No, I’m not an English teacher (in Japan)

Here’s another If I had a nickel question I get asked over and over: “So you are an English teacher?“ (not really a question, is it?) usually followed by “Are you here with the JET program?“

Out of politeness I force a smile every time and explain shorty that I work as a “normal“ primary school teacher at an international school, which confuses people, which is why I then move on to different topics as soon as possible. While I’m making small talk, the forced smile still stuck to my face, there is the usual storm racing through my mind, triggered by the English teacher comment.

The storm goes something like this:

“No, I’m not an English teacher. Most people who work as English teachers in Japan only decided to do this ’job’ because it was their golden ticket to move here. Most of them don’t have a teaching degree and never wanted to be teachers until then. To them, teaching is not a higher calling but simply a means to an end.

Sounds offensive? Maybe. But let me be honest, I also feel offended when people just assume I’m an English teacher.

Here is why:

I’ve been working towards the goal of becoming a certified teacher for a third of my life. I attended university for 4,5 years, took exams about linguistics, biology, pedagogics, psychology and teaching itself, wrote a research thesis about teaching literature, did several internships at different schools; worked as a teaching assistant abroad; then survived 1,5 years of brutal teacher training.

The time, work and tears that went into this career choice just doesn’t compare to someone deciding “Oh why the hell not? Living in Japan might be neat“, packing a bag, flying over here, putting on a suit and walking into a classroom, equipped with a workbook and a lot of confidence.

It’s just not the same.

What is also not the same is the actual job we do. English teachers teach English. Often to different kids or adults every day, in different language schools.

The kids I teach, I see every day, all day, and I’ve signed up be with those very kids for 3 years in total. I don’t just teach them all the subjects they need to know but also help them through all sorts of issues and conflicts. I tell them ’no’ a thousand times a day, I make sure they put salad on their plate at lunch. I’m their shoulder to cry on or their punching bag when they are having a bad day. I help them grow as a person (hopefully). I know them inside out and they know me, too. Our relationship is hard work, but it’s also very special and unique.“

I don’t need people who just met me to tell me what an amazing job I do, but I also don’t want my hard work and dedication to be diminished, which is exactly what the English teacher comment does.

I’m specifically not saying that English teachers in Japan don’t work hard and I’m also not saying that there aren’t people who find their true calling in teaching after sort of stumbling into it. But I want to be very clear about the fact that I didn’t stumble into it. I deliberately chose one of the toughest professions in the world and I’m proud of what I do.

Amen.

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