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1/11/2007

6 months on…

It’s been 6 months since I came home from Japan. It’s probably safe now to announce the semi-obvious: yes, I worked for NOVA. I didn’t have a pleasant time. This wasn’t because of the students, I might add. I had a great time getting to know them and befriending them, and I still keep in contact with a group of them.

No, what gave me the irrits was the extremely corporate nature of NOVA. And yes, it’s a corporation, with an aim to make profit. But there is such a thing as ethical profiteering, as well as corporate social behaviour. NOVA is an example of why the stock exchange is evil. Before I even arrived in Japan, the share price for NOVA had been dropping. Then in May this year, it was announced that NOVA was expecting a net loss of 3 billion yen (about US$30,000,000) due to expanding the number of branches to the point where each school was fighting not to lose students to another NOVA branch. All this resulted in NOVA trying to save money and make money any way it could, just to make the shareholders happy.

It was simply stupid business management. NOVA had a number of “satellite” schools that were staffed by teachers and admin from the main school in the area. These satellite schools would have a very small number of students, be open only a few days a week and would cost more in rent and overheads than the income received from the students.

Did you ever hear that story about how McDonalds refuses to close any stores? At best, they will relocate them, but never close them down, because it looks “bad” to the general public. Well, NOVA seemed to have much the same policy, despite the obvious losses they were incurring.

The large number of schools meant that they were always understaffed, and would basically hire any monkey who had scrapped through a year of college. The teachers were often disgruntled, due to some of the illegal activities and bizarre policies that NOVA perpetuated, as well as the constant overtime pushed onto them, whatever personal gripes they had with Japan and finally the stress that radiated off the Japanese staff.

My gods, I felt sorry for the Japanese staff. They would sometimes receive the treatment that some students received and get heckled by some teachers. They were under a huge amount of stress to get the numbers of sales up, keep the teachers well informed and the student customers happy. I wouldn’t have wanted to trade places with them for the world.

At one point, NOVA announced it was cutting back on all expenses in branches except paper, cleaning products and light fixtures. It went one step further at my school, where the Japanese staff were desperate to get some savings on the books – they stopped providing plastic garbage bags for the bin lining. The teachers were asked to fork up 1000 yen of their own money, per month, to cover the things like garbage bags, pens, paper and whiteboard markers that NOVA would no longer supply.

We told them to go stuff themselves.

One of the Japanese staff ended up paying for it all out of her own pocket.

NOVA did not give a shit about it’s stakeholders: the staff, teachers and students – the people who actually made it operate and turn a dollar. Instead, NOVA milked them all dry to appease the shareholder. Even to the point of illegal activities that are now being fought by the General Workers Union.

Another well-known example is NOVA accomodation. Oh gods. If it wasn’t for the Accomodation section, I would’ve perhaps worked there for longer. Lies, lack of answers, refusal to answer calls, rudeness, avoiding all the issues that tenants may bring up. THEN overcharging them. If you ever choose to work for NOVA, fine. But don’t live in their apartments. It will save you untold amounts of stress and frustration.

I completely understand that NOVA exists only to make a profit, not to provide gaijin with a cheap holiday. But anyone with basic business knowledge can tell you that their methods of operation were on the extremely dodgy side. If you want students to buy more tickets, then make sure that they can use the ones they already have, at the times that they want. What’s that? Don’t have enough teachers to fill the demand of lessons? They all seem to be quitting? Well, maybe you should try and keep your teachers happy with their jobs, by giving them the basic tools and training that they need. Don’t throw them in the deep end. Don’t make life difficult for them back in their apartments. And don’t tell them that they lack company spirit and threaten them with degrading their reports when instead you could be listening to their gripes and trying to fix them.

I’m convinced that the shareholder-over-stockholder nature of NOVA was what caused the awful behaviour I witnessed in some teachers. I met a large number of assholes whilst working for NOVA. But I did also meet the loveliest people. Teachers and students. There are good guys in NOVA and you don’t always have to look hard for them. I’d say that they’re better people than me, because they have more patience and will take being raped anally repeatedly without any lubricant.

When I announed to the students that I was leaving Japan and heading home, they threw me a great farewell party. I was given gifts and told that I was the favourite teacher of many students in the branch.

