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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

April 06, 2009

Getting (and keeping) a university teaching job- a few tips, insights and blatant prejudices

So, you wanna be a university English instructor in Japan, do you? It’s not all faculty-only jacuzzis and pre-recession daytrader salaries you know! If you want my perspective on whether university English teaching is a cushy job or what the day-to-day routine is like you can scroll further down this blog and read my earlier entries on those topics (and the previous entry regarding contracts won’t hurt either).

For today, let’s start with a few pointers about actually getting the job:
1. Almost all university positions go through the koubou (public announcement) process, and these are typically announced in Japanese. This has the effect of rooting out NJs who are not really committed to working within a Japanese institution so that generally only the more serious candidates come forward. Job openings posted in standard NJ forums can attract a candidate to position ratio of 150 to 1 or thereabouts (don’t ask for references- this .is an experience-based estimate)

2. The best regular listing of these positions that I’m aware of come from the JACET (Japan Association of College English Teachers) mailing list. You have to be a member to subscribe to the mailing list- but if you’re not a member you could ask a friend who is a member to forward announcements to you.

3. A Masters degree in a closely-related field, plus some tertiary teaching experience in Japan, is the absolute minimum requirement. A PhD is becoming the norm though.

Now, here come the interesting parts-
4. Although the position must be announced publicly, the university already often has a good idea of who they want to hire anyway.

5. The best way to become that person who will be hired regardless of the public posting is to be known and, especially, trusted by someone who already holds some influence in the faculty. A teacher who they already know at least a little and feel that they can trust, or one who comes recommended by a respected member of the current faculty, will trump pure academic credentials in many cases. This means getting to know your local university teachers (Japanese or NJ) and, most definitely, paying for their beer.

6. Most of these ‘known’ teachers are known precisely because they have worked as hijoukin (part-timers) at the university already. Get your foot in the door as a part-timer first. But this also means that those who whine about being a part-timer, or have otherwise not distinguished themselves while in the part-time role, can be shooting themselves in the foot by presenting themselves in this manner if they are really looking out for a more long-term position.

7. You will almost certainly start out on a limited contract. Unless you are hired directly from the faculty of Harvard AND have functional Japanese writing and reading skills your first contract serves as a trial. Why? Because when hiring the Japanese staff will find it harder to make sound judgments about an NJ’s character and academic history et al than they will with a Japanese candidate. With the J candidate they pretty much know what they are getting. Even so (see my previous blog entry for more on this), almost all Japanese newbies start with limited contracts these days too. And if you read that blog entry (plus the follow-up comments) you may also see that these limited-term contracts can effectively be (and often are) extended by being morphed into new positions, that is if it is thought that having you serve long-term will be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

So then, how do you keep the job? Some more advice:
1. For the first few years shut up, and absorb and learn what’s going on. In other words, DO NOT come in with big ideas about changing the institution, telling the veteran staff their faults as teachers, that their program sucks, and that you know how to fix it. This should be as obvious a rule as “Don’t sleep with the students” or “Stay sober while at work” but you’d be surprised. Many NJ newbies want to prove themselves by offering something ‘new’ that they are sure revolutionizes the system and makes the students better humans. That’s all well and good as an ideal, but often they are unaware of factors that underpin the current system- not to mention that if they come in claiming to have the panacea for all that they believe ails the university, this will not be seen as being ‘helpful’ or as their welcome contribution to educational development but merely as pretentious arrogance (and justifiably so).

2. You are part of the faculty, not just a classroom teacher. This means that you don’t go home after your classes are through for the day. You don’t take huge blocks of time off to visit Bali when the ‘official’ school year has ended. As I stated in my blog entry ‘A Day in the Life…’ actual classroom contact hours account for only a small part of what you should/will be doing. If you act like a ‘classroom-only’ teacher you will be treated as such (contractually I mean).

