Why I Quit Assistant Language Teaching in Japan

By Donald Ash | Teach English In Japan Hub

Why I Decided to stop Doing ALT Teaching in Japan 2I remember making the decision to quit my job as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) with Interac like it was yesterday.  The anxiety is still quite fresh in my mind.  I remember thinking “How am I gonna explain my reasoning to people?”  More importantly, I started thinking “If you’re not ALT teaching if you’re not eikaiwa teaching, how are you gonna pay the bills?”

Why did I stop? Where do I begin? Well, I guess we’ll just take it from the top…




I was working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), with the dispatch company Interac,  for about a year-and-a-half when I decided to stop teaching. This decision wasn’t a sudden, it was one that I had been contemplating for several months. There are four major reasons why I stopped ALT teaching: 1) time constraints, 2) pay, 3) health-related reasons, and 4) a personal promise.

Before I discuss these reasons, I have to mention that I didn’t leave Interac because I was dissatisfied with my school.  My fellow teachers, the Interac staff,  the SUPER-friendly Japanese teachers, and the KIDS were great!

When the urge became too great, I felt like I got good support when I started to question whether or not I wanted to stay.  Unfortunately, I felt more valued on my way out than when I was there on the grind.  On my way out, the branch manager simply treated me like a person.  That really meant a lot to me. He would call and talk to me.  He would check on me, man-to-man, to see how he could make things better for me. Overall I think I learned a lot from my job and had fun doing it.  Sadly, something inside of me just wouldn’t allow me to stay…

Let’s look a little more closely at the reasons why I stopped ALT teaching…

TIME CONSTRAINTS

One reason I decided to change from eikaiwa work to ALT work in the first place was to free up time to do other things like internet stuff, modeling jobs, TV gigs, and the like. Though I really enjoyed having a full summer vacation, I ended up discovering that once you really start to get into other types of work, even the ALT schedule can be too constrictive. Sometimes there are opportunities that happen outside of a summer break. I didn’t want to repeatedly ask for permission to miss work just to do other jobs because it’s not really fair to Interac. Besides you can only have so many sick days, right? In the end, I signed my name on a contract, so in quite a few cases, my hands were tied. I ended up missing out on more opportunities than I wanted to.




PAY

No job should ever be all about the money…I truly believe that, but I do think a person should be comfortable (at the very least) with what they’re earning. Truthfully as an ALT, I wasn’t. No doubt monthly student loan payments factor into that, but they’re something I have to factor into what I’m earning.

Yes, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but as you probably know, there was a substantial salary gap between my Interac job (final: around 240,000yen) and AEON job (final around 310,000 yen final). It’s like a $700 difference…per month! Initially, I thought having the extra time would be a consolation for the lack of pay, but for some reason, it didn’t feel like it. During the year I would work just as many hours as I did at AEON but with less to show for it. During the vacation months, the 60% pay was a killer. It wasn’t something I had to worry about during my eikaiwa days…pay was the same year-round. Sure you have time to prepare for it, but having to work extra jobs just to make what you were making at your old job takes a lot of that “extra time” away from you.

Now Lower pay isn’t necessarily a bad thing if there is a chance to move up in the future. I sat down with an Interac staff member to discuss it, and after the meeting, I realized that there was really no place for me to go financially. The kinds of pay increases I could expect to receive for each new contract would mean I would have to work for years, literally…years, to get back to my old eikaiwa salary, where I was able to pay significantly more than my monthly minimums and even have extra to invest with.

Now if I landed a different position in the company, like an Interac trainer or something, maybe that would be different. However, who’s to say that would ever happen? Being a trainer, even if a position were available, just isn’t something I’m interested in doing (no offense to any Interac staff out there).

At the end of the day, I got a little tired of not being able to do the things I wanted (like flying home once a year) because funds were so tight.

