Theres a saying in Japan that goes – fall seven times and stand up eight.
In 2009 when I first moved to Japan looking for English teaching work I made up my own idiom:
‘Apply for 100 jobs, get some interviews, don’t get the job, keep getting rejected then finally get a job, but don’t get paid for two months.’
Sure it doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it, but its my idiom. I make the rules.
2008/9 in Japan was not an especially great time to be an English Teacher. One of the biggest English school chains, Nova had imploded on itself. So the job market was saturated with experienced teachers all desperado for work.
Cool, great start!
Heres a few lessons I learned along the path to Sensei.
My first ever job interview was in the middle of Summer. It was hot, humid and when I reached my destination I was put in a room packed to the gills with people all going for ONE single job. Cool.
When it was finally my time to get interviewed I was greeted by the interviewer, the boss? who knows. He sat across from me in a small classroom, a fifty plus year old Japanese guy in a small chair, arms folded, mouth in full scowl mode. Its seemed this man hadn’t laughed in years, his wrinkles cemented deep into his face, eyes unblinking, staring and judging. Humour would be lost on him.
“Take a seat”
He asked a few questions and then hit me with: “Why do you want to become an English Teacher in Japan?”
My heart raced. I thought of all my competition waiting in the other room, all the experience they had and all the reasons they were more qualified than me. Pressure mounted. I had to get this question right.
My mind blanked, I free styled with:
“Ever since I was a young boy, I have always dreamed of becoming an English teacher in Japan” I smiled proudly.
Turns out this guy was actually GREAT at laughing. After a nice big chuckle session he took a sip of water and composed himself. His face went back to the scowl.
“You need bigger dreams” he said.
Job Interview B
A week or so later I landed an interview with Interac, a company that contracts out English Teachers into the public school system. I got to the train station where the appointment was an hour early to make sure I was on time, I got lost and was late anyway.
Cool! Great start.
The interview guy, early 30’s, chubby NZ guy. Seems nice.
We walk over to an empty room. There’s a video camera set up in the corner. I didn’t know this but we’re about to play imagination.
He sets the scene with:
” Imagine your in a classroom full of eight year old Japanese student, I want you to do a five minute lesson with them.”
He presses record.
Lol. What? I’ve barely even seen a Japanese kid now I’m teaching a room full of imaginary ones while I get recorded.
I improv and do a ridiculously bad 3 minute version of Simon Says.
The best part is when I have to pretend to react to pretend Japanese kids not following my real Simon Says instructions and telling them to go sit in the imaginary corner. Make sense? No?
The instructor is cringing behind the camera. I am cringing in front of the camera.
At least I get some feedback. He says:
“Ok that was way too advanced for eight year olds, If I showed teachers that they probably would get confused, the kids would be lost. and your chances of getting a job honestly, would not be great”
Cool. Please burn that footage.
We fill out some paperwork and he tells me to email him some references.
I never do.
3rd Job Interview
I got an interview with some random company to teach ‘Business English’. Whatever that is. I have a business degree so I land an interview. I get to the train station an hour early to make sure I was on time, I got lost and was late anyway.
I’m really really late. I ring the guy and he has to come find me like I’m a wounded sheep tangled in a fence. He cant find me. After 30 minutes we find each other. It’s like an awkward reunion. This is the high point of the interview.
Interview Stage One
We get to the office. Grammar test. Uh-oh. I don’t even properly understand what an ADVERB is and now I have to diagram sentences, identify unretained objects and map out conditional perfects.
At least it was multiple choice.
Interview Stage Two
No one at this place really could talk English and I definately couldn’t speak any Japanese. They thrust a textbook in my hands and led me to an empty office cubicle.
A few of the Japanese staff follow me in with the same book. I’m standing at a desk and they crowd around me.
I figure they are there to interview me. I ask them questions, where do I sit? What do I do now?
Silence. It’s awkward, no one is talking, they’re just looking at me. What is happening. This goes on, and finally it dawns on me. Oh no. We’re in another simulation role play adventure. Except this time the staff are pretending to be students. At least this one isn’t recorded.
That’s why we all have textbooks. Oh.
One of them points at her watch. ‘one minute’. I freeze.
It’s the longest minute of my life. Finally its over. I leave.
Everyone was confused.
I still am.