3. Make yourself indispensable. Become an active and enthusiastic, and most of all, an integral part of any committee or working group that you end up belonging to (while still avoiding the know-it-allism or bossiness I warned about above)

4. You are expected to use your non-classroom time to PRODUCE! Start writing a coursebook! Work on academic publications! Help establish an intra-university service of some sort for students! Get involved in the community under the banner of the university! Show the flag by being productive, NOT by pointing out everyone’s shortcomings! If your overseers notice you being productive and carrying out work that benefits the institution they will not want to lose you. Very few Japanese powers-that-be will want to give up a productive NJ contributor just to go through the hiring process with relative unknowns again. Give them reasons to find a way to keep you on.

5. Get along with everyone else! Again this should fall into the ‘well, duh!’ category but it’s easier said than done. More than your great ideas and skillful pedagogy, the fact that you don’t cause friction will be a major factor in getting some sort of contract renewal. Appearing cooperative is key and it doesn’t mean being an obsequious doormat. But it does mean using common sense by presenting yourself as someone who is pleasant to deal with. If you truly feel that a certain policy is harmful, that a proposal is not in the best interests of education or will be detrimental to students, there are effective ways of expressing this without sounding like a PoliSci sophomore who has just emerged from Self-Righteous Demonstrations and Protests 101, the shrillness of which will usually lead to your being tuned out by precisely those who you actually hope to influence (and, rightly or wrongly, will negatively affect views regarding future NJ hiring).

In such cases, if your contract is not renewed, you can shout into your beer all you want about how the ‘old boys club’ or ‘The Man’ resisted your ‘progressive’ teaching style because they felt ‘threatened’ by you, that they ‘couldn’t handle the truth’. You can make cultural blanket statements about alleged Japanese acquiescence and claims of outright discrimination, and you can refer to NJ’s who do manage to stay on as “Uncle Toms”, but basically it may be that you were not renewed because you were really just a pain in the ass to deal with.
(Sidebar- Maybe, just maybe, after five years or so, you have the right to become a little bit of a pain in the ass. That’s about it).

6. Learn more of the Japanese language and use it (although this can be a tricky area)
You will have plenty of bureaucratic paper/computer work to do and it is unlikely that much will be in English. You will be a burden by getting everyone else to handle your basic paperwork and office communications. When you talk with secretaries, Student Affairs Division people (gakumuka), administrators (somu/kyomu), and attend faculty meetings, you will look like you have a longer-term commitment to Japan if you at least make a go of furthering your Nihongo skills. Using English in such cases puts a burden on others but, more importantly, it gives off the appearance that you don’t plan to stay in the country long-term and/or will have a limited contribution to the institution. Obviously some ability with the lingo will show commitment (and respect) towards both the country and your workplace.

Now, I said above that the use of Nihongo at work can be tricky. Why is that? It’s because some other faculty may see you first and foremost as someone who they are supposed to address in English. This may be a result of 1) the fact that they assume you can’t speak Japanese, 2) they are competent in English and see this as an opportunity to use a bit of their Eigo skill or 3) they are in fact better at English than you are at Japanese and it is obvious the whole transaction will quite frankly run more smoothly if conducted in English.

In one sense, responding in English in such circumstances is courteous- you are duly following their choice of code. But there are always a few folks who, if you do so, believe that this is an unmistakable sign of your unwillingness or inability to use Japanese and is thus indicative of a short-termer mentality. On the other hand, if you respond in Japanese, they may see it as a rejection of their English gambit, their desire to utilize a bit of their English skills, which might be part of the role that they envision you to be filling.

There might also be cases (rare and overstated in the NJ blog world, but existing nonetheless) in which the foreigner who responds skillfully in Japanese is considered negatively because they are: 1) no longer ‘fresh’ and therefore do not represent the ideal caricature of an NJ or they are 2) not really acting like an English teacher is expected to (including the possible presumption that you might also be using too much Nihongo in your ‘lectures’ as well). Personally, I have NEVER experienced this response, so I urge all readers to fall on the “more Nihongo skill” side of the equation. But I have heard from reliable sources that these attitudes might be encountered. In short, it can be tricky to walk the tightrope between giving off the air of someone who is committed long-term to the institution while still fulfilling your role of being the NJ English teacher who is expected to bring a fresh or unique perspective to the students.

