Friday, November 02, 2007

English Teachers Beware

The English-teaching business in Japan has struck a major speed bump, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reports that with the recently-announced bankruptcy of Nova Corporation, Japan's largest private English school, there is now a large group of English teachers and students who are hurting due to the scandal.

Teaching English is one of the best ways for non-Japanese (especially those who have no command of the difficult Japanese language) to make a living in Japan, and Nova was the largest of the many private schools that sprang up to meet the need. But it appears that Nova's business practices were causing problems that eventually landed the company in bankruptcy proceedings. The Journal reports that,
The company, renowned in Japan for the hip-shaking pink bunny in its commercials, had been on a hiring binge, setting up recruitment offices in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and prowling college campuses offering jobs.

Nozomu Sahashi, the company's quirky founder, was fired last week as president and has dropped from sight. Now, worrisome details are trickling out: The 56-year-old executive had quietly moved profits from publicly traded Nova to his private company, a court-appointed administrator alleged at a news conference. The administrators, who are scrambling to find a sponsor to help turn around Nova, showed reporters his lavish office, which has a Jacuzzi, a tea room and a secret bedroom.

Now, the Nova teachers are jobless and those who have lived from paycheck to paycheck are stuck in Japan. Some have been threatened with eviction from their apartments because Nova, which had provided housing and deducted the rent from teachers' salaries, stopped paying rent months ago. In the past week, 300 Nova teachers have swarmed the usually orderly employment agency office in western Tokyo, called Hello Work, seeking jobs.

I was once an English teacher in Japan. After graduating university over a decade ago, and disgusted with the recession during Clinton's first term (yes, Virginia, unless you worked in Silicon Valley there was a recession), I pulled out my savings and went to Japan. I stayed there for four years, learned the language, and made a lot of good friends. But even when I was there, the market for private English lessons was not what it was during the lavish bubble economy of the late 1980s. I worked for a number of private schools teaching mainly university students and businessmen, and gave private lessons on the side. I never worked for Nova, but I had friends who did, and their descriptions do not surprise me. The pay was low, the hours long and the teacher was utterly dependent on Nova for everything.

This should provide a warning. If you are planning to see a foreign country and think that teaching English is a good way to do it, learn at least enough of the local language to get by before you spend your savings on a plane ticket!

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