Damn, that made me feel vindicated. For the last 10 months, NOVA had been telling me that I wasn’t doing enough and had to put up, shut up and get on with it. Keep complaining and they’ll have to downgrade my “company spirit” mark, as if I were still in freaking high school. But I was a good teacher. I knew I was a damn good teacher. That’s why all the people I keep in touch with from Japan are my old students, and none of my old work colleagues.

So, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s time to say that I will no longer be writing for the Teach section of 3yen. There’s not a lot for me to write now that I’m home, and most of what I could write would be secondhand anyway. I’ll still be around on other sections of the site, so please keep reading. There’ll be a new blogger here before long, with all the latest news, gossip and advice for teaching in Japan, so stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I hope I was entertaining and informative for you.

Ja ne.


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12/23/2006

Funny things your students say

Oh, there’s a million-and-one of them. Some of my favourites:

“Americans are…. strong for… war and fighting!”

I think he wanted to say ‘keen’ but now I’m saying “strong for” at every opportunity.

Teacher: “What do you like to do in your free time?”
Student: “I play with my girlfriend”

Ooh la la.

It’s a bit unfair picking on the Japanese people though. I’ve heard of a few occassions where a gaijin has stuffed up, trying to speak Japanese. My favourite story is probably when upon hearing that the student’s mother had recently died, he wanted to say how sorry he was to hear it. And the first way you learn to say “I’m sorry” in Japanese is:

“Gomen nasai”

Problem with that is, it translates into “I’m sorry, I did it”. Funnier still, the woman to whom he just apologised for matricide was a manga-ka, a comic book artist, who promptly retold the episode in a later volume of her manga!

Anyway, if you know of any other funny Engrish quotes from your students, then please share in the comments section :)

Posted by Chidade in Oddities, Students | 1 Comment »

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10/25/2006

From the Comments Section…

A recent comment:

hey there, first of all I’d just like to thank you for this wonderful website, you have certainly put up a lot of useful information about NOVA and teaching in Japan in general. My name is David, I am a student who lives in NZ and am interested in participating the NOVA program.I am thinking about applying in the beginning of November when all my exams have finished (this is my last semester b4 I get my BA)….Does NOVA usually recruit teachers around that time ( the end of the year, Christmas)? and if I’m granted an interview, what sort of questions do they usually ask you? would be great if you can help me out…looking forward to hear from you

Hey David,

First of all, until you have properly graduated (that means, you have the diploma in your hands and photos of you in a silly hat framed on the wall), you will not be considered a graduate by the Japanese Government and will not be eligible for a work visa (at least, not the work visa required for teaching English). Being eligible to graduate is not enough. You must have graduated.

If you can’t wait that long to get to Japan, then NOVA is your easiest option. They will hire you for Flexi-Time work (part time) and you can do that on a working holiday visa, which is available to New Zealanders, I believe.

About the interview, have a read here and here, they’ll give an idea about various eikaiwa interview processes, including NOVA’s. It shouldn’t be to difficult to get accepted by NOVA although you may want to be warned: The best times to be hired are in September and May. If you tell them that you’re open to leave for Japan at any time, that will help your chances.
Good luck!

Posted by Chidade in Eikaiwa, Tips | No Comments »

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9/18/2006

Unions

There are a lot of horror stories out there about things that big, bad eikaiwa and other Japanese employers have done to unsuspecting gaijin. You hear about court cases, unfair dismissals, failure to get paid for months. For those reasons, a union has been set up to help workers deal with their employers.

Before I go on, I should point out that I am not a union member and never have been. I didn’t think it was necessary for my short time in Japan and at any rate, I didn’t have the money. But if you’re planning to be in Japan, especially for more than a year, this may be important for you.

The National Union of General Workers has a Foreign Workers Caucus which focusses on any foreign nationals’ labour issues. The focus does tend to be on English teachers but they seem to take on any workers. The General Union is based in Osaka but there is also a Fukuoka branch and the Tokyo Nambu branch.

Looking at these websites, you will find a lot of propaganda. Your employers may shoot off a lot of anti-union propaganda but believe me, the unions are just as guilty of propaganda too. There was one section on the website that amused me – making the ALT program run by organisations like JET seem like a bid for world domination via “soft power”. Read how they go nuts when Margaret Thatcher is mentioned. The front page of the Tokyo Nambu site even displays a picture of the site’s author parading as Che Guevara.

