The Language Teacher
Considerations for Securing an English Teaching Position at a Japanese University (Part 2)
University of Tokushima
Researching the Position and Institution
The job advertisement itself will typically tell you a reasonable amount of information about the position; namely, whether the position is full- or part-time, the possible length of stay, and how many classes you will teach. If you have further questions, such as those suggested by Aldwinkle (1999), ask the contact person for the position. It is best to settle all questions pertaining to the conditions of employment before you apply, since you will be better able to assess whether you want to apply. Moreover, during an interview, asking questions you could or should have researched beforehand, such as whether the university is national, public, or private, can put you in an unfavorable light. Once you have found a job for which you plan to apply, you should visit the university's and department's websites to check for: (1) staff information pages to determine what academic area (or areas) predominates, and (2) the age and type of university, which can indicate the university's staying power as well as the conditions of employment. Most universities offer such information online, typically in Japanese and sometimes in English as well. If your interests match those of most of the staff, your application has a slightly better chance of success. Other information concerning existing staff members' credentials (to form an impression of how you stand in comparison), nationalities (some institutions reputedly prefer specific nationalities or balances thereof), and so on can likewise be obtained to help the applicant at least attempt to read the tea leaves.
In general, the more rural the university's location, the less demanding the competition and requirements and more rewarding the terms of employment and length of possible stay. Though she writes regarding language schools, Crowell claims that "[j]obs in the smaller rural towns are much more available, but the distance and isolation often make them less desirable" (2000), a point which applies to universities as well (Washida, 1991).
Advice for Applying to and Securing a University Position
Hiring committees are quite strict about applicants meeting the minimum stated requirements, typically age, credentials, and experience. Therefore, if, for example, the advertisement says you need five or more publications, and you do not, do not bother to apply (Washida, 2001, p. 65).
Once you have found an open position or university that interests you, it is time to begin preparing your application materials that provide documentation of your teaching experience, publications, and related experience (Washida, 2001, p. 64): namely, a CV or résumé, a picture, and select publications. For those who do not already have Japanese working visas, you will also be asked for elementary school through high school records as well as your college degree. To be considered for a full professor's position, you need publications, preferably good ones in large numbers (Washida, 2001, p. 87-88). Some universities or even individual departments have ranking systems for publications and presentations. Even if the university to which you apply does not have an official ranking system in place, some informal ranking will naturally exist; e.g., a TESOL Quarterly publication will carry more weight than a local newspaper editorial. My university--a national one--as well as those at which close colleagues of mine now work, value such achievements along the following simplified lines, from highest prestige to lowest: sole authorship in a refereed international journal, in a refereed domestic journal, in a non-refereed journal; shared authorship in any of the above (worth less than sole authorship); a single presentation at an international conference, at a domestic conference, at a local conference, and finally as a poster presentation. In short, publications are worth more than presentations, books more than articles, refereed more than non-refereed, single author works more than shared, and international more than domestic. Similar systems may exist in other universities and may differ slightly in details, but I trust they are basically the same.
You should submit papers to the highest level journals possible; if the paper is rejected and subsequent editing and resubmission fails, work your way down the ladder of prestige until your paper is finally accepted. Most important, do not feel intimidated. Journals interested in furthering the exchange of ideas and understanding will accept papers from anyone so long as the content is lucid and original. Furthermore, if you are currently working part-time at an institution, you can use that institution for your affiliation. In addition, this affiliation may entitle you to submit papers to the university's or even department's kiyo, its journal, which you should do. The ideal strategy is to submit to the kiyo preliminary drafts focusing on facets of your research, because kiyo are only lightly refereed, thus worth fewer "publication points," while continuing to work on the papers to submit more complete versions to international refereed outlets, making note that preliminary versions appeared in the kiyo. You can also publish works by yourself (Washida, 2001, p. 119-120). Lastly, try to choose catchy, concise, and attractive titles for all your works (Washida, 2001, p. 119-120), since most of your publications will likely go unread beyond the titles in the hiring process.
Concerning the résumé, you should create the best résumé possible, because some universities make hiring decisions without interviews (see below); moreover, you should submit it in both English and Japanese versions, if possible. English résumés should be written according to the style(s) in favor at the time of application. Numerous services (résumé checkers) and resources exist online (check a search engine such as google.com or an online bookseller like amazon.com) and in print for creating and polishing résumés. For a cookie-cutter approach, you can use one of the résumé templates provided by most word processors or even commercial résumé software or templates (see Table 1). I have professionally edited English-language résumés for Japanese job seekers, and have found the Boston College Career Center's résumé site (www.bc.edu/bc_org/svp/carct/resume.html) to be excellent for North American résumés, since it provides clear suggestions and printable examples, although numerous similar sites exist.
