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The Uni-Files

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

August 01, 2012

Let's laugh and point at those lowlife English teachers!

I’m tired of apologizing for myself. Yeah, I’m an English teacher. You’re a cook. He’s in retail-- runs a small business. That guy’s a financial advisor. My brother-in-law drives a truck.

Hey, we could scoff at that too! Except when you realize that the trucks he drives are those earth-shakingly enormous super-monster-goliath mining trucks, the kind that send the pulses of prepubescent boys who watch Discovery Channel racing. And he makes about $80 an hour. You’re not scoffing now. Now, I'm not sure what else he'd do if he didn't drive a truck, but in his field he has driven himself (yeah, a weak pun I know) to the top of the heap and provides well for his family. He's a decent working man doing OK. So no one scoffs- nor should they.

I could introduce myself by saying that I’m a professor at a National University. It's true, so sometimes I do. This always wins me some politeness creds at immigration. Dig a little deeper though and you’ll soon find out that I’m an English professor and, well, that’s still just an English teacher, not a real professor, isn't it? Am I supposed to be ashamed? Apparently.

Why? Apparently, my only skill is that I speak my mother tongue and that if I were back in Canada I wouldn’t have a job or be of any social value. Maybe a late night shift at a convenience store or gas station would be my calling. I’m a dork and a loser ‘back home’ but think I'm a freaking hero in Japan.

Oh really? Like every time I visit Canada all the other guys my age are neurosurgeons and high-powered executives, dressed in Brooks Brothers splendor, with a tanned healthy blonde on each arm, keys to the Lexus dangling conspicuously. Yeah, right.

It’s true that I don’t have great mechanical aptitude, that I’d look about as comfortable handling a lathe as Ayako Imoto would parading in a Milanese high-fashion show. And I’ve lost my muscle tone for lying pipe. Hey, I barely have the muscle tone for looking at pipe. But if Mr. Pipe-Layer and Mr. Lathe-Handler come to my classroom I will kick their asses when it comes to the class management of 35 students or developing a viable ESP curriculum.

But let’s not talk about me. Let’s talk about other English teachers in Japan. Teachers like Clark Steamhamm.

Clark is decent at academics and is inclined towards the humanities. He’s fairly articulate and conversant. He studied humanities at university for stimulation and to stir his curiosity, not for job-training. He got an MA but hadn’t given too much thought to an actual vocation thereafter. Clark likes to travel. He hears of a gig in Japan teaching English and comes over. He finds that it suits his skills and sensibilities. He gradually picks up some ELT-specific certifications, hones his classroom skills, and eventually gets his feet in the door of a Japanese university. He then begins a PhD program in Applied Linguistics and ultimately gets a steadier position at the university. He writes papers, does research, presents at conferences, takes roles in professional organizations. He gets married, has kids, buys a house. He'll be here awhile.

So do we scoff at Clark? After all, he’s just an English teacher. What would he do ‘back home’? (As if ‘back home’ is a relevant issue for Clark now). Hey, the guy has a steady job. He’s an academic, a minor academic to be sure but…. He has educated, furthered, and marketed himself so that he can buy a house and raise a family in reasonable comfort. Ha ha! What a looser!

Next let’s look at Ed Skidmark. Ed’s less academically inclined than Clark—he just doesn’t have the patience for it. Ed stops in Japan while backpacking through Asia and meets a girl (this will become a common theme). He likes it here and decides to stay, living in rural Kagawa Prefecture. But what to do? Ed decides to start up Ed’s Maple Leaf English School in his small town, since there is little competition and an apparent market. Ed develops some business acumen and some social skills because he is now an entrepreneur, a businessman. He learns Japanese and works hard to establish his business in the community. He also develops some fine practical teaching skills over time. Ed marries the woman he loves, and has kids. Everyone in the town knows him and his school. He has financially rocky moments, but he does OK.

Do we laugh and point at Ed? After all, he’s also just an English teacher—and one without an advanced degree. But he’s a self-made man, running a business, and establishing himself in the community. Ha ha—what a dweeb.

OK, how about Leonard Swatcloth? Leonard came to Japan because his real love is pottery—Japanese pottery, at which he is quite adept and he can always sell a few pieces at exhibitions, but he knows that this is hardly a profession in which he can safely retire. So he teaches English on the side—maybe at Ed’s school. He gets a few local qualifications and becomes a decent teacher, although it never becomes his passion. But it helps him support his pottery jones and he feels fulfilled because of this. How then shall we poke fun at this skill-bereft Charisma man?

Finally, let's look at Dane Chocolate-Lather. Dane got his BA in the UK and got hired on the JET Program. He’s not sure he’s suited to teaching, and only occasionally enjoys it. But he met some people from a well-known ELT publishing company and managed to shoehorn his way in as a local sales representative and, possibly in the future, a materials writer. This role suits him better. But hey, it’s just ELT-- so he’s about as successful as that guy zombied out to hell in front of the Sunderland methadone clinic every morning, right?

OK. Let’s look outside of English teaching. Do we laugh at the guy who comes to Japan and can cook some basic dishes from his home country? The guy who opens an ‘ethnic’ restaurant in Toyama and manages to make a decent living while improving his cooking skills, not to mention honing that all-important entrepreneurial and social acumen. After all, just about anyone can cook a few dishes from the old country! So why can't we apply the same sophisticated critique to him that usually applies to English teachers: Moran!