Now, I don’t doubt that there are occassions when unions are necessary to protect workers rights, especially in a country like Japan where there are very few rights given to foreign nationals. And it seems like whenever there’s been a dispute where the union became involved, it usually ended successfully for the employee and the union. But geez, I wish they wouldn’t behave like that while they do it. Couldn’t workers’ rights be protected without resorting to slander and name-calling? The Tokyo Nambu page is a blog/editorial, sure, and just the opinions of one man, but I’d be more inclined to join myself if it felt more like a professional organisation.

Anyway.

It is a legally registered union that has been around for over 30 years. About 60% of the members are in fact Japanese. They have several ongoing disputes, including with NOVA and Berlitz. They are fighting hard to get Shakai Hoken implemented everywhere where necessary and pressure companies to ensure they are following Japan’s labour laws.

So yes, they do good work. They just sound like over-confident, self-righteous university students when they do it.

The General Union in Osaka lists their yearly membership cost as ?36,000. That’s a fair chunk of cash but if you know you’re heading to work at a questionable company, it may be great insurance. Either way, you should always do your own research before making any decisions or taking any actions.

Image from nambufwc.org

Links:
General Union
Fukuoka General Union
NUGW Tokyo Nambu Branch

Posted by Chidade in Legal & Visa | No Comments »

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9/12/2006

Easy Eikaiwa Launched!

Remember a while ago I interviewed Mark Beattie, whose software Easy Eikaiwa was designed to help minimalise the administration time of small conversation sachools by taking it to the web? Well, it’s now gone live.

The interface is non-branded (ie: your URL could be “bobsenglish.liveschedule.net” and can be changed from English to Japanese and back at any time. The software is hosted on Easy Eikaiwa’s own servers. This means:
- Clients are free from having to download, configure or install anything
- Ongoing maintenance is included in the price, there’s nothing else to pay
- When a feature is added or enhanced, every client gets it immediately
- Easy Eikaiwa bear the costs of hosting it on powerfull dedicated servers to keep the prices affordable without compromising performance
- It only takes a minute to sign up and get started
- You can try it for 30 days for free and cancel at any time without having paid a cent (or yen), or investing more than a few minutes getting started

It also includes a database to keep teacher details and even photos, and has a nifty Ajax calendar to keep track of lessons.

Easy Eikaiwa is ready to get your schedule online now. All you need is a web
browser and an internet connection, and you can take care of everything from
any computer, any time. Upload contact details and photos of your students
and teachers. Set up lessons on the AJAX calendar which includes daily and
weekly repeating events.

It only takes a few minutes to get started with the easy setup helper. There’s
a completely free plan to try out, and all our pricing plans come with a free
30 day trial. There’s nothing to download or install, so you can get your
schedule online today.

Easy Eikaiwa screenshot. Image from easyeikaiwa.com

Link:
Easy Eikaiwa

Posted by Chidade in Eikaiwa, Teaching in Japan | No Comments »

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9/11/2006

Accents

One strange thing I’ve noticed about some students is that they take on accents when speaking English. The most common is American accents. It’s not that surprising, given that most of the English they encounter is American English – on television, in music, from their teachers or the many American (mainly military-based) people iving in Japan.

One girl I taught sounded just like a Californian “Valley Girl” – that certain drawl and using the word “like” at least three times per sentence. Her English was a high level, not perfect, but then again, probably most grammatically correct than your average native Valley Girl.

Another student I had sound British – pure Queen’s English. It was a delight to speak with him.

Then, sometimes, you get teachers that change accents. This has happened to me since before I was an English teacher (I’ll copy Irish or Canadian accents subconsciously when I hear them) but some other teachers have had it happen to them since they started teaching. And every time, it’ll change into an American accent. In a way, it helps the students because it’s an accent they’re familiar with, but on the other hand, students have told me that Australian/British accents are much better than American accents because they’re more similar to Japanese.

Take for example, the way that Americans say the word “can’t” compared to the way British-English speakers say it. The British-English way uses the syllable ‘ka’ which is one of the characters in Japan’s syllabary: ?. It’s a sound much more recognisable to Japanese people.

Nothing is really good or bad when comparing accents, it’s just one of those oddities you notice as an English teacher in Japan.