On the other hand, all the advice given above plus 400 yen will get you a tall mocha latte at Starbuck’s if the position you are filling is based upon special funding or a grant that dries up; if the position is borrowed from another department or faculty who now want it back; or if there are enough people in the university hierarchy who think it is somehow beneficial to keep a revolving door policy towards teachers. And waiting in limbo for some kind of extension while feeling powerless to affect it when you have a family to provide for can be unnerving, to say the least. Good teachers have been lost, jumping at better opportunities, when their current employers remained uncommitted.

Any advice I’ve forgotten? Questions? The comments section is open for business.

Mike



« University jobs, permanency and so-called ‘musical chairs’ | Main | Contract renewal at the uni; The Ninkisei song and dance »

Comments

Mike....excellent advice! Much of what you say is also applicable to life in Japan, outside school. Regarding which language to use,my rule of thumb is quite simple: I use the language that my superior wants to use. It's very simple. A subordinate who wants to use his or her very broken English with me just to practice will usually get
Japanese back from me. After a couple of encounters they clue in that I'm not a walking English lesson. I just don't have the time or energy for these kinds of folks. Of all the tips you give, I like the just shut up one. Observe, observe and observe some more. Notice details. Read people's moods. Don't bother people who are obviously tired. These tips will make people realize you are trying to learn and fit in. Keep a kanji dictionary and a regular English-Japanese / Japanese-English dictionary on your desk, in the open. Use them and ask questions about Japanese language, with respect, when people are clearly not busy or tired. This will gain a person much mileage. Translate all office memos in the first year. I did this and kept them in a binder for subsequent years. Now I don't need the binder. But again, nothing beats shutting up, listening, observing and asking questions politely when people are not overly busy. Finally, it never hurts to ask about someone's kids, if they have any.

I should address this response to you personally, Mike, a "well done, but" kind of response, but the "but" should go out to the public which is following your postings to The Uni-Files. I do wonder how big that following may be, as opposed to your Yomiuri columns, nevertheless, or more, it may be worth the effort.

Here's the thing: everything you say in this tips-and-insights piece is empirically if not statistically irrefutable, but, and here's the other thing, more or less a waste of electronic ink.

Allow me to explain. For those already in the system and functioning according in one way or another to your guidelines, it's kind of fun to see them spelled out so familiarly. For those trying to keep their jobs in the system, with rare exception, already know how to do that, and if they don't it's very unlikely they will last long whatever advice they're given. For those trying to break into the system, those without the connection angle, your advice very much begs the question.

On the other hand, buried in your insider framework, the answer is there. Simply put, if nowadays seeking, as an unconnected NJ, a decent position in a Japanese university, you baseline need a Phd you are passionate about (the M.A. I'd argue no longer works except for part-timer jobs) and a passable fluency in Japanese. The rest, basically new-guy, keep-your-head-down but observe how the chopsticks are held, advice, is common sense, however uncommon that may be ;)

As much insider as your prejudice may be Mike (one I'm no less guilty of) I should retract a bit and say your advice is invaluable to those who do manage to get an interview.

Would you on this topic, more generally, advise prospective job-seekers to read Brian McVeigh's Japanese Higher Education as Myth? Either way, as a future post or column (if you haven't already) I'd be really interested to read your take.

Best wishes and break a leg on the new term start-up,

Walter

Thanks for the comments.
Walter- my primary reason for posting this was due to my having been asked many times by non-uni teachers about "we" get our jobs. Some could get their feet in the door with a little know-how, others are (IMO) living under an illusion.
The 'keeping your job' section is mostly common-sense advice to be sure, but I did want to counter the widespread sense of passive victimization that can and does follow some renewals.

