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 ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Noni

    Best of luck to you, I think you’re very strong for following your heart and I truly hope it works out!

  • TangSooPap

    I understand the health issues, in addition to arthritis in the knee which slows me down in the weight room I got a shoulder tear probably doing karate. But I’m over twice your age so I guess it was expected at some point.
    Good luck on your new endeavors!

  • Wow, we are exactly the same age! (just that my birthday is later this year, so I still have time before 32 hits … *g*)

    I’ve never worked as an ALT, so I don’t know what it’s like to be honest, but reading your reasons it was not really the job itself, but many other factors that made you quit.
    I totally hear you! I have so many other things I want to do and opportunities keep coming, but I don’t have time to take those chances because of my full-time teaching job.
    I love teaching and that’s what I always wanted to do anyways (I’m not a native speaker of English, but I studied education and that’s what I wanted to do), but since moving to Japan I found new things that I’m also interested in and all of my free time I’m using on that …. but the little free time I have is not enough anymore and so I’m always stressing out.

    I can’t quit my job because of visa issues …. and of course money issues.
    I’d also lose my apartment and car, so …..

    I wish you good luck with whatever the future holds for you!

    • petaris

      I’m just a year behind both of you. I will be 31 at the end of Oct. I’m not in Japan yet but it is likely that I will be in the future as my wife wants to move back so she can visit her family more easily and more often. My Japanese studies have been almost non-existent in the last two years as when I’m not at work I’m doing family stuff. Its just one more worry, along with the bad economy, for being able to get a good paying job in Japan. Though getting that in the US isn’t that easy these days either.

      I wish you both luck and I hope you can do what you love and be able to have a comfotable life too! 🙂

  • sumbuddyx

    Good luck!

  • Nanami

    Whatever happens you’ve got my support! Ganbatte!

  • That is very, very brave! Kudos to you!

    • Jinx15

      Drats!! Jinx.is smart. He finally blew my Soph character cover. It had everyone going for a long time..And I thought Soph was Myrtle for sure!

  • Regina

    I cant imagine how difficult this decision was for you; I respect you for keeping a promise to yourself and following your desires.

    You are going through a period that I guess all mature adults arrive at when when they see 35 looming ahead. You start to ask yourself those very important Is this where I want to be questions.

    You have a goal and I admire your commitment to yourself.

    I truly hope it all works out for you and that your will be happy with your life.

    Good luck to you!!!

  • Vivian

    Tough decision you had to make Donald. But I admire your guts to stick w/your life plan and do what your heart tells you to do. Do make sure the health checks out though. Did you get insured under some healthcare plan, whether it be national or private? Make sure to do this to avoid retroactive payments and…worse yet, illness and being uninsured! If you can get a license while you are between job, it’d be amazingly helpful here too……and give you more job opps maybe.

  • DanInJapan

    Hey,
    It’s my first time to this site, but I wanted to say that I think it will be something both interesting and useful for other ALTs and really anyone with an interest in living in Japan. I’m a 6 year veteran of Eikaiwa and ALT’ing and just recently I have had a similar impulse. I’m getting my teaching Certifications from my homestate in America in order to go for broke and find myself a “proper” teaching job at an international school here in Japan.

    I wish you luck in your own endeavors. We’re all in it together!

    • Donald Ash

      Hey Darin,

      Thank you for posting. Six years!? That’s freakin’ awesome! *Donald bows in respect*
      I think a lot of ALTs reach that point where they going through their daily routine and somewhere during that process they feel there’s something in their hearts that they really and truly want to do. It’s at that point (everyone reaches it at a different time) that people decide to change jobs, start dabbling in their other interests, or even return home to pursue their dreams. I think it’s a wonderful thing.

      Keep my posted on how it goes. You can do it. Rootin’ for ya!

      頑張りましょう!

    • thejapanguy

      Dan I’m just seeing this message. I hope everything worked out well for you, too brother. It’s not always easy out here.

    • Jinx15

      Hi! Are you into englipedia? It’s great! The best resource.website. you should chrck it out bro.

    • Alejandro Cardozo

      HI,
      I know this is kind of an outdated related comment since its been around 4 years since you posted here but I am really curious if you found your “proper” job at an international school. I am a certified teacher in Oregon but with zero experience, which seems to be a very important factor to get hired at an international school. Did your Eikaiwa and ALT’ experiences count as an experience for your new job? I hope you get to see my message.

  • Kev Ratcliffe

    I am thinking about teaching in Japan (Osaka) and came across your blog. I have missed the deadline for JET so now I am looking at teaching with Interac or going solo. However, Interac state the following on their website:

    “In line with general tenancy procedures in Japan, the costs that need to be met before being given the key can be significant. You can expect to have to pay around 200,000 yen on arrival. ”

    See the brokedown here https://www.interacnetwork.com/recruit/galtjobs/ghousingandliving.html

    Scary! Are these costs payable by all teachers in Japan regardless of the company you work for? Initially, I considered Japan because the salary (£1,400 per month) is much better than I receive here (£700 per month) in Thailand but now I am not sure about the potential to save over there. For a start,I am currently paying £70 a month for my rent and bills and I have read that housing costs in Japan will be around £400 per month. After deduction of rent I would only be receiving £300 more per month as a teacher in Japan, which isn’t really the salary leap I was hoping for in a country where the working hours are much greater than here in Thailand. I currently teach 17 hours per week at school and have my own private students outside of these hours to supplement my income.

    Despite the above, I would love to spend 6 months teaching in Osaka,but cannot pay 200,000 yen up front.All costs would need to be deducted from my Japanese salary.How would you suggest that I go about finding a job in Osaka with the best wage possible?

