This article is about my experience as a teacher in Japan and about Kindergartens here. In my previous articles I talked a bit about how I managed to get a job in Japan, visas, procedures and my training in Shizuoka.
For part one of this article series, check here:
Finding work in Japan: Positive and Negative Experiences Part I Article
For part two of this article series, check here:
Finding work in Japan: Both the Dark and the Bright Side Part II Article
Now, in the last part of the series, I will talk about the problems I had with the company, what you should be aware of as an English Teacher, how is kindergarten in Japan and what procedures to follow when you move here.
Our training period was supposed to last only two months, but it became more than that and I was becoming impatient, so I told the company I will be moving out to Kanto in a few days.
Me and the girls kept asking for answers, but they would always cancel our meetings saying that `The boss is too busy now` (although they were the ones scheduling it in the first place). I believe that was mainly because they didn’t have any solution to our questions about placements so they chose to run and hide instead of facing us.
I told them that they were already breaking the contract as after 2 months my salary was supposed to be the full amount and also that I shouldn’t be forced to stay in the share house after finishing my training. As they said they have a place in mind, I told them that I am going to Kanto since I already gave them a pin pointed location I`d like to be placed before coming to Japan and they did agree to it. I felt asphyxiated in the share house forever waiting for an answer and wanted to live by myself as soon as possible.
Usually, some companies will become the guarantor if you rent an apartment in Japan , but I already had a place to go and was staying with someone, so I didn’t need the company to do that for me.
Although, the other trainees rented it with the company as a guarantor.
They told me that they didn’t even get the contract and that the company has it. Also, they were only able to choose a place from a list of apartments given by the company(probably, places that they had connections with).
If you come here, I would also advise you to look for a company that actually helps you with the rent (some pay even half of it!) otherwise it might be a bit difficult to live here unless you have a good salary.
So, I moved out the place and they probably felt a bit of pressure, so they hurried with the”negotiations”. After several days of moving out,they finally contacted me saying they’ve found a place.
I was relieved.. For just a second. They told me they did find a place about 1 hour commuting from my apartment, but I need to go for an interview first.
I wish they told me before I came to Japan that I need to wait centuries for them to find a placement and even if they do, it’s not sure I will get the job, so I will have to pass another interview in order for that to happen…
The days went by so fast and so, the interview day came quicker than I expected.
I woke up early to get ready, put on my suit and headed to the station where my boss was waiting for me in order to have a quick meeting before I meet the Kindergarten`s principal.
After the 10-15 minutes meeting, we headed to the kindergarten for my interview.
Most of the people there couldn`t speak English, so I talked to them in Japanese while I was telling them about my hobbies, why did I choose to be a teacher, why Japan etc.
They took me on a small tour to see the kindergarten and I must say I was pretty impressed of what I saw. They had a big ground with swings, slides, sandboxes,even a tree house and bouldering! Wish I had that as a kid ..
On the rooftop I was told there is a pool and outside the kindergarten there was a Neko Bus (like the one from Totoro), I found later that it even says meow when you press a button.
The classes had flower names such as Lily, Cherry Blossom(Sakura), Dandelion etc. which I thought is really cute. They also had big classes and a festivities room where a monthly Happy Birthday party and other important events(such as Opening day and Graduation day) were held.
Seeing the facilities there, I was looking forward to seeing how the English Classrooms looked like.
The English Lessons were held in a different building and I was told that the cafeteria and nursery are upstairs. When I got there, the vice-principal showed me two small classes with nothing on the walls, more depressing than a hospital and turned to me saying:
`These are the English classrooms`.
The materials I was supposed to use were deteriorated and there was a lot of work to be done. I figured it should be ok..I love crafts so I can just make some and decorate the walls. Didn`t say anything that time thinking that they`d be more than happy if I do that.
I finished with the interview and in a few days they contacted me saying I passed and asked me to come to the opening ceremony that was on a Saturday.
I was happy to accept and was looking forward to meeting the kids and to the first opening ceremony to attend as their teacher.
I woke up early and dressed up in my black suit as I was told that everyone wears black suits(however, once I got there, everyone, but me was dressed up in beige suits).
I went to the teachers lounge and they told me to prepare a speech in English (maybe a little Japanese,too) ,say something about myself so the kids and parents get to know me a bit.
I wish they could`ve mentioned it faster not right when I was about to enter the room.
Also, it was so disorganised and they started saying”Hurry up hurry up”while I was making a self introduction.
I didn`t mind it too much and after the ceremony, I went back home after getting the schedule for the week to come.
Little did I know that from now on, I would have to survive in a hellish atmosphere.
I think the only thing that kept me going were the kids…
The majority of the Yochien(Japanese Preschool Kindergartens) have three years of schooling: Nensho(1st grade), Nenchu(2nd grade) and Nencho(3rd grade).
My kindergarten also had a nursery school(保育園/hoikuen) where we would take care of small babies.
There is also 預かり(azukari) , that means daycare. A normal kindergarten program would be from morning to 3 pm or so. However, we would also take care of the daycare kids and teachers would stay with them as late as 8pm.
The Japanese teachers would come early in the morning(7am/8am) and stay as late as 9pm.
Quite a tough schedule,right?
The duties of a kindergarten teacher are not only taking care of the kids and playing with them, you also have to teach in classes, teach them manners, eat lunch with them, say goodbye to the kids, clean up the whole kindergarten, make lesson plans, crafts, plan events etc.
You`d think well, they do have breaks,right? Well, not really…and I for a long time, that did happen to me, too .
