Be Careful What You Wish For (Teaching English in Japan)

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Japan for 5 months already. Before I know it, the year will have passed and I’ll be faced with a decision of what to do next.

It feels like just yesterday I was making my grandiose fare-thee-well video speech as I prepared to leave Korea. I mentioned in the video that one of the main reasons for leaving was to search for a greater challenge in teaching. I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed to work for a private elementary school in Japan.

Guide to Teaching in Korea

Guide to Teaching in Korea

Working for private or international schools is a completely different game than EPIK or other teaching jobs in Korea. EPIK, for example, is an assistant teaching job. You aren’t responsible for administering tests or tracking grades or meeting with parents or anything like that. Just show up, help teach classes however the Korean teacher sees fit and be done with it.

Private and international schools are full-on teaching positions in most cases and come complete with the responsibilities of all of the above and then some. And that’s the case with my life now. Just like I wished for.

I’m tired.

I won’t lie. I haven’t been writing or making videos whatsoever. I’m just too pooped to do any of that after I get home each day. At my school, Japanese teachers, for example, are required to work from 7:30 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. 5 days a week and another 6-10 hours every other Saturday. Sound like fun? That’s the minimum. Some do more, and still a select few do much more, believe it or not.

As a foreign teacher on a small team consisting of three, I am not required to do those same hours. Still, I go from 7:30 a.m. until around 5-5:30 p.m. most days, and 6 hours every other Saturday. My foreign coworkers do more than me. That’s not even the real difference from working for EPIK.

Now I am responsible for testing students, monitoring progress, multiple side projects and extra-curricular events, overseeing cleaning, and crossing guard responsibilities each day. The icing on the cake is the lesson planning. Every lesson obviously requires a thorough lesson plan describing the details of my class. I also need to do open classes for parents and other teachers and this will become more prominent in the future.

Again, I’m pooped at the end of a day. Judo? What is that? I’m lucky to hit the weights 2 or 3 times a week.

#2_300x250_20%This new teaching role makes getting around to see everyday Japan difficult. Not like when I was in Korea teaching for EPIK. I had all the energy and free time in the world to do whatever I wanted.

So, you may think this new job is a bummer after reading this. Well, it is what it is. A step up. A real challenge for however long I keep up with it. It’s what I was seeking when I left Korea. It’s just what I wished for.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I, at times, second guess my decision now. Overall though, this is what the teaching doctor ordered. It’s what I wished for.

Be careful what you wish for. Or pray for. You just may get exactly what you were thinking.


  1. Taylor R says:

    I’m in a very similar boat. I started teaching in Korea a couple of months ago for a private kindergarten and elementary school. I wanted something new and challenging, and I definitely got what I asked for as well! I’m in charge of lesson planning, tracking student progress, and all the works. Like you said, it’s extremely tiring and it definitely makes it a lot harder to find the energy to explore. I’ve had some days of wondering about my decision as well. But, at the same time, I already feel so accomplished every week that I complete all of the crazy work. I’m sure by the end of our years we’ll feel pretty awesome about it, and ready for a nice vacation!

    • Thanks for sharing. In some way it makes me feel a little better knowing someone else is in a similar situation. It’s like you said, it makes it difficult to explore. This part bothers me the most because that’s why I’m here, after all. It’s not hard because of time constraints as much as conjuring up the energy to explore after a long week at work. I really can relate to all of what you wrote. The good news for me (and maybe yourself as well) is that in about another 4-6 months I’ll know better if it was the right decision after all. This will tell me what my next steps should be.

  2. Robert Strain says:

    So Tom, when are you going back to Korea? LOL


    • Good question. I don’t count anything out at this point. If I’m feeling led to go back to Korea some day, I would have no problem going back. I miss it there and have many friends there now. But right now I”m here in Japan, and it could be that I’m here for a long time too.

      • Robert Strain says:


        Excellent way to look at it. I was thinking about doing some missionary work in Japan, but I felt like God was not wanting me to do that at this time. You know when it is time to leave or stay. God Bless!


        • Robert, sorry for the late reply. It’s great that you follow where you feel led. There are opportunities to minister no matter where you’re at. All the best in 2017!

  3. Wow I’m happy for you that you got to experience a different country and their work ethics; this gives you a chance to evaluate your next project of teaching. Private schools in Japan pay more but you work hard for every penny and that is expected of you because that is how they make their money from parent, although on the other hand government schools are different but less money. I’m sure after a while you will burn out but that opportunity is priceless for the rest of your career.
    Do you subscribe to Dave Trippin on you tube? Check him out.

    • Thank you. That is very accurate. The pay is very respectable in terms of ESL work, but it is very involved to say the least. I knew even before I started here in Japan that this job would tell me about what direction I will want to go in. That could be staying another year, going to another city in Japan, or leaving for another country. Thanks for telling me about Dave Trippin, I’ll have to check out his channel.

  4. Daniel Brown says:

    I happy to hear that you are looking on the bright side. I’m with Interac as an ALT on Okinoerabu and so far the job has been fun and rewarding. They only problem I had in Japan was getting a cell phone setup. Looking forward to your very video.