    I really need some clarity.Please do come to my facebook page and chat with me.

    http://www.facebook.com/kevinasia.TEFL

    Thank you
    Kevin

    • thejapanguy

      Really?!? They’re making teachers pay their own key money up front now? Not cool at all. The best companies will pay the key money for you or (at the very least) pay the up front costs and have you pay it back through monthly, REASONABLE installments out of your first year’s salary.

      Yeah that key money thing is one of those sad, stupid, realities of Japanese housing. That is of course unless you decide to stay in a sharehouse: https://www.thejapanguy.com/what-is-a-japanese-share-house/

      Honestly, I know many teachers end up supplementing their income in a similar fashion here in Japan (I know I do from time to time). Have you checked out Dave’s ESL Cafe (website) before? It may be worth a look.

      I think finding really good teaching gigs in Japan is becoming a bit tougher, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes it may mean finding a job that’s off the radar.

  • ??

    Isn’t not having a visa going to affect this pursuit? How did you handle it? Isn’t there a three month window. Or does your visa last for longer? I’m trying to take the job I currently have over to Japan since I can telecommute, but the Visa situation is in my way.

  • Athena

    Did Interac give you a hard time about leaving ? I’m currently in a situation where I may have to leave Interac.

    • OMG why did I just see this. They did try to encourage me to stay, I wouldn’t say I had a really hard time though. I kinda knew (from changing jobs before) that it was possible. I would just say let them know as early as you possibly can.

    • Jinx15

      Hahahaha. Another ‘tarred with the Joiny brush’ victim. Poor Soph, whoever he/she is. Himitsu isn’t talking to Soph anymore. LOVE IT!

  • Komen

    Donnie, I am still in your past situation. Though on my part, I can’t leave my job because my family depend on me. I have thought about what’s going to happen in the future if I continue this job. There are no promotions, no salary raises and you’re on a yearly contract. Those things made more weary about getting in a relationships and even getting married. It seems it hard to find job stability nowadays. I went to Australia last year to see any career possibilities there. I was surprised because my friends encouraged me to work there (not something you hear much in Japan). and they said life is better for them there. So, just like you, I’m going to take my chances there but of course with some safety net. Good luck to all of us.

  • Vayderr

    A good read Donald!

    Also wanted to ask, what’s the dating life like in Japan?

    Good luck!!

    • Thanks Vayderr (awesome name by the way). Dating life isn’t bad at all. I’ve definitely had my dry spells though (not being a clubber or a drinker):
      https://youtu.be/GLGnjyJAKKw

      But other than the occasional dry spell, dating hasn’t been a problem. I think the danger for some dudes is that it is possible to go a bit girl crazy here.

  • Heather Chandra Harwood

    Hello! I am 25 years old and live in the UK. I have a BA degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and I’m an enthusiast of grammar, language, and linguistics. I’ve been researching cautiously for several months now and I’m having trouble deciding whether to pursue Eikaiwa teaching or becoming an ALT with a company like Interac. Money and being able to support myself comfortably over there is important to me so I was really interested to read this article, thank you! But I feel unable to decide what would suit me better. I have social anxiety and so the idea of teaching at all does scare me, but at the same time I know it’s what I want to do, and I’ve dreamed of living in Japan for over a decade, even though I’ve yet to visit (money restrictions). There’s all kinds of factors to consider, like if I should get a driver’s license first, or a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA qualification, or some teaching experience/lesson planning experience. After all this research I still feel clueless – Eikaiwa or ALT? What would be best for me? And should I just go out there and go for it, or train here and get experience first? I seem to have little desire for teaching here in England. I’ve come so close to filling out an Interac application then read about people struggling with pay or not enjoying where they have been placed. Eikaiwa sounds more difficult to get into, and more challenging for my anxiety, though ultimately more rewarding financially and practically.

    I’ve also read about illegal contracts and dodgy stuff, and this site about ALTs and the JET program doesn’t colour Interac in the best light: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assistant_Language_Teacher

    Sorry for rambling! If you have any input based on your personal experiences with both ALT work and Eikaiwa work, I’d really, really appreciate it.

    • Jusagi

      Hello Heather, i was in the same situation as you, though at the point i didn’t know what Eikaiwa was, I can share with you my experience so far. I had a lot of trouble deciding whether i should do an ALT job or not, and like you i had always wanted to come to japan. It was troubling for me because i was also socially anxious and though i have had a tiny tiny teaching experience in the past, teaching in a foreign language could seem a little overwhelming. I found myself making a lot of excuses and asking questions to friends and family, after all, if i decide to take the job i would be so far away from them which i had never done before. They ended up pushing me forward and encouraging me and i went for it!
      I haven’t been here long, only a month going and so far i really enjoy it!, the people are lovely and always willing to help despite their little to no knowledge in the English language. with funding i have calculated enough and found if i don’t get reckless i can do pretty well with what i get (though i wont get paid for the first month, it passes on to the second month so a month no pay ;-;). there is still a lot to experience here and i plan on making a blog or something to talk about it but so far its been great, teaching has been very simple, maybe too simple in fact. Go for it! and if you have any questions i can try and answer to the best of my ability 😀

  • Jinx15

    http://englipedianet.ishoutbox

    Look at these sad weirdos. They chat about life in Japan and teaching alll.day everyday on this awesome teaching resource website called, Englipedia.

    The trite they come up with! Oh my gosh, and it’s always.negative. Why i hate Japan, this and that. Here’s a tip, if you wanna really enjoy Japan hang out with positive people here.

  • Thomas Daniels

    Great post,I live in kansai and have wrote 4 books,would love to talk sometime.