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The Uni-Files

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

October 19, 2010

Getting a university teaching job- Q&A from a reader

Everyday bags of letters from blog readers arrive on my desk telling me that they have been good teachers, utilizing progressive methodologies, and so, come April 1st, couldn't I bring the glad tidings of a contract extension as I ride through the nation handing out seasonal goodies.

Today, I'd like to respond to one such letter from Jason Sturgeon, a letter that I think represents both the situation and querstions that many readers may have about the nuts, bolts, and financial rewards, of a university English teaching job in Japan...

Jason writes: I came to Japan in 2005 on the JET program and have enjoyed life here so far. I intend to stay in Japan my whole life, BUT not making a mediocre salary the whole time. I want to step up my career and my salary. To that end, I'm searching for information on what I can do and how to do it.

I was interested in teaching English at a university level not only for the rise in pay, but also for the more interesting things I could do. Teaching at middle school is ok, but I don't feel like its MY work. There's always someone else designing and deciding the lessons. Plus working at a university allows you the opportunity to do research, which I'm very much interested in. (I've been reading a lot about bilingualism in children and the Language Acquisition Device and would love to poke further into that study) So, here are some of the things that you might be able to help me out with. First, what kind of salary range do you think the average foreign professor would fit into?

I'm not expecting to get rich quick, but I also can't keep making the amount I'm making now, or I'll be in some trouble come retirement time. If you can tell me what your salary is, that would be helpful for me, Also, assuming that you make more the longer you work, getting promotions and such, what is the salary range of a professor starting out versus the salary of a professor near his or her retirement? I've found some information on this topic on Japanese websites, but the data is old and seems inaccurate. More than one site said that a full-professor (one who has been working for 20 years or so) makes anywhere from 8,000,000 to 11,000,000 yen a year. That sounds really high. I was wondering if you could confirm or refute that claim.

Yeah, let's talk money. It does matter. But keep in mind I can speak largely only of my own case. OK- Each month my pay slip says I get about 325,000 net and about 420,000 gross. But wait. This includes paying into my pension, all national health (and other) insurance plans, all taxes, the lot. All benefits are provided. Now, add the following to this: we get bonuses twice a year that come to just over 4 months worth of salary total. Next, 'teatte' or stipends for extra work on various committees- maybe another 100,000 over the year. I also am granted an outside class or two which adds about another 50,000 per month. My research funds are separate but generous.

The raise per year is negligible, about 2%. I've been teaching here for 13 years, and have 24 years' teaching experience in total (I'm 50), all post HS. Interestingly, my monthly net pay at a senmon gakko in Tokyo 20 years back is higher than my current salary, at least on the payslip, but not so when all the benefits are added together. Also, my previous position at this university was the now outmoded 'Gaikokujin kyoushi', for which the monthly salary was about 20% higher than now but with fewer benefits and much less job security. (Job security will always be the issue for teachers trying to enter the university scene- regardless of nationality).

Private universities (mine is National) may pay more for veteran teachers with PhDs from prestigious universities but tend to have less job security and benefits. And certainly being a Full Professor anywhere will bump you salary-wise above the Associate Profs (like me) and Lecturers, but the chances of that happening are generally close to 0.

Jason: Next, what kind of qualifications do universities require of their English professors? I've heard that either a masters degree in linguistics or a TESOL degree is necessary, but which one? Or do you need both? Along the same lines, could I expect to make more if I had a doctorate degree, or would that be making myself overqualified. I have also heard that you need to have "publications" in order to be considered for a position at a university. If that is the case, I was wondering if you could elaborate on that. What exactly counts as a "publication".

A Master's in the field is an absolute minimum for getting your foot in the door. And 'in the field' will generally mean Applied Linguistics or something close- and only one such Master's is enough, although an additional teaching certificate (I have one) never hurts. A PhD almost always helps but not necessarily. I was starting my PhD when I began here and yet was actively discouraged from pursuing it because 1) it would put me in a less affordable salary bracket, 2) the then reigning professor wanted to be the head hog without any fear of 'competition', and 3) it was thought that it might interfere with the daily work I was supposed to be doing.

As for publications, I know that this a dilemma for those not in universities but who want to enter. After all, most non-university teaching jobs have no need for publications, as a academic research is not considered part of the job since contact hours are the real work. A publication will generally mean an academic journal that is refereed. Any teaching materials' publication would also hold water. If a post-grad thesis is published, that is also acceptable. So, for those with no background in this sort of thing, I suggest getting involved with some group research wherein you'll get your name published but may not have to take a lead role (new academics do this all the time). Action Research, where a teacher delves into solving actual classroom dilemmas but usually without the full academic paraphaernalia can also get published and is more accessible to younger teachers and researchers.

