friends do- usually at the end of a one year contract
  • The difficulty of meeting new people, especially in big cities
  • Wanting to be accepted as a local but realizing it will never happen
  • Not wanting your children to go to a Japanese school or university

Career Advancement and Personal Development

  • Many Japanese institutions have a visible or glass ceiling at how far non-Japanese can climb up the ladder, meaning people leave after reaching a certain level or don’t bother sticking around to get promoted because they know it can only lead so far
  • Lack of opportunities to take further qualifications in Japan, e.g. even people in Tokyo who want to do a DELTA must do so by distance learning, inconceivable of in any other capital city I know, there are no CELTA courses available, and the local MA in TESOL courses often demand some level of Japanese and/ or don’t have a good reputation abroad
  • A lack of people, even DoSs, with a DELTA who can help you when you take a distance course
  • The lack of opportunity to become a trainer on such courses
  • Workshops you can go to are often aimed at a very basic level of teaching knowledge and therefore unlikely to be of interest to experienced and qualified teachers
  • The lack of a clear, obvious career path into other, better schools etc. University jobs, for example, are usually not advertised, the well respected chains like Bell and IH they people sometimes move up to elsewhere do not exist, and the British Council is shrinking its operations.
  • One of the steps forward in terms of pay can be to take an Assistant Language Teacher job, but as this means teaching with another teacher it often doesn’t feel like a step forward in terms of your career
  • You can earn and/ or save more elsewhere
  • The lack of opportunity to teach exam classes other than TOEIC or to become an examiner (for example, the British Council in Tokyo is not accepting applications for IELTS examiners)

The other staff

  • The negativity of the other teachers
  • A feeling that “If all these people can do this job without complaints and/ or and get paid the same, maybe I should be doing something else”
  • Managers who are younger and/ or have less experience and qualifications

Not feeling at the centre of the “TEFL world”

  • The materials used by schools are often 5 or more years behind those used in Europe
  • Because Japan is not a big market for the UK and US ELT publishers, work like pre-publication testing is not often available

The students

  • The fact that the students don’t seem so seriously interested in learning the language and so make limited progress- only studying half an hour a week, using company classes as a chance to relax because they are overworked, not doing homework or anything else in English outside class etc. etc.
  • If students are happy just to be entertained you don’t feel like you are being pushed to improve

The materials and other resources

  • The lack of teaching technology such as Interactive Whiteboards, or even sometimes OHPs and photocopiers
  • The lack of quality of the locally produced textbooks etc. that you sometimes have to use
  • The idea that even while your ability to teach Japanese students is improving, your ability to teach other nationalities is possibily getting worse

Not matching your training

  • A lack of groups of 8 to 12 students that people are usually trained to teach on their CELTA etc.
  • Very few classes with even one student who doesn’t have Japanese as a first language
  • A lack of flaps
  • A lack of preparation time or rest time between lessons
  • A lack of a range of levels
  • Having to teach a mix of ages


  • The difficulties of working in a Japanese office
  • Good teachers leaving becomes self perpetuating- because some good teachers leave the other good teachers don’t want to stay

Standard of living

  • The chance to live in a more beautiful city elsewhere
  • The chance to afford a bigger and/ or otherwise better flat outside Japan
  • Being able to afford the time and money to fly home more often from other countries
  • Lower tax and medical insurance in some places
  • Not wanting to pay into the Japanese national pension system
  • No high interest local accounts to pay your savings into
  • The falling yen
  • The difficulties in getting mortages (especially joint ones), credit cards etc.
  • Because wages have been static at best for years, people who might have wanted to stay in teaching end up applying for management jobs to keep their wages climbing and then drop out completely due to the difficulties of being a manager and/ or not really wanting to be one in the first place
  • The expense of exploring further afield in Japan and flying to elsewhere in Asia
  • Although it is also experienced by most Japanese, the commuting, long hours, cramped accomodation etc. can be avoided by moving to another country
  • Lack of provision for working mothers

If anyone has any suggestions on anything else I can add, please let me know. I should also point out that it isn’t as bad as the list above could make it appear- I am, after all, still here teaching in a big chain of language schools after 4 years!

This entry was posted in ALT, Business English and ESP, CELTA, ELT publishing, IELTS, Learner motivation, Teacher training, Teaching English Abroad, Teaching English in Japan, Technology, TEFL, TEFL certificate, TEFL qualifications, TESOL, textbooks, TOEIC, Working conditions. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why are there so many bad English teachers in Japan? Part Three

  1. Pingback: Crackdown On NOVA at GraBlog

  2. Steven says:

    I would probably add that some of these are local to a particular school or misconceptions by the teacher in question. I would certainly argue that a few on that list are just non issues or people being extremely picky. You add a disclaimer at the bottom that it’s not all bad but I would suggest that go at the top, just to make the tone of the article less negative for the reader.

  3. demawo says:

    Hi, I take it you are talking about English teachers working for private companies? Reason I ask is that I am an ALT with a Junior High School and really enjoy teaching with another teacher.

  4. Alex Case says:

    I don’t know why this nearly four year old post started getting so much attention now, but as with many things on blogs it was part of a conversation going on at the time that it isn’t really possible to understand properly out of that context. This is a much better post on this general topic, imho:


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