Some of you may be asking “Well won’t stopping mean MORE financial trouble?” My answer to that is yes, in the short term it will. It may seem counter intuitive, but I don’t want to have to beg for raises as a way to augment my income…so I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’ve been fortunate with modeling gigs this summer. These gigs will buy me valuable time that I need to get things under financial control.

I figured things out because I had to.

HEALTH REASONS

I don’t know if it was a weight-training or karate-related injury, but during the past six months, I starting developing some pretty serious shoulder and knee pain. I later found out it was related to arthritis trouble.  Really? In my early 30’s!?!?!

There were days where the pain was bad enough to just want to skip work altogether. I couldn’t for the life of me, understand why I was having more health issues than ever during my short stint as an ALT. It puzzles me to this very day.  These were issues I wasn’t having at AEON just a year-and-half prior.  When I had any kind of physical issue, they typically resolved themselves rather quickly.

Could it have possibly be related to stress?  Lack of sleep?  I can’t say for sure. But I want to take a moment to go home and see a doctor about the arthritis pain and ask why I have days where I feel like an old man when I get out of bed in the morning.

During the summer break, I spent a lot of time resting, eating better, stretching, just get back to feeling good. I’m not at 100% but there’s a definite difference.


A PERSONAL PROMISE

Probably the biggest reason of the four that I decided to quit my job was because of a promise I made to myself. I told myself that if by age 32, if I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do (no matter what the job was) I was going to quit.  Why? To pursue what I truly wanted to do. My birthday was on July 22nd, I turned 32 years old. So, just prior to the summer vacation…I stopped working for Interac. Yes, it was scary but I kept my personal promise.

You may have seen it during some of lasts year’s posts, but despite being at an awesome school, I struggled with this internal dilemma from time to time. I DID enjoy teaching, but I started to have these days where would just go to school wondering “Is this it for me??” “Is this what my life is going to be??”

Turning 30 in Japan made me realize that time is moving so fast.  I’m going to blink and be 40. Stopping my job was symbolic for me.  It meant that sink or swim, succeed or fail, I choose what I want to do with my life. I started to feel like I was getting into this cycle, that I was just going through the motions every day.  I wasn’t really tapping into what I’m capable of.

The simile may sound a bit strong, but I just felt like a pawn.  I was just doing what I was told to do and just accepting what I was given. I started to lose interest in meetings and started to withdraw from everything.

THE ALT TEACHING GRAIN OF SALT

Somebody reading this very post is on the verge of freaking out. My simple response to that is “Don’t.” Every teacher, every school, and every situation will be different. I have friends who have been working for Interac for many years and they love it!! I shared these two articles with you because I want you to understand.  Understand that you may sign up for a job that you don’t like. If that’s the case, I’m a big believer in being honest with yourself about that.

Don’t allow one opinion (even mine) to color your thinking.  Don’t allow a forum that bashes these companies to do that either. Had I relied solely on forums or one opinion, I would’ve never gone to teach at AEON.  Some people rant about how they didn’t like eikaiwa work but that wasn’t my experience.  I loved it! On the flip-side though, Interac (despite being at an AMAZING school) wasn’t for me.  HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. Personal experience trumps all!

In the end, I didn’t come to Japan just to do the same thing I was doing back home.

I came here to do something bigger and that’s EXACTLY what I intend to do. If I fall flat on my ass…so be it.

What if I decide that I don’t want to live in Japan forever?  If I do decide to go back home some day, I don’t want to look back on my time in Japan with any kind of regret.  It would be a travesty to say “Yep, all I did was teach and work.”

Stopping my job to frees up my time and challenge me all in one, decisive action. If I don’t put my foot down now and say…”I want more out of my life,” when am I going to do it? A year from now? Five years? Ten years? Twenty? Why on earth should I wait that long?

What am I seeking?  The ideal situation.  I want to be able to employ my talents with no limits.  Of course, it’d be nice to earn an income that suits me better.  But I want to enjoy busting my butt every day because I’m doing something that has “Donald Ash” written all over it.

Granted I haven’t found it yet, but I won’t stop until I do.

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Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last ten years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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