Posts Tagged eikaiwa

July 22, 2006 – Teacher shortage

Due to the continuing shortage of teachers at work, we only had 4 teachers available on Saturday again. Numazu used to have 10-12 teachers in total, and at least 8 of them would be scheduled on Saturday, usually 6 working mornings / afternoons and 2 covering afternoons / evening.

Working at about half of our previous capacity was a challenge for staff and students. Some classes were guaranteed and had to be offered: group kids classes and voice always went on the schedule first. After that, any lesson slots were available on a first come first served basis. To complicate this, students had to be grouped by skill level.

As an example, let’s say that there are 4 teachers available at 5:00pm on a Saturday. There is a group kids class and voice offered at that time, which leaves 2 teachers available to teach lessons. If a level 5 student calls for a lesson, they turn one of the open slots into a level 5 lesson. Other level 5 students can join, and in rare cases a lower level student may challenge the lesson. If a level 3 student books the other open slot then all teachers are booked. Students of other levels who want a lesson at 5:00pm are out of luck.

Students usually buy bulk lesson packages in advance. Lesson tickets can expire, which really makes students upset when they can’t get lessons at their level to use up their tickets. It’s a major frustration that they frequently complain to teachers about.

If you are thinking about buying lessons from an English conversation school, make sure to ask about the numbers of teachers available: you may find yourself unable to get lessons and your tickets will expire.

2017 Update: Attracting teachers to smaller areas and retaining them was always a challenge for NOVA. What made the problem worse is that in 2006 NOVA was facing some serious financial problems. I don’t know the exact details, but this probably explained the cuts in overtime and hiring. It was a bad situation for students who wanted to use up their lessons!

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July 2006 – Busted (not me)

“No interacting with students outside of the classroom” is one of the cornerstones of NOVA employee policy. The idea is to prevent teachers from stealing students from the school for cheaper private lessons, and to reduce the risk of any unpleasant interactions that could cause the students to stop buying lessons.

** Please remember, when I say “students”, I am referring to conversation school students who are typically adults.

In Kawasaki I was aware that some teachers were seeing students outside of the classroom, but when I arrived in eastern Shizuoka I was surprised by how often it happened. Pretty much everyone other than supervisors had been to an “unofficial” farewell party with students in attendance. In addition, several of the teachers are or were dating students, and my friend Koalako shared an apartment with two teachers in Numazu.

Hanging out with students was an open secret in the area, with the understanding that everyone should keep it quiet and not let the supervisors or Japanese branch staff know. For the amount of times that teachers and students interacted outside of the classroom, it’s actually surprising how few people got caught. The good luck streak was broken in mid 2006 when teachers got caught red handed.

The two male teachers had invited two female Japanese students out for a drink, and for some reason decided to go to an izakaya near Fuji school that was popular with the Japanese branch staff. They were seated near the entrance, when coincidentally the branch staff came in for an after work drink as well. My understanding is that the teachers were called to a tense meeting with the area manager shortly after to remind them of NOVA’s policies.

I can understand NOVA’s point of view about the policy: they are a business and they need to protect their future profits. However, I think there is a lot of benefit from teachers and students interacting outside of the confines of the classroom. The best way to practice conversational English is to have a real conversation. Interacting outside of the classroom in a natural setting is also a great way to improve intercultural understanding. Other than good times at karaoke, I got a lot more out of my time in Japan by spending time with Japanese people instead of just teachers.

If you are teaching in Japan and decide to ignore company policy by hanging out with students, please be sensible, behave properly, and don’t ruin it for everyone else. Also, choose the venue carefully: you don’t want branch staff to crash the party!

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