I have read McVeigh's book (a while back)- it has, not surprisingly, hits and misses. Perhaps in teaching very goal-oriented medical students (about 20% of whom do fail a full year, and about 80% of whom will fail a class at some point), students who must pass a strict national licensing exam, I've been spoiled.

But there were many descriptions in McVeigh's book where I was thinking, "That doesn't sound like any university I know". Some sections also smacked of a 'let me tell you the ulterior motives' oeuvr, where the writer is getting dangerously close to conspiracy theory territory, all-too-common (and easy) as a critique these days.

Fair enough, Mike, the ins and outs of getting and keeping university jobs there is no need for me to belabor, I think we've covered the ground adequately.

I brought up McVeigh, warts and all, to focus for those aspiring to jobs at Japanese universities on one important aspect of knowing the ground upon which they wish to tread, which is his central point, the simulationist framework in which many universities here operate. Yours, very practical, among others in the non-liberal arts world, is probably the exception that proves the rule.

Let me give you, and however other readers we may have, an anecdote. At my school early in my tenure I was assigned to be part of a tripartite examining group to enact a viva voce of those who had completed their required graduating paper, of 25 pages in English, for their Bachelor's degree! I was sitting there, with the head of my department and the dean of the faculty as the examining committee, when the first student walked in, presented his paper, all 25 pages totally plagiarized, and proceeded not to be able to answer a single question. At the end of this excruciating 10 minutes, we compared the grades we had individually given, and both the head and the dean had given the student a passing grade. This was to be repeated more or less in the same fashion for the rest of the examinees.

Now, to be sure, things have changed (for one, I managed to get rid of this ridiculous system) but the tendency is still there, make it look good even if it blatantly isn't. Of course there is nothing particularly unique about this but for those who do make it into the Japanese university system, I would advise them to read McVeigh, hits and misses included.

I would have been more likely to accept Mr. Guest’s advice if he hadn’t made some errors that show how disconnected he is with the recent reality of hunting for a permanent university teaching position in Japan. The best source for jobs is not the JACET mailing list or website but the JREC-IN website.

The advice on how to keep a job is evidence of wishful thinking at best. The vast majority of university teaching positions are clearly stated in the job ad as permanent (or at least renewable indefinitely) or as a capped-contract (usually 3 or 4 years and then don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out). When the position is a capped-contract there is virtually nothing one can do to stay at the university past the end of the contract. Mr. Guest’s so far lucky experience at his national university is an exception rather than the rule.

I do agree with Mr. Guest’s argument that it is possible to land a permanent uni position. I've written an hopefully soon to be published article on the topic and have looked at 102 job ads for tenured English teaching posts for the last 2 years. My advice (which does overlap with some of what Mr. Guest has said):

1) Yes there are jobs for foreigners (teaching English at least). In terms of nationality, universities called for native English speakers in 27 ads and 44 more were explicitly open to qualified applicants of any nationality. Alas, many of the remaining positions that did not mention nationality called for someone with native Japanese language ability; a requirement that tends to limit the number of non-Japanese able to apply.

2) 60% of the ads wanted a Phd. That means there are still jobs out there for MAs. But the better the job (famous school, teaching English majors) the more likely they will require a doctorate.

3) virtually 100% of the jobs wanted really good Japanese. Being able to ask OLs how to make photocopies isn't good enough. You have to be able to participate in meetings and committees (and read all the memos those meetings produce) and sometimes good enough to teach a class in Japanese.

4) Be prepared to move. Around Tokyo and Osaka competition is always going to be tough. Willingness to move somewhere further afield will help your chances. I know of at least 3 failed searches by universities last year in the colder regions of Japan.

Thanks for writing James.

The JREC-IN website advice is very useful. I wasn't aware of that list (and please note my original hedge- that the JACET list was 'the best that I was aware of'. But I won't argue with TLT's Job Information editor.

