January 2011: Life After JET – Andy Sowter

Andy Sowter

Andy Sowter

This month, we further explore ways to build a teaching career in Japan from the JET experience. We interviewed Andy Sowter, a former-Prefectural ALT who taught at high schools and elementary schools for four years in Nara. After completing a Masters Degree in Applied Linguistics / Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), he is now a lecturer at Kwansei Gakuin University in their Intensive English Program.

Andy recommends that JET participants looking to use JET as a springboard to teach at a Japanese university need to start preparing early. Many universities look for experience presenting and publishing and “the Mid-Year Training Seminars are a good place to start.” In addition, he recommends that university job-seekers “join JALT and attend a few meetings to get a feel for the people you will be competing with for jobs.” For more advice from Andy, see the full interview after the break and check out our new Life After JET links page to find more information about the qualifications, resources, etc mentioned in this article.

National AJET: I know that you started working on your Masters while on JET. Since you didn’t have a background in linguistics before that, did you need to do any extra preparation?

Shogakku (Kuzu Shogakko) on JET

Shogakku (Kuzu Shogakko) on JET

Andy Sowter: I started doing my Masters during my 3rd year of JET, I finished JET after my 4th year to complete my Masters full time in Australia. Working and studying with a young family was difficult [so take] advantage of the extra free time that JET often gives you to study (either Japanese or a qualification).

To apply, I had to write a letter to the program chair stating the reasons why I thought I would be able to complete a degree in Applied Linguistics coming from a science-based background. Before applying I corresponded with the program chair to make that personal connection, I think this helped. However, I did also have a CELTA degree and three years of teaching experience to back up my application.

I was very happy with my results as I think they reflected the amount of effort I put into my studies. Seriously, anyone who decides they want to do further study has to commit, it takes a huge amount of time and effort.

NAJET: Can you tell me a little bit about your Masters programme?

Andy Sowter: My program was done through an Australian-based university called Griffith University. They had a distance education masters program [that was recommended by other JETs]. The program was designed to be completed part time over two years. It was completely course based (i.e. no thesis, just huge assignments). Two of the courses required evaluation of classroom teaching and lesson planning. I chose to go back to Australia to complete these but I could have done it externally if I could have found someone here in Japan willing and qualified to do so. By going back to Australia and completing my courses internally I managed to complete my degree in 18 months.

NAJET: What kind of requirements are there for teaching in Japanese universities?

Students at Konan University's Cube Campus

Students at Konan University

Andy Sowter: It is getting harder and harder to get jobs as student numbers decline. To succeed in the Japanese university system you need a Masters Degree. In addition, you [must have] teaching experience in a university, [be published], [have Japanese language proficiency], and contacts [to] acquire better teaching positions.

When I started out, I took part time jobs. I managed to get some publications and made good contacts. After a year teaching part time, I [got] a full-time contract position and then relatively quickly a second better full-time (contract) position (my current job).

NAJET: What kinds of jobs are available at Japanese universities?

Andy Sowter: [There are] three main types of jobs in the Japanese university system:

There are part-time contract positions: [these] pay on a per lesson rate. Usually you will get 2-3 [90 minute] lessons (koma) on a given day. You usually will have to work at two to three universities as you are only allowed to teach 10 koma at any one institution.

Next there is the full-time contract position, these are highly sought after as the conditions and salary are much better. You get paid a yearly salary and are given leave, it’s very similar to JET but with a higher salary which is often increased each year. The down side is that it is limited term contracts, usually 3-5 years.

Finally there is the holy grail of university positions: the full-time TENURED position, these positions are rare, they are effectively jobs for life and the salaries are much higher, the teaching hours far less but the administrative (meetings ugh!) aspect is much higher.

NAJET: How did you go about your job search? Are there any resources you can recommend to other JETs who are interested in teaching at a university?

Andy Sowter: There are a number of sources. The [most useful one] is JREC-IN. This website is the most up to date for university positions and can be filtered for region. [Others are] the JALT language teacher website: http://jalt-publications.org/tlt/departments/job-info-centre/jobs [and] the Japanese Language teachers website: http://www.jacet.org/.

However by far the most useful source of information is the network of teachers that you need to build up while you are working. Join JALT, attend meetings, publish, meet other teachers and make your name known. These contacts will be your best source of information on new jobs and also often your best referee’s.

NAJET: How do your university students differ from the high school students that you taught on JET?

Andy Sowter: It’d be nice to think that after leaving high school they are all grown up and motivated to speak English, but often this is not the case!! However you will find that without the pressure of entrance exams the students are more relaxed and able to enjoy the classes.

NAJET: How do opportunities for continuing education or training compare to those of the JET Programme?

Frisbee Team

Frisbee Team

Andy Sowter: There is a strong emphasis on professional development. This is partly because of the competition for jobs, partly because of the expectations placed on staff by the universities and possibly due to increased opportunity to publish and present. You will also be surrounded by similarly minded and well trained/skilled teachers that you can talk to and bounce ideas off!! [While on JET there are] so many talented people but other than you annual training seminar you don’t get to see each other teach or share lesson ideas!!

NAJET: Any last advice for a JET participant who wants to teach at a university?

Andy Sowter: Plan early!!  Don’t wait until the last year of JET to decide, you need to decide early and draw a roadmap to where you want to be and how you are going to get there.

Use your contacts!! Many of [your JTEs] will have contacts in the universities. Get good references from your Kocho-Senseis in both English and Japanese!

My final tip is don’t give up!!  The first job is the hardest to get, once you have that one you can build from there. You have to be persistent, send your resume to every job you see whether you think you can get it or not, if you don’t send your resume you definitely won’t get it, if you try your luck you never know!!