Or the guy from Brisbane who shuns English teaching completely-- it's just not his thing at all-- but decides to open a bar in Japan, which becomes moderately successful. Screw the business acumen and social skills, anyone can pour a beer! He’d sure be useless ‘back home’ right? I mean, you sure never find people who open bars and serve drinks in Australia! No, they’re all rocket scientists and structural engineers!

And then there’s the guy (*note-- I am conscious that all my samples are males, this is because it seems that females are off the finger-pointing hook to a much greater degree for just being English teachers than are males—which does indicate an implicit sexism in the charges, true) who gets his degree in business admin and starts out by apprenticing in a minor financial firm in Salem. But he gets tired of being reined in, being way down the decision-making ladder, and thinks he would have more freedom if he took his knowledge of investments to the foreign community in Fukuoka. He gets the necessary licenses, starts pressing the flesh, and—if he gives a bit of winning advice and a few profitable tips, he gets established in the local financial advisor scene. Yeah, absolute rock bottom scum. A leech on society.

Sure, we could also point to Fergus Totalform, who basically flits from teaching job to teaching job in Japan, has no real qualifications for teaching, and doesn’t apparently care much about it (his ‘hobby’ seems to be not having his contract renewed). He drinks way too much and borrows money from other ex-pats who can then wave it bye-bye. He's burned a lot of bridges. We all know of guys like Fergus. But of course there’s absolutely no one like this in Canada. No one.

Does this all sound like someone threw a stick into a pack of dogs and the one that got hit is yelping? Maybe. Or is it just a response to a few people from outside the ELT Community who have no idea of what's involved, how we get established and build lives here but, for some reason, feel superior. I don't really need the respect, nor do I ask for it. I just want those people who point the fingers to know who the hell they are pointing at.

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You spelled loser wrong, ironically, that's exactly what you are.

"You spelled loser wrong, ironically..."

Hmmm, irony is definitely the keyword here.
I feel so stoopid, like a complete moran.

Why do you feel like a member of the warrior group of the Masai people of East Africa, which comprises the younger unmarried males? (This is the dictionary's definition of "moran", copy-pasted here for our edutainment moment of the day.)

Having been an English teacher here in Japan for the past 13 years, there are times I love it, and times I hate it.
But for those times I hate it, I just think of the money I make, especially in some of the company classes (upwards of $100 an hour!) and suddenly find my J.O.B. is not so bad after all.

Here in Japan, there is an ardor of pride in being a teacher. The respect that people give teachers here is unbeaten anywhere else!

I drive a sports car, have a lot of free-time in the week, and still make more than the average full-time worker.

Yes, being a teacher sure is tough! I must remember to write my brothers back home in the UK later and ask how their corporate J.O.B.'s are going and if they're enjoying the large taxes, insurance, etc take outs from their measly salary as they hopelessly dream of getting on the next rung of the corporate ladder every two years!

"Why do you feel like a member of the warrior group of the Masai people of East Africa, which comprises the younger unmarried males? (This is the dictionary's definition of "moran")."

Bill, I actually meant to say I feel like a "Maroon" (referring of course to the now-defunct Montreal pre-war pro hockey team).

Wow, you guys (yes guys) seem to be getting a little shell-shock. Anyway, I'm in America, well Maui actually, and I am thinking of trying my hand at English teaching. But to be honest, you guys seem kind of funny; humor, or as the Brits say "humour," is always appreciated. I was hoping one of you linguists might point me in the right direction. I have a B.A. and a J.D.

Take Care,


Matt here, I'm in Japan, well Kyoto actually. Good writing my fellow Canuck. People back 'home' say or think such things because we are different, that's all. They can't comprehend why we would want to be in Asia at all. But hey, I don't say much. I barely work, make over 60$ an hour and was able to go home for a month this August. That's enough proof to them that my job is pretty sweet. Ignorance is bliss and for many of us being overseas, it just kinda happens.

"lying pipe" ? I thought it was "laying pipe"

Taught in Japan for 15 years and felt embarrassed as hell about it. So much in fact that I left a few years ago with my J-wife and daughter and headed back to the States. Was able to save a very large % of my income in Japan, had lots of time for myself and took long vacations. Life was good. Sure, it was mind-numbing at times; often, I was bored and frustrated and longed for a challenge but how many people here in the USA experience the same thing in their jobs but can't make ends meet and have little or no time off at all? Yet I feel better physically and mentally here. I sleep better. People tell me I look younger. I have higher self-esteem outside of Japan. That being said, I often secretly dream of going back to teach.

I live in Fukuoka and until recently was an eikaiwa teacher.
My new career is completely unrelated but I just don't understand how anybody could be embarrassed about teaching English (or doing any job for that matter).
I have nothing but utter respect for anybody who puts in a hard day's graft and any detractors should simply be dismissed as the cretinous, small-minded turdbags that they obviously are.

white women in japan can be real (unpleasant) to white men teaching english. experienced it quite a few times over the years ... it was always from the white women married to japanese men. funny thing is, those (people) were miserable in their marriages and their lives in japan while the white men they attacked were always pretty damned happy.

(Blogger's editorial note: I am a column writer, but not the owner or manager of this site, so I have gritted my teeth and edited the above comment for 'tone' where parentheses are seen)

I am creating an Encyclopedic Dictionary of English, with Esperanto as its interface language. The dictionary is at:

The thing is though while those examples are fine they are the outliers. The Fergus Totalform types are the VAST majority of ELT 'teachers'.

The opening up of China has lowered standards even more. What with white looking people (who don't speak English) getting jobs in top universities in China as 'English professors'

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