A couple of other points- and the first is one we could argue on and on about. Yes, some positions are originally marked as capped and others as permanent. But in reality, I'm aware of sooo many cases where 'permanent' didn't really mean 'permanent' and 'capped' didn't really mean 'capped'. My position was originally capped but I'm hardly alone is having a position that was originally capped parlayed into a different, more permanent (but not 100%) permanent, position. As I know numerous people who've been in similar situations, the reasons having received more permanent status were among those listed as being helpful for keeping a job. Are we all lucky? Maybe. But maybe we played some cards right too.

Last thing- you wrote "The vast majority of university teaching positions are clearly stated in the job ad as permanent (or at least renewable indefinitely) or as a capped-contract" but then seem to argue that permanent positions are quite rare. The two appear to be at odds. Can you clarify?

BTW- I liked your article criticizing the idea of turning university English courses into TOEIC prep classes. My earlier blog on the whole 'On Campus Language Center' debate dealt with that same area.

Mike

Hi again. I'm just wondering why a Ph.D would be necessary to teach E.S.L., even specialized courses? I guess, I could see it for teaching English majors who will produce a thesis in English in some specialized area of English Lit, for example, but all other areas strike me as odd, to say the least. I'm not in the system so would like to know if there is a mismatch between required qualifications and actual teaching. What made me notice this originally was that some job ads I've seen listed teaching conversation and listening as part of the job requirement, but needing a Ph.D. Any light anyone can shed on this would be appreciated.

Let me jump back into the fray a little bit here. In my experience (20 years, 7 universities part-time, 1 full-time tenure) moving from capped/contract to full time/'permanent' is not all that common. Aside from Mike Guest, I know or have heard of only one other person, and a very exceptional person at that. Mike obviously knows more but from reading between the lines of my experience it seems to be an unwritten policy that such moves are considered only in extraordinary circumstances.

In response to Mark Hunter, the simple answer is prestige. In a period of declining enrollment, the competition among universities is intense and the more doctorates on staff the higher a status and rating a university receives (and thus will attract more students).

As a corollary to there being more openings at universities than there are students to fill them, as well as way more applicants for university positions than there are available, it becomes a buyer's market. Given current salary constraints, it costs little more to hire a Phd than an MA, whether it be to teach "this is a pen," or how to write a thesis in a graduate department. However, the prestige value of the former is hands down more cost effective than the latter.

Walter- Interesting that you know of only one person who made that jump, because a number of university teachers I know were once, like myself, on Gaikokujin Kyouin contracts. But when those positions were effectively abrogated, many (some?) were moved into more permanent positions. I should use the word 'permanent' carefully because, as I said before, full and complete tenure in the traditional sense has pretty much gone the way of leisure suits.

I am also aware of several teachers who were originally hired under vague contractual terms and have simply kept getting renewed, a type of defacto "permanency".

I can't help but wonder if these phenomena are more common in the provinces than in the major metropolitan areas.

Hi Mark. As Walter said, prestige is a big factor in having PhD's on staff. Related to that is funding, specifically kaken-hi (a type of research fund), where your department will simply look better- and thereby attract that funding- if all the medals on display are shiny ones.

There is little connection between having a doctorate and the actual ability to teach or manage classes well, most would agree, unless one is teaching in a very specialized field.

Thanks guys. So, can I conclude, because no one answered directly, that there is indeed a mismatch between required qualifications and what is actually required of the university teacher, except in exceptional circumstances where specialized knowledge would be required, like supervising a thesis? I guess I don't see why a B.Ed. couldn't do these university jobs, but prestige is prestige, afterall, even if it is a very shallow kind. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Have a great weekend all.

I think you may have a point there, Mike, re the metropolis vs. the hinterlands. This is a problem with anecdotally-based arguments, which I must confess mine have largely been, and further that I have never taught outside the Big Mikan or very close to it.

