Teaching English in Japan: Catching Up with Kaye McDaniel

This post was written by Matthew Clark

Kaye McDaniel was once a BridgeTEFL Bookings Advisor, a TEFLOnline guru, and an avid BridgeTEFL blogger. She worked for Bridge for over a year but left in June, 2011 to teach English in Japan. We recently had the chance to catch up with her to hear about her experiences there.

How long have you been in Japan?

I moved to Japan in July 2011.  It feels like I’ve been here so much longer! This city picture is Shibuya crossing. Fun fact: it is the busiest intersection in the world with over one million people crossing it every day! It’s quite hectic to move through. I do it often in the name of awesome shopping…

Was it challenging to find a job in Japan with an online certificate?

An onsite certification is preferred.  While an online certification certainly prepares you for teaching on a theoretical level, an onsite program gives you that plus the real-time teaching experience.   Some employers may be picky, but I obtained my position with the TEFLOnline.com 120-hour Master Diploma.  It’s important to keep in mind that schools here are looking for a lot more than just a TEFL certificate, too.  Aside from the basic credentials, your history and personality take you a long way.  My experience living abroad, Japanese studies, TEFL background, and my can-do attitude made me an ideal candidate.  Oh, and I’m awesome.  It was probably mostly the awesome.

What tips do you have for teachers that would like to teach in Japan?

Build your resume and be open-minded.  Everybody and their mom wants to come to Japan.  And for good reason – it’s a really cool place to live!  Know that you are competing with a lot of people for positions so employers know they can be selective.  Don’t be disheartened – just keep at it!  Not everyone can be as awesome as me, after all.

You probably want to go to Tokyo or Kyoto.  Again, so does everyone else.  I took a position with a school in Chiba city – which is about half an hour by train from Tokyo station and half the cost of living!  Even going further out isn’t all that bad because the further from the city you go the cozier you may be and the more beautiful your surroundings.

Always remember that you should be as flexible as possible up to a point.  My advice is to do extensive research on your potential employers (Dave’s ESL Café forums are a good place to start).  As a foreigner, you will likely be subject to illegal employment practices and there’s not much you can do about it.  For example, I have pay deducted if I need to take a sick day.  This is just how it is for us.  My one suggestion is to never accept a position paying less than ¥250,000 per month.  If it’s less, the company is probably going to be pinching pennies everywhere else, too.

You seem really happy living in Japan.  Why did you decide to TEFL, and why Japan?

When I was a wee one, my older brother began studying Japanese when it was just a pilot program at the local high school.  To try and jump start it, they teamed up with a high school in Japan to do an exchange program.  A girl named Sayuka came and lived with us for two weeks and the experience changed my life.  I was so enamored with everything she brought and showed me.  She dressed me up in a kimono, fed me Toppo (which I have a dangerous addiction to now that I live here), introduced me to Totoro, and showed me amazing pictures of her country.  I decided that I would go to Japan one day!  When I entered high school, I studied Japanese and continued those studies through college.  When the economy tanked as I graduated college, I decided to forget my dreams and settle into a stable office job.  Eventually though, I just needed to scratch that itch.  I’d be lying if I said I was crazy about teaching… but I don’t hate it and it provides me the means to live an extraordinary life in Japan.  Now I live across the street from the high school Sayuka attended.

How long do you plan to stay in Japan?  Would you consider teaching anywhere else?

I just moved out of company housing and into my own apartment so I intend to be here for at least another year or so.  I’m really enjoying myself on a variety of levels and I have the opportunity to save a hefty amount of cash at the same time.  But for me, it’s always been Japan and it’s only been Japan.  When I feel my time here has run its course, I’ll return to settle back down in my Western world after a good bit of vacationing.

This is Narita Gion Festival – one of the most famous in the Kanto region. Local guys get a bunch of carts together and dance on them while people pull them through the tiny streets. They all progressively get more drunk as time goes on, so festival goers have to help with the carts often!

What aspects of Japan do you wish existed in American culture?  Are there any pieces of life in the U.S. you really miss in Japan?

There’s so much on both sides.  I definitely miss a lot about America – foods, business practices, grid street systems, cheap beer…  But there are a lot of great things about Japan as well.  There are deeper traditions here than we have in America – clothing, festivals, holidays, hanami, etc.  I suppose if I could have one thing from America in Japan it would be clothes dryers.  And if I could take one thing from Japan to America, it would be Yakiniku restaurants.  Everywhere.

Please tell us about your students.  What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you in the classroom?

I teach a really wide range of students from 2 year olds to 93 year olds, all with their own goals and personalities.  One of the schools I work at runs a career-tech class in the mornings.  They had ordered a large quantity of computer chairs for the school but the shipper got the order wrong.  When I got to work, almost the entire room was filled with chairs!  My first class was two three-year-olds who immediately dived in like it was a ball pit.  I spent the next 30 minutes chasing them under a maze of chairs while making them answer grammar-point questions.

Ready to explore Japan, like Kaye did? Download one of our country guides to get started!