Category Archives: TEACHING

Making Matsuri Magic

As humans, we are social by nature. Be it with family, friends, or fellow fanatics, we are wont to gather in mutual celebration or commiseration, and this may take many forms. Perhaps we gather to watch opposing sports teams battle over a piece of pigskin, or maybe we assemble with all the other Avengers to see the newest Marvel movie, or even just convene to cook food in each other’s company.

There is an innumerable amount of ways for us to come together, but the commonality in each of these things is how they create a community for the attendees. Highs and lows of the events are shared by the guests, bringing them all closer together, and it is this creation of a community that makes the Japanese Matsuri truly remarkable.

Matsuri are celebrated all over Japan at all times of the year, and the occasions range from the commencement of the next season to religious ceremonies to simple communal parties. Invariably, each event carries with it a communal atmosphere, one which is extended to all visitors, and it does not stop once the matsuri has concluded. Instead, it persists on in the memories it creates, the traditions it preserves, and the anticipation it sows for future matsuri.

A community makes the matsuri and the matsuri makes the community in turn.

Immortal Memory in Matsuri

Japan is the most homogeneous nation on the planet, and a hallmark of it homogeneity is just how static its culture has remained despite its rapid modernization. Cash is still used extensively, many businesses still run within small families, and a myriad of festivals are still held throughout the country across the year. And by looking deeper into the history of matsuri, we can better understand how the memories and legacies of matsuri continue to inform …continue reading


6 Things to Know Before Teaching Company English Classes

Source: Gaijin Pot

Before coming to Japan I always pictured teaching English here as working with kids in a Japanese school as an assistant language teacher (ALT) or outside of school at an eikaiwa (English conversation school) but there are plenty of Japanese adults who are in need of English lessons, as well.

Having a good command of English in the business world can lead to promotions and opportunities abroad for Japanese workers. Many large companies offer help for employees to improve their English by hiring teachers to come to their offices and educate staff on site. The lack of screaming kids, high English levels and more lucrative pay attracts plenty of teachers (including myself). Although it’s an interesting career, there are a a few things I wish I had known before diving into the world of company classes.

1. The pay can only get you so far

Depending on the company that hires you, pay varies from around ¥3,000 to ¥20,000 for one lesson.

Some companies employ teachers directly as freelance English teachers and tend to pay higher rates — though these jobs can be rare and hard to find (much like working as a “direct hire” ALT). Others are dispatch companies — such as Aeon or CTS — that match English teachers with businesses in need of them. These agencies act as a middleman and pay teachers much smaller hourly wages, but they can offer more than enough classes to provide a decent overall monthly wage.

This is important because when you’re hired directly, while the payment for a single class will be bigger it’s not enough to live off on its own. Most direct hire English instructors have to juggle multiple company classes and always have to be networking with higher ups in local businesses. It can get very complicated just hustling …continue reading


Luke Straka – Philosopher and Bohmeian

Seated opposite Luke Straka, 28 year-old teacher and philosopher, in a rustic cafe on a Sunday afternoon, one can learn a lot about how to view the world.

“I think that language is the key to many of
the philosophical and psychological conundrums that we face as humans
in this world,” says Luke. “If I can do anything, I want to
learn how to address those issues and use them to bring people
together across boundaries.”

A big part of learning to transcend those
boundaries is being comfortable with being a stranger in a strange
land, a comfort Luke has been cultivating all his life.

As the oldest of three siblings, Luke has always
been the trailblazer of the bunch, and this has offered him unique
opportunities to break through boundaries he encounters.

“My brother, Carl, is the middle and Haili,
my sister, is the youngest,” he says. “Haili actually just
finished up her undergraduate education, so now we are all trying to
find our own ways in the world. I’ve always thought about how I want
to be a role model for them, and I want to show them they can go out
into the world and be their own people.”

Luke’s family in Denver, CO is a very tight-knit
band, and a large part of that bond is the journeys that have shared.

“We did a lot of family travel,” he
says, “and it was every couple years we would go somewhere else.
In elementary school we went to Cancun, in middle school it was
Greece, and then high school was my first trip to Japan, which was
with my aunt and uncle. My family has also always been super
supportive of me going out to travel the world even on my own, but it
has not been a friction-less road.”

Breaking Boundaries, Changing Bonds

During his time in university, Luke was afforded
the opportunity to study abroad in Ethiopia through a pilot program
offered by the International …continue reading


The Zen Art of Class Management

My personal teaching philosophy is to put a strong focus on the development of a student’s self-awareness during the learning process.

The reason this is useful to a student, might be best summed up by the following Confucius quote:

“Give someone a bowl of rice and they will eat for a day, teach them to grow their own rice and they will eat for a lifetime.”

Other pearls of wisdom for developing a student’s self-motivated learning practice, might include the following:

“What we think, we become.” (Buddha)

As Charlie mentioned in his article, Classroom Management Tips from a Veteran, cultural values play a role in shaping ESL learning outcomes in Japan.

What is the effect of the Japanese custom of deference regarding the expression of one’s achievements. The phrase: “sono koto wa arimasen,” (that’s not the case) forms a polite refusal to accept a compliment. To what extent may such sentiment take root in the student’s mind as a more literal truth? And what effect may it have on their learning curve?

Japanese ESL students often have a tendency to place excessive focus on the obstacles in their ESL learning process, as opposed to their innate potential to overcome them.

For example, when a Japanese ESL student consciously or unconsciously labels learning material as “difficult,” they seem to be engaging in a form of unhelpful cultural programming. Could this be hindering their their ability to absorb and integrate such material?

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” (John Heywood)

This classic quote, can illustrate the nature of intrinsic (inner) and extrinsic (outer) forces in affecting a learner’s motivation. Having worked with some apathetic ESL learners over the years, I have added my own little caveat:

“True, you cannot force a horse to drink, but you can try to feed …continue reading


Decision Time: ALT or Eikawa Instructor

Source: Gaijin Pot

New teachers coming to Japan to teach English face a binary choice right at the start: to work as an assistant language teacher (ALT) or an eikaiwa (private conversation school) instructor.

My first job in Tokyo in 2006 was with an eikaiwa company. I soon realized that teaching with that particular organization wasn’t a good fit for me and, at the earliest opportunity, I switched to ALT work the following April — initially with a dispatch company and later via direct hire.

Since then, I’ve worked in both spheres and while my own personal preference leans more toward ALT work, teaching at an eikaiwa is not without its attributes.

So, let’s break this down and look at the pros and cons for each role. Perhaps, if you’re one of those people sitting at home now with competing offers in front of you, I can offer some help with the decision.

First up: eikaiwa.

Advantages of eikaiwa work

1. No early morning starts

As a general rule, most eikaiwa jobs start mid-morning to early afternoon and continue on into the evening. This is to meet the needs of the majority of its students — who are either kids studying after school or adult professionals coming for lessons after work or on days off. For example, when I taught in Tokyo, my day would start just after lunch (around 12:30 p.m.) with the first class at 1 p.m. and my last class usually around 8:30 p.m.

Within this time frame, it’s unlikely you would teach more than six or seven classes. So, you’ll still have time for a lunch break as well as a bit of lesson planning time, too during your day.

Weekends are the busiest times and you’ll need to start a bit earlier on Saturdays and Sundays (usually around 10 a.m.). However, this also means you’ll …continue reading