Table 1: Sample Résumé Writing Software and Templates
- Web Résumé Writer 4.2 by eInternet Studios for Windows 95/98/NT
- WinWay Résumé Deluxe 9.0 by WinWay for Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, XP or later
- Typing / Résumé Writer by Activision for Window 95/98/Me
- Résumé Plus 2.0 by InfoUSA.com for Windows 95/98/NT/Me/2000/XP
- Résumé Maker Deluxe 9.0 by Individual Software for Windows 95/98/NT
- Ready-To-Go Résumés by Yana Parker and published by Ten Speed Press (résumé files in various word processor formats)
Japanese résumés, called rirekisho, can be purchased in packages in stores, even in convenience stores; however, some institutions do require proprietary résumé forms, which should be explained in the job advertisement, although you may wish to contact the institution to confirm the preferred format. It should also be noted that Japanese résumés are generally handwritten, because the handwriting is felt to give the interviewers added insight into the applicant's character. When properly completed, a Japanese résumé, printed or handwritten, provides the applicants with many potential edges: some of the other applicants probably did not submit them, its existence indicates the applicant's willingness to go the extra step to acculturate, and Japanese staff will naturally be more inclined to read and recall something in their native language. While this may only apply in certain cases, the institutions that will survive and thrive are most likely those that are more innovative and accepting of outside opinions and ideas.
Japanese ability can be an important consideration. If a portion, or all, of your interview is conducted in Japanese, bear in mind that Japanese interviewers face the same problems in evaluating Japanese ability that English teachers have in evaluating student ability. There is no uniform standard and interviewers differ on what is essential and what is not. There is the added problem that too much Japanese ability, perhaps indicated by holding a degree in Japanese language or culture, may raise questions about one's commitment to teach English by suggesting a greater interest in speaking Japanese than English. Some universities prefer non-Japanese-speaking foreign staff who are possibly more likely to converse with students in English as well as create an appealing atmosphere of "internationalism" or "foreignness" for both students and staff. Other universities prefer Japanese-speaking foreign staff who can participate fully in the various administration functions, such as hiring committees or curriculum planning, of the university. Interview "tests" of Japanese proficiency range from the realistic (an oral interview in Japanese) to the unusual (e.g., reading the minutes of the previous faculty meeting cold with no background). Rather than spending one's time memorizing the kanji necessary to read the faculty minutes, it would probably be best to concentrate on becoming an effective communicator in Japanese, even if this comes at the cost of accuracy. For those who speak Japanese, credentials are important. The traditional measure of Japanese proficiency is the Japan Foundation's (2002) Japan Language Proficiency Test (www.iijnet.or.jp/jpf/jlpt/contents/main-e.html), which is given annually. A more recent test is the JTOC (The Japanese Test of Communication, www.jtoc.org), which is perhaps less well known than the Japan Language Proficiency Test.
Many positions require applicants to submit reference letters, called suisenjou in Japanese. These should come from the most senior and reputable individuals you know, preferably a Japanese, since the referent will be better understood in terms of ability, position, and reputation. If you are currently studying abroad, ask any Japanese you know well for references, since some of them may be academics working on their graduate degrees: A résumé from such an individual could be particularly useful.
Credential inflation is a regrettable aspect of modern employment in many sectors. Having a doctorate in hand is a boon to anyone seeking a job in Japanese academia, yet the degree's importance is not overriding, especially for non-tenure positions. Numerous positions exist for those with an "MA or higher." According to Kitao & Kitao (1996), "[t]hat means...a PhD or an MA plus some university teaching and research experience. For research experience, it is publications that count most." In my experience, foreigners with PhDs teaching English at Japanese institutions tend to view their positions as stepping stones to gaining positions at (typically foreign) institutions where tenure is far more likely: Teaching experience gained in Japan (or elsewhere) can provide an edge. As long as tenure remains elusive for most foreign PhD holders, we expect that job turnover in Japan will continue to provide regular job openings. Moreover, with increasing numbers of Japanese university positions, for both foreigners and Japanese, being offered with contractual limits on length of stay (Monbukagakusho, 2001), some as brief as two years, turnover is structurally reinforced.