I found out that besides me, there were other English Teachers from a different company that come only for the English classes(3 times per week).
I was there from Monday to Friday, long hours and whenever I didn’t have classes, I would play with the kids or “help out” the teachers.
The thing is that I was sent to one of the classes and would spend a whole day with that class at first.
It was awesome, but I was told not to use Japanese at all while I am at work and the Japanese teachers didn`t really seem to like it when I was talking to the kids which is understandable because they wouldn`t pay attention to their teacher.
I was mostly observing the classes and the homeroom teachers wouldn`t ask for help at all. Whenever I was trying to help them, they were like`no thank you, I can manage`.
That made me feel terrible and I couldn`t see a point in me being there as I wasn`t allowed to use Japanese and they wouldn`t let me do anything. The teachers acted like I was a nuisance, I couldn`t communicate with the kids at all and that became really stressful for me.
I had English classes 3 times per week for Nenchu and Nencho and one time for Nensho(the small ones).
I would come to the kindergarten everyday from 9 am and some days would stay until 18:30 because we have afternoon classes,too.
As soon as I got to the kindergarten, I would play with the kids 30 minutes until 9:30 which is lots of fun, but tires you out, then prepare for the classes that start at 9:50. I would have Nenchu first(almost 3 hours) and Nencho after(again, the same amount of hours).
However, the classes were like this: 9:50-10:30,10:30-11:10,11:10-11:50 for Nenchu (no breaks between and I had to keep the same lesson plan for all 3 classes), then with no breaks between, I was supposed to prepare the class for the Nencho(3rd grade) that comes right after from 11:50 to 12:30. After those 4 classes where I couldn`t even go to the bathroom or drink water , I would have 5-10 minutes to properly place the materials for the next two Nencho classes to come and go to the bathroom,maybe.
The morning English classes would finish around 2pm. Then, I would clean up the materials, checked what I did for the day(because we had a sheet of exposures we were supposed to follow) , make a lesson plan and head up to the gate and say goodbye to the kids.
Some days, after goodbyes, I would need to prepare for listening classes : some kids would pay more to listen a cd a point to words in their manual.
After finishing that, I would go and prepare the classrooms for the afternoon classes(the afternoon classes started at 4 pm). I had two groups and they would have one hour each(different levels, again no time to change the materials).
My schedule for those days was until 18:00, but because I needed to make lesson plans, exposures and clean up the class, I would leave around 18:30.
The contract I signed for was no more than 120 hours per week,English Teacher, but I couldn`t take any breaks and would work nonstop and do overtime(overtime they didn`t even properly pay) .
There were special days when we didn`t have English classes, so those days I would eat with kids occasionally, play with the nursery kids, stay in a classroom and do nothing(that was seriously the most stressful part ever), clean the classrooms etc.
The schedule I received was so messy and disorganized and didn`t change at all in the time I was there. I thought Japan was pretty organised, but it seems that I had a wrong impression especially when it comes to the educational system here.
Having no breaks and not being able to eat lunch properly got me really sick and soon I started to fall in depression because of the atmosphere surrounding the kindergarten.
They started to give me breaks after I strongly complained about it several times,however I couldn`t stand being there anymore and being surrounded by such negativeness.
The teachers would badmouth each other, would yell, grab the kids and I noticed that they were so strict to them that the kids were always afraid and were not even smiling from their hearts.
One kid was told he isn`t human but food for animals and I think he was traumatized by that..
There were times when I felt that the place is similar to a sect that revolves around the principal.
Worse is that I told my company I want them to find another place but they kept saying we are looking for it for one year or so.
I slowly fell into depression and ruined my health pretty badly and that was the point when I said I can`t do this anymore..I told my company I am quitting and they kept blaming me saying that they worked so hard to gain the trust of the kindergarten and now I`m ruining it all.
Hilarious, right? When they were the ones breaking my contract …
Fortunately, I had a few good people that encouraged me a lot and offered me support when I needed it most.
I think that the kids were the reason why I kept staying there and I feel sorry I disappointed them, but if I kept working for them, I thought I would end up destroying myself and that was not the reason why I came to Japan.
I did try to change something and make things better, but me alone couldn`t do much.
I was told to make crafts for the classes, I spent even my free time doing that to be told after finishing that I can`t put it on walls because they`ll get dirty.. I would buy magnets with my own pocket money and invest a lot of energy in trying to make things better, but after 2 years, I noticed that even if they are changing a bit, the disorganization, lack of communication, stressful atmosphere won`t ever change and I just couldn`t do it anymore..
I think I might have been out of luck and I am sure there are great kindergartens and many good companies in Japan. The one in Shizuoka, for example, was a good kindergarten and everyday spent there was exciting and fun.
However, if you come to Japan or plan on working here, I would advise you to look for a company that will directly hire you and always ask for your rights.
A good company also pays for transport and takes care of their employees, so don`t let them stomp on you and know your rights.
Breaking a contract is illegal and if your future company does that, you have the right to sue them (there are many visa consultants/lawyers you can talk to if you feel that something is wrong and some don`t even ask for money).
Obviously, very important is to also take care of yourself and not ruin your health(like I did) because of a stressful environment. There are plenty of good companies out there, so don`t stay in a place which doesn`t appreciate your work, doesn`t treat you as a human being and doesn`t respect the work you are doing.
・All You Need to Know before Coming to Work in Japan- Taxes, Salary, Pension, Insurances and Work
・Are you ready to work in Japan? All about Job Hunting
・This Japanese Company Is Helping Moms Stay in the Workforce