Posted by Chidade in Oddities, Students | 1 Comment »

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8/2/2006

Dead Time

Summer in Japan is a dead time, as far as getting an English-teaching job is concerned. I’m not enirely sure why, but I guess it’s because many students disappear for their summer holidays. Some schools, like NOVA actually sell them travel packages and homestay trips, where they can practise their newly-acquired English skills in an English-speaking country.

So, if you’re trying to get a job in June, July and August, don’t be terribly surprised if you’re rejected. This trend is even more apparent now that schools like NOVA and ECC are reportedly hiring more people from inside Japan than outside, to save costs.

So when is the best time to get hired? September and March, it seems. I can vouch personally for September, because when I wanted to delay my arrival in Japan from mid-September to mid-October, my eikaiwa told me that wasn’t possible, that they needed in in Japan as soon as possible. April is also when schools start their year in Japan, so many students sign up in March and April to supplement their studies at school or university.
So, that’s one factor you might want to take into account when applying for teaching jobs in Japan.

Posted by Chidade in Eikaiwa, Teaching in Japan, Tips | 2 Comments »

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6/26/2006

Overstayed your visa?

What do you do if you overstay your visa? Especially if it’s for a short period, generally by accident? To be honest, I didn’t really know. I had heard rumour of deportation at your own cost, plus being barred from entering Japan again for up to 10 years.

Thankfully it hasn’t happened to me, because the eikaiwa will keep a very close eye on visas and expiry dates of their employees. I imagine because they would get into more trouble than the actual employee because they’d be hiring us illegally. When my visa was due for renewal the eikaiwa got on my case and reminded me almost daily to renew it. Then they wanted a copy of it as proof. So, I’m okay. But there might be some who aren’t.

Shortbuscolin (linked through kissui.net), an American, recently overstayed his visa and lived to tell the tale. It seems that there isn’t much information about what to do on the internet, so hopefully his story will help some people in the future.

Two most important things to remember:
1. The visa is 90 days, not 3 months. Keep this in mind and try to avoid overstaying. But, if you do, then…

2. Go to the Japanese Immigration Bureau, not your Embassy.

There is a process that you can follow and while it will be expensive, if it was genuinely an accident that you overstayed for a short period, then the Bureau will sort you out, without too much trouble.

Don’t forget to check this post for more information on visas and hopefully a growing list of directions to Immigration offices around Japan.

Posted by Chidade in Legal & Visa | 6 Comments »

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6/6/2006

What kind of teacher you shouldn’t be

Allow me to get into a bitchy, ranty mode for a moment. I’ve been teaching English in Japan for 9 months now – and while that isn’t really much and I know I missed the prime time to come teach in Japan and I know that peiople who’ve done it longer possibly know more about the job than me – I feel the need to shout at people a little.

I have met a lot of really awful teachers here. I don’t mean everyone, of course. There are some teachers that have been here since the beginning of eikaiwa, and are still going strong. There are teachers that had never envisioned themselves to be teachers but just happened to love the job and be good at it, so they stayed on. There are brand new teachers who are making the most of their time and their job here.

Then there are….the others. Similar categories. New teachers but who have some pre-conceived notion of how English should be taught, and rule their students as such. People who actually want to be teachers in the future so have brought their college textbooks with them but don’t actually realise that they lack the personality traits required of a teacher (you know, like compassion and patience).

I’ve been witness to utterly atrocious teacher behaviour towards the students. For example, greeting them as “dickheads” like it was completely normal. Telling them they should give up on learning English because they’re useless. Humiliating them in front of other students.

Those in-front-of-students examples are thankfully quite rare, but the bitching that goes on in the staffroom is a daily event. Insults, personal comments, bitching, horrible written comments on their progress, planned practical jokes, the list goes on. It all adds up to utter contempt, hatred and even latent racism towards the students from some of these teachers. One teacher I know told me that on his reason for resignation, he’ll be adding a 2-page document entitled “All the Things That Are Wrong With Japan”.

Why the f**ker is still here is beyond me.

I can’t understand it myself. These students are just normal people. Also, they’re aren’t just your students, they’re your bloody customers, so show some respect for that reason alone. Personally, I respect them for actually taking the initiative and making the big (especially financially big) decision to learn a new language. They want to learn something new, they want to improve themselves, they want to make new friends, they want to have new experiences. And what the bloody hell is wrong with that? I often wonder, if an eikaiwa system existed in Australia, would I sign up? Probably not, as I’m too lazy. So I admire these students for making the decision.