    God Bless,

    Daniel Brown

    • Thank you, Daniel. It’s great to hear from someone in Japan. I’m looking forward to seeing where this current challenge takes me. Even since I wrote this article, I’ve seen some subtle blossoms happening in my life with regards to being in Japan. I’m on vacation right now and I believe I’ll know better about wanting to continue or not in another few months. Good luck in Okinoerabu.

  5. scott lee says:

    Tom, thank you for your candor and sharing insight into your new job. It sounds like you are now a full-time, “real” teacher. Hope you hang in there. When one year goes by, I believe you’ll be in a much better position professionally (and financially as well, I hope). This job should open many more doors for you in coming years. EPIK is a great way to live and work in Korea on limited basis, but as you mentioned in one of your blogs, it’s not career-oriented or is meant to develop anyone to become a fully-qualified teacher. I envy your passion and journey. Share your stories when you can, but be sure to take it easy and find time to enjoy Japan despite your busy work schedule. All the best!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. It has definitely been very challenging for me the first 4 months in school. I believe, like you said, that after 1 year I’ll be in a better position. Better position to know for sure if I want to stay or move on. Or if I would like to continue on this path. I continue to see greater opportunities arise around the globe as I meet more and more people. I want to believe that I’ll continue down this path for a long time.

  6. Tom, wonderful site, and wonderful articles. I’ve only followed you on youtube until now, but in this recent months-long absence, I’ve come to wonder how things are going for you, and why you no longer post videos anymore, and ended up on your blog.

    I believe this blog post does shed some light on the matter, but I do hope that you will post a video at some point soon. Even just a quick “talking-head” video, to check back in with us loyal Seoul-Tee-ers who are all just wondering what you’re up to these days…

    Anyways, hope you are well, and do hope to “see” you again, very soon.

    Cheers, from a fellow New-Englander,

    • Glenn,

      Thanks so much for checking in. I’ve really slowed down a lot on blogging and vlogging these past 8 months. That bothers me. However, things are going well and there are big changes on the horizon. Things I’m really looking forward to and also excited about sharing.

      Thanks again for touching base!

  7. Tom,
    So many blogs out there and so many of them are looking for a nice way to say things. Give me blunt! Give it to me straight and give it to me without a silver lining or sugar coat. Your style in the closest I’ve found to that (without running across someone who is simply whining to an audience). So first I want to thank you for taking time to educate your “followers” (hate that word seems very SS to me) and taking your time to express thoughts and opinions that are just blunt and sans frosting and second I want to make sure you are aware that these blogs/vlogs (whatever they are called anymore) are actually doing more than you might think. They are, for me, creating that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel on what I would really call a boring existence. How many of us simply exist? Every day the same routine over and over forever until decay and death set in. You were in your late 30’s (I assume) when you did this adventure and made this choice. That is so ballsy and I want to do it too!
    I have so many questions that I want to ask you but I will restrain myself to just a few.
    1. You were in Korea and did a lot of travelling to other areas. Did you typically go with a group of friends or try to absorb it all on your own? I ask this question with the worry in my heart that I would travel all alone and the experience would be lack luster.
    2. This one REALLY bothers me…retirement. Do you feel like you’re going to be able to be retired (wherever in the world) and not be in a cardboard box? I wonder about being able to set yourself up financially.
    3. Continuing education. This one just plain out annoys me… I have read and read and read and nothing gives more than vagueness (or tries to sell you something). Would you give an example of your educational journey that directly correlates to your ESL life/goal? I don’t want to waste time or money on something that I didn’t end up needing to and had heard a lot of conflicting. Would you happen to have a good website reference maybe?
    Golly. I made that long. I am sorry. I hope this finds you well and that the sunshine is always warm.
    Kindest regard and MAD respect,

    • Thank you, Amanda, for your compliments. I really appreciate it and it’s always great to hear that my blogs do impact people in some way.
      When I travel, I prefer going solo. Mainly because I’m kind of “working” at the same time as I take video of each location so I can make a video guide at the end of it all.
      Retirement. If you only do something like EPIK, then I would find it difficult to build a retirement nest egg, but maybe some have done it. Everyone has their own version of retirement, so I can only speak for me. If you work for international schools where the pay is pretty good and an apartment is provided, and sometimes lunch and things like that, then the savings can really start to add up. In this case, yes, you’ll be able to plan for a retirement. Invest in financial vehicles of your choice, buy some real estate, etc. It is teaching though, which is not something people would get into for financial reasons. No different than back home.
      Once I started teaching I got a TESOL and Business English certification, then I went on to obtain a teaching license from back home. The teaching license will really help in getting those international and private school jobs I mentioned. I someone has a degree in Education or English, a TESOL certificate, and a teaching license, they can essentially call their own shots on location and type of school. As you remove any of those details, it just gets more challenging to get into the jobs you want. My degree is Economics so I knew I needed the license.
      I hope this was helpful.

      • Tom,
        Thank you. Your responses are always helpful. If your not careful I’m gonna start calling you Guru Thomas. Ha. I am currently enrolled in English Language Learner Courses for my bachelors (wow im too old for this crap) and then will do my TEFOL. I cant decide what country i want tho… Go figure…I kinda want them all but i cant learn every single language out there i do have to pick one… too bad and sigh.

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