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【EduCareer No.2】 the Working Culture of Japan

2015/06/23

Many of our successful direct-hire teachers have expressed in interviews that in order to be considered a real part of your school, it is important to "fit in" with the working environment of your school. This could mean occasionally working longer hours than you are explicitly contracted for... Or consciously communicating your effort to supervisors and coworkers...

The best attitude to have at a Japanese school is to not think about the clock, but instead to focus on your work. A specific number of hours written on a contract can be misleading. If you are a part-time teacher and are paid by the hour than it is expected that you are not as invested in your organization and that your position is temporary. But if you have greater ambitions, and would like to be considered essential to your school, than it may be necessary to show that using the established working traditions of Japanese public and private schools.

For example, if you have some planning or preparation to do, it's probably a good idea to do that in plain sight of everyone rather than at home or in a secluded place. Otherwise, how else would they know you've done it? There is a tradition in Japan that being SEEN working is just as valuable as doing good work. I know it's kind of shocking,... but it makes sense. It can be difficult to keep track of the efforts of every teacher, so the fact-of-the-matter is that administrators often rely on what they've seen directly with their own eyes. To be accepted at a school, it may be important that you look busy in the staff room, and show your effort that way. This is interpreted at traditional Japanese schools as you caring about your job and the organization.

The expectation for full-time teachers is beyond simply matching their work hours like a part-time employee, but rather matching the duties assigned to them. In fact it is common for Japanese teachers to be given duties which unequivocally exceed their work hours. Staying late is the norm because they are, honestly, over-worked. For full-time teachers, contracted work hours are not a rule, but a guideline. You're not finished with the job until the job is finished with you.

This may sound harsh. But that is considered to be the trade-off in Japan. Part-time means by the hour, with a lack of responsibility, but also a lack of permanence or stability. Full-time means stability and permanence through sacrifice and dedication. Japan is a wonderful country, with delicious food, great service, punctual transportation, and a good paycheck. Yet all of that comes at a price. Without the dedication put into their work, none of these benefits would exist. Please think about your motivation for being in Japan, and if it is worth it to you.

That said, a balance can be struck. By showing your work, putting in the face-time with the staff room, and being a little generous with your time, you can develop a good rapport with the other teachers and establish a good reputation allowing them to forgive you for being the first to leave each day, because at least you've shown your effort in a way that they are accustomed to. Fitting in to a work environment means that you emulate the teachers around you in other ways as well. 

But this may not be ideal for you,.. and not a single word has been written about how your results or popularity with students might affect your career standing. But this article is written based on the experiences of successful teachers, so it might help you to know what they experienced at Japanese schools, and what they believe worked for them.

If we haven't scared you off yet, please check out our job board, or follow us on Facebook.

Next time will be about how be more involved at your school!

[Back]<<Real Voices: Leigh【EduCareer No.3】 Do you know how to get involved in clubs at school?>>[Next]

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