Yesterday, I went to an “interview” to be a English teacher for the Japanese business, AEON. This is the story of my experience.
At a nearby hotel, several young white women and men gathered in the lobby nervously chatting and awaiting the beginning of the first round of group interviews. From my research, I knew that AEON was a private company with 250 English instruction schools throughout Japan. For me, private company equated to better pay, tighter regulations, more resources for training and teacher development. AEON has its own textbooks and materials. It has its own teaching method. It seemed to have its own culture.
What I did not connect was that AEON is not just a private company, it is a corporation.
Once the doors opened at 9:30 a.m. (which was 30 minutes prior to the interview, which in Japanese terms is “right on time”) the first thing I encountered was a table full of AEON’s own textbooks, workbooks, and materials. There was also this interesting guide to professionalism,
Now, Sara Wildes looks like ratchet shit 90 percent of the time, I’m the first to admit it. But I found this guide to be absurd for three reasons.
- Ballet flats are unacceptable? Really?
- Pink is too bold…. oh my god STRIKE ONE
- There was NO information on the table for the required dress code of men…. STRIKE TWO-THOUSAND.
I looked down at my ballet flats that I had carefully selected from my collection of tennis shoes, combat boots, and torn up Target-brand Keds… FUCK. I thought I looked nice today! Business clothes can suck it… I don’t own any. The Banana Republic skirt I was rocking was a big step up for me!
So I was already irritated by the apparent sexism I saw within 5 minutes of this group interview. I filed the information away in my mind and took my seat in the cold conference room along with 12-15 other hopefully adventurers. The first part would be an information meeting. The Japanese woman presenting stressed that it was good practice in Japanese culture to take good notes. I furiously scribbled all that I thought was relevant to the job and to what I needed to know to potentially be successful in my interview.
For 4 hours…. The Japanese woman and American man ran the information meeting robotically. Sounding like scripted info-mercial salespeople, they took turns presenting on different subjects regarding a career with AEON. Everytime it was the others’ turn, one would take a seat in a chair in the front of the room. As I boringly listened to the Japanese woman and practiced my best “I’m totally interested face”, I observed the American man. He looked slimly, like a used car salesman and every time he took a seat, he stared into space endlessly. For what seemed like minutes at a time, he would check out and stare, straight stare, without blinking. As if he was mentally escaping, I wondered how many 4 hour information meetings he has done recently… He looked miserable.
As the information meeting processed, I began to feeling increasingly uncomfortable. AEON, I soon discovered, is a corporation in the business of selling English. Foreign English teachers are owned by the corporation, possessed because of their endless value of the native language we speak. AEON teachers cannot be employed by anyone else, cannot teach English outside of the AEON corporation, not even casually or as a mentor, and are restricted to volunteer and community involvement because they represent the AEON corporation in their daily lives. By being white and English speaking in Japan, you walk the streets and represent AEON and sell the brand and services by simply existing.
Another discovery was that you are not employed solely as a teacher, but foreigners are employed as salespeople. Part of the job consists of passing out pamphlets promoting the enrollment in English classes. Teachers go to the mall and hand out fliers, teachers wait outside of public schools and hand them out as students file out. Like white evangelists there to offer the saving graces of English.
I want to be a teacher, I want to volunteer and work with young women empowerment groups. I do not want to be a saleswoman and a promoter of a cram school. That’s not what I’m signing up for. I learned in my Japanese class about the record breaking suicide rates among Japanese youths. A large percent is due to academic underachievement. I do not want to be associate with Jukus, Japanese cram schools.
The AEON corporate had all of the lesson plans from beginner to advanced levels already created. That seemed to impress other people in the room, but I was not loving that idea at all. It sounded boring as fuck. It left no room for creativity or activities. It left no room to connect and adapt your lessons to the interest of the individuals in the class. Anyone can follow a lesson if you give it to them in entirety, anyone can do the same thing over and over again for 9 hours a day. Anyone can be a puppet. I have more to offer. There is more impact that I can make.
I had 4 hours to sit and decide, I had 4 hours to mentally beat myself up.
This has been my dream for years. Years! But this specific corporation directly contradicted what I wanted to do and what I was most interested in learning, understanding, and maybe fighting about Japanese education culture.
Finally, we were given a sheet of paper with two boxes. One, you checked if you planned on staying for the second portion, the mock-lesson plan we were instructed to create and bring with us. The second, you checked if you did not wish to continue in the selection process. My face grew hot, I could see it all before me, my dreams flushing down the toilet. I starred at the paper. SHIT. I could feel the redness in my face. After what seemed like an entirety, I realized I was the last in the room who had not turned my paper in.
I scrambled for my pen. My hand shaking, I checked the second box. Below it existed a blank line labeled REASON: My hand steadied, I mentally gave myself a pep talk and attempted to calm down. The heat from my face began to dissipate. I calmly filled in the blank.
Education is not for sale.
And then, I left the interview.