Jason: Also, what kind of work hours do you have? I'd like to know the minimum per week, the maximum per week and the general average per week. I know that some parts of the year are busier than others. For the purposes of this question, work hours means time spent either at the office, or at home doing university related tasks, including administrative tasks.

You could conceivably come into the university only to do your classes and the surrounding prep (copying) etc. and then go home BUT you would never get a contract renewed if you took this tack. You would not be considered a teacher with long-term or promotional potential. Most universities operate a data base of your 'worth' to the institution in which all your publications, presentations, extracurricular duties, related social (such as this blog and my Yomiuri columns) and professional associations and commitments, admin work and committees, both leading and simple membership. You will also these days be expected to regularly produce research results AND try to raise money for such (as with kaken-hi scientific research grant applications). Without getting involved in all of these things, your database score will be unlikely to justify keeping your contract the next time renewals or cuts come around.

And holidays of any length are very rare, at least at national universities. If I can scrape a week together in the off-season when there are no committee meetings, special courses, intensive private work with students (grad theses, seminars), and administrative or extracurricular duties, I consider myself lucky. At some private universities I hear of teachers regularly taking a month or so off and chilling out- absolutely unthinkable for me, and NOT because I'm a workaholic or anything.

Personally, I am in the office- and usually active- from 8:30 to 5 PM every weekday but will also do some work at home. I have 7 90-minute koma contact hours per week. Weekends too may be taken up with obligations, especially involving research trips, conferences, organizing/participating in special events and lectures, and even follow-up 'semi-obligatory uchiage' parties But nobody is really checking you on a regular basis. There is no time punch card. I can visit my home at times as I live within walking distance and no one would notice or care- but then again (blows own trumpet) I've built up 13 years' worth of trust here.

In general, any information you can give me about your own personal experience would be the most desired and useful to me. Stories and information from a source "straight from the horse's mouth" seem more real than averages and stipulation. I feel like if it happened to you, it's very possible I could have the same thing happen to me.

One thing comes to mind immediately Jason, It REALLY helps to be active and known in the local teaching community, both J and E. Join teaching organizations and participate. Attend training sessions. Go to meetings and conferences. Most university jobs are offered to known quantities, through connections- although usually at first as limited part-time gigs. New foreigners often become recommended by veteran foreigners whose judgment is trusted by the staff of the university (usually the Kyoujukai- Professor's Working Group).

Does any vet have anything to add to Jason's inquiry? Or do readers have any similar questions? Comments are open...

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During my own job searches and watching co-workers hunt for uni positions I became quite fascinated with what universities were looking for in a hire.

When we applied for the same positions I couldn't understand why I would get hired when other co-workers I knew were just as qualified didn't even get an interview. Or even worse vice versa.

This fascination led me to do a lot of reading and writing on the topic but I still can't always answer my question.

I work at a private university so some of my answers might be a little different but I suspect that every institution and even every department has their own quirks.

I think Mr. Guest did an excellent job answering the questions but I'll give some additional reading homework for those that are extra keen.

1) The Money. Search for "Kansai private university pay scales". A list of the top paying and worst paying unis in Kansai is made available annually. It breaks it down by age and position and will give you a very rough idea of what to expect.

Be warned though. Lots of schools are cutting pay and bonuses. Especially payment for things like doing entrance exams.

Other schools are forcing people to retire at 60 or 65 so that have an impact on your retirement planning.

2) Qualifications. I wrote a piece called The right stuff hiring trends for tenured positions in Japan for the Sep/Oct Language Teacher. It covers qualifications for a permanent job. A Phd isn't necessary but it is slowly becoming the standard.

And study Japanese. More likely than not you are going to have to do lots of meetings and committee work in Japanese.

In my case I decided I could improve my Japanese or get a Phd. I didn't have the time and money to do both. I ended up choosing Japanese. But I'd say one of the two is required these days.

3) Publications. I wrote another piece for The Language Teacher in Jan. 2009 called Publish and Flourish. It is a list of journals that a novice academic might consider submitting to.

The above info is really aimed at someone who wants a permanent uni gig. If you just want to do a few contracts and then leave the country my advice would be a bit different.

The Language Teacher regularly publishes articles aimed at uni job hunters if anyone out there surfing the interwebs wants a third opinion.

Thanks James.
I read your most recent TLT article on the topic almost immediately after I posted (the timing was entirely accidental) but I second that it contains a lot of good advice from someone who knows the scene. I'm too lazy to post a link (busy too right now) but The Language Teacher is online and by Googling the article titles that James cited above, James' name, and The Language Teacher, there is no way on earth you can miss these articles.