Perhaps more significant in the disagreements which have surfaced in this thread are the differences between what happens at national vs. private universities in Japan. Except for hearsay, my perspective has been informed exclusively by experience in the private system.

No doubt there is considerable overlap, say in how excellence (and not mere conformity) can overarch seemingly rigid boundaries, but it might be beneficial to the discussion of points raised in The Uni-Files to be clear on just what those differences are.

My response to you Mark would be both 'yes' and 'no'. In terms of teacher instincts, classroom management skills, someone with a BEd might certainly do as well as or better than someone with an advanced degree. But I think in terms of curriculum design, test making, and similar areas, someone with an advanced degree in a discipline where those were studied or practiced, would probably be better off.

Exceptions, of course, do exist.

My position too is largely based on anecdotes, Walter. But I think it would be important to note that it consists of more than Mike Guest and his drinking buddies.

Perhaps like yourself, after a long time in Japan I've built up a lot of professional associations and contacts through JALT, JACET, ETJ and various other teaching networks. Most of the people I know well from those groups have had the same post HS affiliation for 10+ years. I can say comfortably that I know more people who are in these de facto 'permanent' uni positions (where the contract just keeps on getting renewed and renewed or has been extended under different nomenclature) than those who've hit brick wall caps and had to hitch a ride 'back home'. (Then again, I allow that those who've been forced to move on or return to his/her passport country are not people I'm likely to meet at JALT Conferences).

In the countryside the uni-types tend to be family men (fewer women), often with houses, land, mortgages, kids- the works, usually adept in the language- there is little reason to wave goodbye to these folks, especially if there is not much of a replacement pool available locally. A uni in Tokyo or Osaka is probably more likely to find a qualified and trustworthy replacement more easily. The incumbent may also be less known in the local community in the major Metro areas, as that community is impossibly large, which can make it easier to let him/her go without ripples.

One anecdote- we had a highly qualified NJ teacher in a capped position (2X3 years) in another faculty of my university for a few years, until last April. As a husband though, he wanted to know about job security beyond the six years, before settling in with his wife here as he was a mansion owner elsewhere. The result of his inquiry was the now well-known 'cap waffle'. The uni didn't give a hard 'no' but no one could promise a 'yes' either (I mentioned earlier about the 'does no really mean no?' aspect of these contracts). Not wanting to wait until the last minute to find out, he instead found a permanent position at a Kanto Univ. and left. We lost a good man because of the cap waffle. Universities should be cognizant of the fact that if they remain uncommitted on cap extensions or 'lateral transfers' for worthy teachers for too long, those teachers may not show undying commitment in return- it just makes sense- but it is the university's loss. Veteran teachers with qualifications, skills and experience, those who know the language and the run of a university, also tend to be those with families, houses and other long-term commitments and it's natural that they're looking out for the loved ones first and foremost.

Mark, to elaborate on Mike's "yes and no": to be a player in this game these days a graduate degree is required, bottom line. After that, mismatches can and certainly do occur.

However, prestige, as much as it is an attractive hiring point, is not all that matters. We've hired Phds who later had to be let go. We've hired MAs who have jumped the barrier to become full time, and in one case now teaches in the graduate program. Underlying these exceptions is the well-known Japanese premise of not going by absolute principles, an MA for this, a Phd for that, rather the case-by-case approach.

Hiring committees are for sure attracted by Phds (I've been part of more than a few) but if that Phd, these days, can't deal in Japanese worth sh't, has no experience in Japanese university teaching, has no EFL/ESL background and whose publications appear in some back issue of Playboy, well, needless to say, an MA who came along with the opposite of those drawbacks would be hired instead.

The point is, yes, the rank of the degree matters, but the whole package matters more.

No argument, Mike, re your latest post, in fact in terms of commitment I would say there is little difference between the situations of big-city and naka-naka university teachers. As I said, I think the more important differences are between those in national and those in private universities.