It is quite important that you focus on your résumé, since it is what will possibly determine whether you are asked to sit for an interview, if the institution in question offers them. If you are asked to sit for an interview, consider it your chance to shine. Neither I nor my colleagues was interviewed initially for positions we first held at Japanese institutions. That said, interviews do happen, so you should do your best to be prepared by considering the following points:
- Arrive on time or a bit early.
- Dress professionally and conservatively, a point also applicable to your application picture.
- Arrive with copies of your résumé, favorite lesson plans, and selected publications in hand.
- Reread the employment advertisement, if there was one, so you know exactly what kind of position you are being interviewed for and can prepare accordingly.
- Study the university itself, perhaps by visiting its website or asking Japanese friends: Is it public or private? Municipal, prefectural, or something else? Is it a two- or four-year institution? Is it coed? What departments or faculties exist?
- Prepare a list of questions you have about the position.
The following list of questions asked of myself and my colleagues at various interviews should provide readers with an idea of the scope and breadth of the questions they might face:
- Why did you become interested in teaching English?
- The students at our institution are not particularly good at or interested in English because (various reasons). How would you go about motivating them in the classroom?
- Why are you interested in (teaching in) Japan?
- Why are you interested in teaching at this institution?
- Why are you leaving your current position?
- I see you have experience with (a specific type of ESP). What kind of needs assessment method did you employ and why?
- Please explain your current research and its future direction. (Be prepared to explain and defend the publications you submitted.)
- If you could teach any subject other than English, what would it be and why?
- Please describe how you would arrange the course and what materials you would require.
- Do you mind (a problem; for example, teaching late at night, commuting one hour, overseeing a student club, etc.)?
- Do you feel reading aloud to students is a sound pedagogical practice?
- What are your feelings about (a particular teaching methodology, such as whole language)?
- What do you think are the merits or flaws of team teaching?
- Please explain one of your favorite lesson plans.
- Do you use Japanese in the classroom? If so, for what purposes and for how many minutes of a lesson?
- How well can you speak Japanese?
What I have tried to present to you is only the tip of the iceberg of information available about working in Japanese universities and junior colleges. Moreover, it is impossible to emphasize enough how little anyone knows about the future of higher education here in Japan. With the Japanese government facing mounting debts, calls to merge and privatize national universities are growing louder. With student enrollments and tuition revenues dropping, private institutions in particular are facing looming budgetary concerns. Already some university positions made vacant through retirement or other reasons are no longer being refilled. Staff in insecure positions may be asked to do more work for the same or less remuneration or even asked to leave in order to cut costs. All the same, the picture of securing university employment in Japan is not as cloudy or grim as it may seem. Nor is it particularly unique. Securing a position at a Japanese university is hardly different from landing a job anywhere: Research the job you want, acquire relevant credentials and experience, meet the advertised requirements, and be as professional as possible.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of my former colleagues Joseph Tomei and Mark Holst, who proofread this work, and who shared their experiences with applying for jobs in Japan and with interviewing and hiring foreign teachers. I would also like to thank my wife Mikiko without whose translations and research this article would not have been possible.
Aldwinkle, D. (1999). 10+ questions for your next university employer. The Language Teacher, 23(7): 14-17.
Boston College Career Center. (n.d.). Writing a resume. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.bc.edu/bc_org/svp/carct/resume.html.
Crowell, S. (2000). How do I find a job? Retrieved June 14, 2002, from http://virtualhost.wzs.com/~susan/japan/findjob.html.
Japan Foundation. (2002). Japan Language Proficiency Test communication square. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.iijnet.or.jp/jpf/jlpt/contents/main-e.html.
The Japanese Test of Communication. (2002). JTOC: International Japanese Language Proficiency and Communicative Aptitude Examination. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.jtoc.org.
Kitao, K., & Kitao, S. K. (1996). English language education in Japan: An overview. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/staff/visitors/kenji/kitao/int-teij.htm.
Monbukagakusho. (2001). Daigaku kyouin no ninkiseido no dounyuu joutai [Introductory condition of limited contracts for university professors]. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/houdou/13/12/011224f.htm.
Wadden, P. (Ed). (1993). A handbook for teaching English at Japanese colleges and universities. New York: Oxford University Press.
Washida, K. (1991). Daigaku kyouju ni naru houhou [Methods for becoming a university professor]. Tokyo: Seikyusha.
Washida, K. (2001). Shin daigaku kyouju ni naru houhou [New methods for becoming a university professor]. Tokyo: Diamondosha.
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