Excellent questions. Excellent answers. If I may add my two-cents as someone who has “worked his way up from the bottom.”

1. Don’t be disappointed if all you can get is part-time work to begin with. It is a foot in the door and a great way to make connections. A lot of people look for a full-time gig right away. I started out teaching part-time at three different universities at the same time. They pay is not bad, just be prepared for no salary when school is out.

2. Try to work your way up. At my current university I spent two years as a part-timer, three years on contract as a “visiting lecturer,” two years on contract as a 助教, and finally made it to tenured 講師 this past April. No matter what level you start out at, try to take part in as much as you can and make yourself visible at the school. I was not required, or even asked, to do things like open campus, high school visits, orientation, speech contest judge, entrance exam proctor… However, I did ask my department head if I could do them and he was more than happy to let me. I know this came up in the tenure discussions. “Oh, Williams, I know him, that was the guy that always helped with open campus....”

3. Along the same lines, don’t reject anything the school may ask of you. I have checked numerous abstracts and presentation for Japanese colleagues. You never know who sits on the hiring / tenure committees. “Oh, Williams, that is the nice guy who helped me with my presentation. I think we should keep him.” Or, “Oh, Williams, that is the guy that wouldn’t answer my question. I think we need somebody more helpful.”

4. Japanese. Learn it. Get good at it. Get proof. If you can speak / read / write Japanese, make sure you take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test so you have something that indicates you ability. Just saying “I can speak Japanese” is not enough. The better the Japanese, the more you can do at the school. I know one of the reasons I got tenures is because I can speak / read / write Japanese and none of the other foreign staff can. Unfortunately, guess who has to do committee work?

5. Don’t be complacent. I came in with one Master’s and am about to finish my second. I came in with Level 2 Japanese and passed Level 1 a few years ago. I try to write for the school journal every year. Even if it doesn’t work out at the school you are at, you can take it with you.

I hope this is useful.
Thanks for your time.


You and the other vets who have posted on this topic have been a tremendous help, and I thank you.

I'm relieved to hear that a PhD isn't a requirement but an option, as I don't have the time or money to take on such a huge project at the moment. Japanese however shouldn't be a big problem. I have my 二級 certificate and I'm working on my fluency and reading ability. If I applied myself and focused on 一級 I could probably pass that in a year or two. The enjoyment I get out of studying Japanese is probably related to why I like teaching English... but I digress.

Thanks again for all your helpful comments, it's not easy to find this kind of information.

I do have a follow up question for those who started out as part-time workers though. As a part time worker, what were your responsibilities and what was the actual "title" of your position? When I hear "part time" I get an image in my head of someone that doesn't have their own office, or perhaps shares an office with others, and just assists in teaching the students, but isn't actually responsible for lesson planning. Since it seems that most of you started out as part-timers, it's likely that I would too, so I was curious about this.

Hi Jason.

A quick response to your questions above.

1. The title is usually "hijoukin kyoushi" and basically the responsibilities are connected only to the class(es).

2. You'll almost certainly be placed with other part-time teachers in a common area, usually adjacent to the copy machine, materials, secretary, mailboxes etc.

3. Usually you'll be following the established program of the school your working at but many will allow for individual leeway in terms of methods and materials. It depends, of course, on how strict/rigid/structured the system is. Some universities though, will give you carte blanche and full academic freedom to do as you see fit.

Hi again

When I was “hijoukin” it was different at each school. At one place students were only required to take English their freshman year. I was the only teacher for students in two departments. I was given carte blanche, which I found out can be a blessing and a curse. I had to select my own materials, make a syllabus, research about what kind of students I would have… I think I learned more about teaching my first year as a part-timer than I did in grad school (the job of teaching, that is). At the other place students were required to have two years of English. It was also pretty much carte blanche, but it did require some communication with other part-timers to make sure toes were not being stepped on – the book I want to use with my freshman might already be used by another person teaching the sophomores. At my current school we have an English department but part-timers do not teach any of those classes, only the full-time teachers do. I imagine this is the same at other places.

I had no office when I was a part-timer. One school had a “lounge,” for lack of a better term, with sofas, desks, lockers for the teachers, a microwave, a coffee maker, photo copier…the whole nine yards. It was really comfortable and all of the other part-timers, Japanese and foreign, socialized quite a bit. Another school had a part-timer room with cubicles. I never saw anybody in there. We had to make a request one week ahead of time to get copies made. One school had laptops we could borrow to teach with and make presentations, the other didn’t. One school would let part-timers publish in their journal (called a kiyo 紀要), the other didn’t. It really depends on the school.