I do sense there's a convergence going on in your sense of "cap-waffle," (see my case-by-case reply to Mark) but it was true that national universities at one point, not too long ago, were proscribed from hiring any NJ on a permanent basis. Much of what you have to say is based on a case-by-case, pro or con, manipulation of this still (I think) standing regulation at national schools.

I stand, meanwhile, to be corrected.

A couple of things to add, first an additional response to Mark-
'Doing the job' at a university requires more than classroom teaching techniques, a point I've made previously. You're expected to do research, publish, present and actively participate in/lead professional societies, all of which someone with a post graduate degree in the field is much likely to display more competency (never a slam dunk, but generally speaking).

Walter-
As I've mentioned, no one at a national univ. is on a permanent contract anymore. However, a ninkisei professorial contract of 3x8 years (assuming one is ready for a professorship at 45) will take you through to retirement and is therefore defacto permanent. NJs can qualify for these positions, and a few hold them, but the numbers are low mainly because the position requires pretty much absolute writing/reading fluency in Japanese. Even someone who holds a very high position at a Western university who wants to work at a Japanese uni would still be found wanting if he/she could not carry out the all-important administrative and committee work that professors are tied up with. I suspect such a bona fide Western academic would be maintained more suitably under a special research fellowship or something along those lines instead.

Mike

Mike: I stand corrected, I missed or glossed over the "no one" at nationals gets de jure permanent anymore.

We've added a couple of J. full-timers to our English department this year and I'll report back when I find out if they fit the "convergence" hypothesis for private universities I mentioned above.

In the past, we've had a couple of high fluency Phds who received either full tenure or carte blanche. In the one case, after participating in the "all important administrative and committee work" (mostly petty and trivial) for 15 years, even at the exalted steering committee level, the individual left in disgust (for greener pastures) after having been routinely ignored the whole time. The other, more cynical and seasoned, a Washington think-tank scholar who could be found in the teacher's lounge breezing through the Japanese edition of the Daily Yomiuri, came and went at his pleasure, and after a few years of this to-and-fro, has never been seen again, I suspect of his own volition.

The point? The qualifications necessary to top-out the system, here referring to NJ, are wasted on it. To paraphrase Groucho, for certain people it may be better not to belong to a club that accepts those people as members ;)

Mike: I stand corrected, I missed or glossed over the "no one" at nationals gets de jure permanent anymore.

We've added a couple of J. full-timers to our English department this year and I'll report back when I find out if they fit the "convergence" hypothesis for private universities I mentioned above.

In the past, we've had a couple of high fluency Phds who received either full tenure or carte blanche. In the one case, after participating in the "all important administrative and committee work" (mostly petty and trivial) for 15 years, even at the exalted steering committee level, the individual left in disgust (for greener pastures) after having been routinely ignored the whole time. The other, more cynical and seasoned, a Washington think-tank scholar who could be found in the teacher's lounge breezing through the Japanese edition of the Daily Yomiuri, came and went at his pleasure, and after a few years of this to-and-fro, has never been seen again, I suspect of his own volition.

The point? The qualifications necessary to top-out the system, here referring to NJ, are wasted on it. To paraphrase Groucho, for certain people it may be better not to belong to a club that accepts those people as members ;)

Mike asked me to clarify something by writing, "Last thing- you wrote "The vast majority of university teaching positions are clearly stated in the job ad as permanent (or at least renewable indefinitely) or as a capped-contract" but then seem to argue that permanent positions are quite rare. The two appear to be at odds. Can you clarify?"

Sorry for the confusion. I meant that 99% of job ads state the nature of the contract and whether it is open-ended or term-limited. It is my understanding that this recent clarity is a result of a Ministry of Education directive.

Every summer a look at the list of posted university English jobs will show capped-contracts jobs far out number the permanent positions.

