English lessons on the cheap

So imagine my surprise when I found out a week from the end of the school year that I would not be returning to my school. The local Board of Education had changed the company that supplied assistant language teachers.

Supportive teachers advised me to talk to the BOE and ask for a direct hire — after all, they would not want to lose the only qualified foreign teacher they had, would they? This made sense, particularly since the current employment practice of the BOE was against the ministry of education’s advice. Therefore, I made my appointment with the local BOE, and clearly outlined the benefits for the BOE and school in my direct employment. Unfortunately none of this mattered: I received a response of “impossible” as soon as the words were out of my mouth. It was at this point I realized the truth: They were not the supporters of education I had imagined. The continuity of students’ learning was not important to them. The effort I had put in meant nothing. The fact that both the Japanese teacher of my class and myself were leaving did not matter, because they had a cheaper deal with their new company.

What expectations can Japan have from its English language programs when everything comes down to saving a few yen? The influx of “dispatch” companies, often breaking labor law by illegally dispatching temp workers to schools under the instruction of the BOE or principal, or breaking educational law if they are not, has created a situation where the pay is so low that those who will accept it are increasingly ill-equipped to teach, often with no experience, qualifications or even higher education, obtaining visas through marriage or working holidays. Many are from non-native English backgrounds with poor English ability and heavy accents.

It is time that the ministry of education opened its eyes to the practices of local boards of education. There are many qualified teachers who are willing to accept the amount paid to the third-party dispatch companies, but unless action is taken BOEs will continue to take the easy way out when hiring.