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January 01, 2005

Forums About Teaching English in Japan - A Rebuttal

(This letter is in response to an article posted on January 5)

I'd like to thank ELT News for giving Chris and myself the opportunity to present our point of view.

Since Mr. Burn's recent article "The Forums about Teaching English in Japan Need to Take a Reality Check" names Let's Japan, Chris and myself (the two GEOS teachers who didn't like their jobs), it's only fitting that we respond.

While the title of the article might lead some to believe that he was criticizing many if not all forums and websites with content based on life and teaching in Japan, it soon becomes obvious that Mr. Burns is singling out only one website in particular: www.letsjapan.org

“Let's Japan has been, admittedly, not everyone's cup of tea. It has been described as a "fraternity house website," a "rough place," and a "nut house of a site."”

What is it that bothers Mr. Burns particularly about Let's Japan? It's supposedly too negative. Mr. Burns then reinforces his opinion with an anonymous quote from an anonymous message board.

From the first day Let's Japan was launched on the Internet, it has been, admittedly, not everyone's cup of tea. It has been described as a "fraternity house website," a "rough place," and a "nut house of a site" among other things. Its features have included polls on drinking habits, surveys on convenience store snacks, and ratings on pornography actresses. The stories, at first written entirely by Chris and myself, are accounts of what we experienced in our first few years of life in Japan.

The sample story Mr. Burns uses in his article seems to illustrate his point perfectly: negative attitudes produce negative results. This is only his opinion. The fact that a person from head office came to the school to talk to the teacher about the incident is viewed in an entirely positive light by the writer, Chris. In Chris's opinion, the resulting meeting was a stimulus to find employment elsewhere.

E-mails received from other employees, both present and past of that company, confirm our opinion of its policies. What it seems to come down to is a matter of taste. Mr. Burns simply does not like Let's Japan. As I've said before, Let's Japan is not for everyone.

Regardless of whether Mr. Burns likes the site or not, what cannot be denied is the fact that many people have written accounts of their experiences in the eikaiwa industry. If Mr. Burns chooses to see all those experiences as negative things without redeeming qualities, that is his prerogative.

Let's Japan was not created to smear an entire industry. On the contrary, right on the front page of our site it says, "English is being taught well by great teachers here in Japan." It has always been hoped that the site would foster a discussion and inform newcomers in an effort to improve the conditions of eikaiwa.

Of the message board forums in general, Mr. Burns writes that people are "espousing their opinions on the internet and you are reading them." It should go without saying that what you read on a message board should be taken with a grain of salt. I sincerely hope no one considering something as serious (not to mention expensive) as moving to Japan to teach English would base their decision solely on what they read on a message board.

If someone was so turned off by what they read or didn't read on the Let's Japan message board that they decided not to come to Japan, then I would humbly suggest that person wasn't ready for life abroad.

To hear Kevin Burns tell it, there is a preponderance of doom and gloom stories about teaching English in Japan. Chris and I don't think so. We think there are many "nice" stories with happy endings. Let's Japan has some of those nice stories, too. Occasionally, and it seems to be the most motivating factor when it comes to story contributions or message board rants, bad things happen to good people. Why should good people be quiet about bad things? Let's Japan has always been open to "happy stories" and the venting of spleens.

Let's Japan also includes interviews with a former (Japanese) manager of a language school and a Japanese student of an eikaiwa school. We're interested in hearing all sides and views.

Is there a lot of ranting and complaining on the forums? You bet. There's also a lot of plain banter and honest discussion. In the interest of fairness should I balance out the bad with the good? No way. Why start dictating the nature of the discussions? If you make an effort to get to know the various characters on the forum, you'll soon see that there are a lot of weirdoes and there are a lot of good people. The weirdoes are acknowledged to be weirdoes and are generally tolerated. The good people can be counted on to give good advice. I have a feeling Mr. Burns hasn't spent much time on the LJ forums and is making sweeping condemnations of my site.

Mr. Burns has complained about our site before. What did he do about it? Nothing. He's complaining again. What will he do about it? Probably nothing. Aside from one story Mr. Burns submitted to Let's Japan, I haven't seen him in the forums fighting the good fight. He wags his finger at LJ and then he excuses himself from doing anything saying that it would be a conflict of interest since he runs his own school.

Strangely, Mr. Burns doesn't have a problem with setting up web pages for Odawara Living, Japan Living, Jobs in Nippon, Chess Odawara, Street & Inline Hockey, Grognards Japan, and Tennis Kanagawa and flogging his own school on a number of them.

Mr. Burns suggests that what we need is an independent website, a watchdog of sorts, to review schools. Let's Japan used to have such a section. It got few responses, not because there are no good schools out there, but because each situation is different. Some people get along great in one school while other people don't. Chris and I have actually heard of some people who like and thrive in big eikaiwa schools. We can't understand it, but that's what they say. Good for them! We're not telling anyone that our opinion is the be-all and end-all of teaching in Japan. In fact, we invite anyone with an opinion, positive or negative or both to post their opinions on our message board for the world to see.

Including Mr. Burns.

I think Mr. Burns needs to actually read the stories Chris and I and our readers have written. Yes, there are some that don't say nice things about GEOS or the other eikaiwas, but that's what happened. They are a record of our experiences.

Why doesn't Mr. Burns end his long-time gripe of Let's Japan and do something to improve the image of the industry? Why doesn't he start a "Testimonial" section on his website which includes interviews with EVERY teacher he has ever employed reviewing his school? Maybe some teachers wouldn't give glowing reviews? Maybe Mr. Burns would learn that everyone has a different take on a situation. Would he still allow a not-so-glowing review of his school on his website? If his employee posted that unflattering review on Let's Japan, would it automatically become something to be downplayed as "just more negative stuff?"

If you're thinking you'd like to teach English in Japan, you need to do your homework. Let's Japan is but a small slice of the Internet. You would be a fool to think that it is or calls itself the world's only eikaiwa review.

Shawn Thir
Webmaster, Let's Japan.org

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