I would argue that a lot of the university Language Centre(er)s you wrote about are staffed primarily by foreigners on capped-contracts. For example, Kanda U, Tokai U, and ICU in Kanto and Kwansei Gakuin, Kansai Gaidai, Momoyama, and Rits U in Kansai tend to provide a circuit where lots of teachers shuffle in a circle from university to university as their contracts expire.
Empty spots in the schedule tend to get filled by part-timers either young and inexperienced or too old to qualify for the capped-contracts.

Recently, the annual job hunting season sees about 50-60 positions for university English teaching advertised as permanent. That is a lot of competition for the literally thousands of qualified teachers.

Of course the best argument against the idea that the university musical chairs is a game reserved for foreigners is the spread of capped-contracts to Japanese.

The number of Japanese on capped-contracts has been growing recently but unfortunately I don't have any solid numbers.

It is this lack of solid numbers that makes it possible to argue the cup is half full or half empty and keeps life interesting.

Thanks for the info everyone! Bottom line here.... I want very much to move to Japan and take a position teaching English at a University. I have a Ph.D. and Masters in English/TESOL/ESL/... all of that. I have published, and have more articles on the way for publication. I have a great track record with student / administrative approval. I have experience and, pardon the expression, "expertise."
Here's the down side... I don't speak Japanese and I have no real contacts or "in's." Am I out? What should I do to break into the field, without going broke. Should I take a ESL teaching job with an English "school"? I make a pretty good living in Saudi Arabia, but it is, well... Saudi Arabia.
In a quandry,
Jay

Jay, in a word, no. You might easily go broke, at least temporarily, trying to get in via the commercial school route, which has more or less no connections to the university club. If your qualifications are as solid as they appear to be I'd recommend you follow the uni job bulletin boards previously mentioned in this thread and add in your applications that you are fully committed to learning Japanese and, get on it, are doing so by correspondence for now.

Mike may have some more or other recommendations, so stay tuned.

Hi Jay. It is heartening to know that my humble blog is read even in far away lands.

To add to what Walter wrote above...
I'd be willing to bet that your university has some sister-university or other working relationship with a Japanese university or two. Find out which of your Saudi-based professors are heavily involved in these relationships and get to know more about the connection, the people involved, you can even try to get involved in the exchange personally. One of the Saudi professors can then perhaps as a bridge or arrange an introduction to someone on the Japanese sister university faculty or something like that, especially if you are in tight with him/her. This can help establish that first step in the all-important 'connection' department.

Just to add to the info you've all so kindly shared...

A buddy of mine just recently completed his MA TEFL/TESL and got a full-time tenured position six months later. The key issues that arose in his interview were:

1. publications and research and whether or not he intended to continue both of these, together with active membership in professional associations (e.g. JALT);
2. whether or not he was going to do a PhD;
3. whether or not he was married and/or had a permanent resident visa; and
4. whether or not he could participate in faculty meetings in Japanese.

Being able to demonstrate a 'Yes' in response to all of these appear to have been crucial, not to mention the fact that he's a wonderfully warm and genuine person who interviewers could probably see themselves working with in the future.

Mike, is there a cut-off age to teach English in these japanese universities? Is there a minimum age? Great website!

Michael, explicit age limits for university positions are rarer these days but each university will likely have a de facto age limit that they are considering. Having said that, I've seen people hired on from their mid-fifties, but also know of institutions that are really looking for someone under 40. In short, there is no national standard.

Could I ask if Japanese universities accept online MA degrees from job applicants? I am currently studying a distance MA in TESOL and would like to apply for university positions when I complete it.
If one applicant had studied an MA on-campus and another applicant distance, would the institutions dealing with applications draw a distinction between the two degrees?

John,
A number of people have managed to get university positions in Japan having done distance MAs. A few such institutions are widely recognized as being particularly good in the field of Applied Linguistics, but if the online university has a flighty reputation, the on-campus degree will usually be prioritized when selecting candidates.

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