Was it all a waste of time?

I had lunch with a good friend today and we got to talking about teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in Japan. Not the actual work but afterwards, when it's time to move on.

One of the responsibilities in my old job was to coach departing teachers in the transition back home and to write references for them.

I tend to be an observer of character and I think it's a good thing to have as a business development consultant - to be able to point out a person's strengths and weaknesses. Actually since I am an optimistic person I am more likely to turn everything into a positive. It's a talent I have to see and articulate the skills you might learn in a job or as a member of a sports team or after having gone through an experience. 

Were you ever a teacher in Japan or even Korea or somewhere with a startlingly different culture than your own? Have you ever stopped to think what skills you gained from the experience?

  • adaptability and resilience from living and working in a foreign culture
  • vastly improved interpersonal skills from having to communicate with people from other countries both on the staff and also with the students
  • speaking and presentation skills, possibly public speaking, addressing crowds or groups
  • teaching, explaining, demonstrating new ideas and concepts, getting your point across concisely, even in sometimes very adverse conditions
  • selling and presenting the 'product' in the best light since many of us worked for private companies that rely on the students (the customers) buying the lessons
  • the sense of responsibility that comes from educating and influencing young minds
  • an open-mindedness and a new perspective on the world and human beings
  • empathy and compassion, sometimes tact or the ability to edit yourself
  • ambassadorship as a representative of your country and culture

(and notice I did not mention language skills - don't feel bad if you struggled with the language and are not going to be leaving fluent, it's the nature of the beast).


My mission

I have openly admitted that I am on a mission to get women (and men) out of (teaching) jobs that they hate. Some people are born to teach, have trained for it and feel deeply fulfilled by it. Others, like me for instance, came to teaching ESL by circumstance. It remains one of the few jobs that non-Japanese English speakers can do in Japan. I think it's a terrible waste of human talent to have professionals from other fields simply teaching English. I don't like that fact that it's often the only choice.

It's ironic that the solution to this problem is teachers of foreign languages (and better communication skills for everyone). We need good teachers. I'm figuring the good teachers won't be offended by my mission since they'd have no reason to be planning their escape from it and won't be visiting my site. Or if you are here good teacher, it's because you have an idea for a better way to teach and you need my help getting your project off the ground. I don't mean to come across as anti-ESL.


Was teaching a waste of time for me?

No, not at all. The skill set listed above is part of my DNA now too. I loved every minute of teaching and the opportunities that sprang from it. But I am ever-grateful that I have other options and can put these skills and my other skills to greater use.

If you're a teacher then I hope you can see some of the skills in yourself. They will hold you in good stead. Whether starting your own business or applying for a job in a company don't undersell your experience working as an ESL teacher.