Maybe I have an advantage over the other teachers. For starters, I’ve been teaching English pretty much all my life to my Eastern European family and friends. I already understand the difficulties associated with learning a new language. I know that elusive dream of being perfectly bilingual and the frustrations that come with it. So maybe I can understand and sympathise better with the students here but that doesn’t mean that people without my experience can’t at least show some bloody manners.

If you want to teach English, then please don’t get arrogant. Don’t think that you know better than the students. Don’t think that you’re better than them as people. And if you catch yourself making fun of the Japanese, then it’s time to go home.

Be patient, be open-minded, be respectful. Three basic rules for teaching in Japan.

Posted by Chidade in Tips | 12 Comments »

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6/1/2006

Easy Eikaiwa

An Austraian by the name of Mark Beattie has recently been developing an online lesson reservation application. It uses the common ticket system that most eikaiwa have and it will go live in the near future. I asked Mark a few questions about his application, Easy Eikaiwa.

1. What made you decide to write the Easy Eikaiwa web application? What did you have in mind?

I decided to write Easy Eikaiwa to make a simple, affordable booking system available to language schools and private teachers without the need to purchase, setup or install any complicated or expensive software. The intention is to give anyone who needs it cheap and painless access to a tool that was designed specifically for them.It’s basically a ticket-based booking system. You could think of it as having an extra virtual receptionist who can take bookings and cancellations 24×7 online. It might not be as cute as a real one, but it should free up the phone and help put more bums in seats, so to speak.

2. What’s your previous experience? (Former eikaiwa teacher? Professional web developer?)

A bit of both really. Professionally my background in Australia is in electronics and communications, but my first experience with the web in Japan was at a Japanese web studio back in 2001. I spent a year there as their in-house code monkey before inevitably finding myself teaching, part-time at first, but eventually it ended up being full-time for a few years.For the last few years I’ve been working in Japan as a freelance web developer while teaching on and off at a school which is using an early version of the system. It’s been good first-hand experience with how the expectations of students, teachers, school owners, and also myself as the developer can vary.

3. How long has it taken you to write?

I spent a few years developing the earlier version actually. That was a learning experience in the importance of PC adoption amongst your customer demographic, or a keitai interface for those without (on the wishlist for the new system).It’s taken 6 months to completely rebuild it from the ground up in a new application framework since then. My previous experience showed how important it is to develop web applications that give the user just enough tools to get the job done and then get out of their way, so the redesign has been aimed at creating a tool made specifically for the job at hand instead of trying to be a Swiss army-knife.

4. What would you ultimately like Easy Eikaiwa to become? (ie: do you want it to be adopted by The Big Four? Or for private students/smaller schools? Everyone?)

Well, I could be tempted by a juicy contract from The Big Four, but that would really be counter to the real mission, which is to keep everyone else in the race. The size of the big four has forced them to drag prices down and let “feature bloat” creep into their services. I think the best way for the rest of us to stay competitive might be to not compete – at least not on price or even services like at home video lessons.Ultimately I’d like to enable anyone with a language school or private students to stay lean and agile by helping you to make the most of you existing resources without having to compromise your price or services. An easy, affordable booking system can increase utilisation and give value-added convenience. Easy Eikaiwa is designed to scale from private teachers out to schools with several campuses without making much difference to your fixed expenses.The bigger players probably have a large enough IT budget to develop their own in-house solutions, so I’m here to offer the same services to those who need a cheap point of entry. We host the application online, and take care of maintaining, upgrading and improving it as part of the price. The monthly subscription model is cheap, and saves you the time and money required to develop and maintain this kind of service yourself.

5. Any last words?

We’re just starting out and venturing into new grounds as we go, so I’d like to thank you for taking the time to lend us your attention. If you keep an eye on us you should see some exciting developments as we try to close the technology gap by making it easy and affordable.

Anyone who’s interested in getting their scheduling and bookings online should check us out, and we’d love for you to spread the word. We’ll be opening our doors for business shortly and look forward to hearing from you. Please email any questions to info@easyeikaiwa.com. Thanks again.

Easy Eikaiwa also has a webpage and blog.

Posted by Chidade in Eikaiwa | No Comments »

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