I had no responsibilities other than teaching. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, I did offer to help as much as I could. “I see there is an Open Campus soon, do you need any help with that?” “Is there anything I can do to help out with the entrance exams?” and got taken up on it a few times. Believe me, the full-time teachers would be more than willing to let you take their places.

One thing about part-time positions, they usually are not advertised and go through word-of-mouth. Your local JALT chapter is the best place for this.

Jason W.

Hi all,

thanks for the informative topic. I'm in a similar boat to Jason S, in that I'm looking to get my start. I completed my Masters this year and felt extreme satisfaction that I had perhaps overcome the biggest hurdle to securing some uni work. I recently applied for a number of positions with Masters Degree written on my CV and copies of my thesis included, and sat back waiting for the requests for interviews to come in. However, it didn't happen - all I got were a couple of "thanks, but no thanks" type replies.

I definitely think connections and publications are crucial to getting above the many others like you out there, even when just applying for PT positions; two things I don't really have yet but am working on. I feel I definitely need to look to improve my Level 3 Japanese too, after reading the comments here.

Thanks everyone for what has proved to be a pep talk into getting me more active in the quest for finding work. I'm always keen to hear other people's experiences, if anyone else has stories to tell.

Hi all.
Im in the same boat as Jeremy here with recently completing my master`s and looking for jobs in Japan. I have resigned myself to looking for part time jobs, but even finding them is a huge task. the biggest problem for me is getting to Japan. Without a job, I cant get a visa, and without a visa I cant get a job. Could someone give me any advice so I can start to get my foot in the door.
This article and the comments above has helped alot so thankyou everyone.

Some advice for those who have the minimum qualifications for uni teaching in Japan and still have trouble breaking in.

If you are already in Japan the biggest hurdle is getting your foot in the door. When I started out I got lucky and took over some classes from friends who were leaving Japan. I also got asked out of the blue at a JALT meeting if I could take over someone's classes mid-semester.

So try to network as much as possible by attending JALT, JACET and ETJ meetings and the Temple U weekend seminars. Not just the big conferences which tend to be terrible places to meet new people because everyone is hanging out with old mates but the monthly meetings.

Be prepared to struggle for a couple years to put together a schedule of part time work. At the beginning it is entirely possible only a few of your jobs will be at the uni level and the rest might be business Eng. or eikaiwa.

JACET's web page does carry part-time job ads especially some at the last minute.

If you are not in Japan your biggest hurdle is getting here. Very few unis will hire someone from outside of Japan and I've never heard of any uni doing it for part-time work.

The few places I've seen that hire from outside Japan for uni contract positions do advertise the fact. It is just such jobs are really rare.

Check out the links at the top of JALT's The Language Teacher job info page for a bunch of job hunting sites.
July to Sept tends to be peak season for uni requesting applications but you will find jobs advertised throughout the year.

For people like Stuart Benson who are qualified to teach at the uni level but just can't find a job at the uni level from outside the country you might have to come to Japan on the JET programme or for one of the eikaiwas and get some Japanese experience.

Getting to the point of making a living teaching at the uni level, even temporarily as a part-timer or contract teacher, really is a long term project.

Good advice from all. I've been giving advice on landing EFL jobs in Japan for about 13 years. Been in a uni job for only 5 of those years, but I still have kept my ears to the ground for advice. So much so, that I published an article in The Language Teacher before James did. (No flaunting here, just fact) Title: "Preparing to Search for University Teaching Positions" vol. 31. no. 3. Pp. 41-42, 2007.

Also, in case you don't have access to that issue, look at the FAQ stickies on the ESL Cafe (Japan forum) for a boatload of links (all of which I used in my article, and then some). They will tell you about what unis look for and how people have made mistakes in applying.

As for work hours, I think most FTers teach 5-10 koma per week on average. I have 10-11 koma per year, split unevenly depending on various circumstances. Mike is right, though, about other duties. You will be on committees, grounds cleanup, test making groups, test monitoring groups, test correcting groups, and various other duties depending on your uni (in my case giving special community lectures or training courses to JICA participants, and running the English library we have). And, then there is always proofreading (which you can do at home, but you won't get paid for it anyway, so do it on campus and keep your home hours free.

Publications. What counts most is a single-authored article in a peer-reviewed international journal of merit with an article in the TEFL field. Anything counts, of course, but the closer you can get to that gold standard, the better. Books are often not even counted as equal in value to articles.

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