One of the most important things to understand about the JET Program is that you don’t get to choose your placement. You can request your top three picks, but ultimately it is up to the program to decide where you will go and which school(s) you will work at. Rural or urban, elementary or high school, northern or southern Japan, these decisions are out of your hands. I understood this when applying to the program, but was still in for a surprise with my placement.
I was placed at a Tokyo private school – one of the most non-traditional placements in the whole program. Private schools have been a part of the JET program for a long time, but you probably have heard little about them. These placements were few and far between. That was until 2015, when are large number of Tokyo private schools were added to the program, in an effort to, “assist with globalization efforts and the improvement of English education in preparation for the 2020 Olympics,” as described by CLAIR.
Private school placements exist elsewhere in Japan, but the majority of them are in Tokyo. Currently, there are 152 Private School JETs at 96 schools in Tokyo. Because these placements are so new, and by nature of the fact that the schools are private, there’s a lot that’s unique about these placements. Many JET expectations, procedures, and rules don’t apply. The Tokyo Private School JET experience differs greatly from the “typical” JET experience. If you find yourself placed in a Tokyo Private School, here are 10 of the most important things you should know.
Please note, I’m writing this from my experience as a Tokyo Private School JET. As always, every situation is different, and I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience in a private school.
- You are contracted directly by your school
The most essential thing to understand is that you are employed directly by your school. Each private school is its own Contracting Organization (CO) that directly employs their JETs, and Private school JETs have a direct employment agreement with their private schools. There is no Board of Education (BOE), or similar overarching institution with oversight. Contracts vary significantly between Private School JETs, and any issues, questions, or disputes over contracts have to be resolved directly with the school. This means that Private School JETs need to advocate for themselves and resolve issues on their own behalf.
- Your school is new to JET and might not have much experience with how the program works
Most Tokyo private schools are new to JET, so staff, teachers, and supervisors have little experience with the procedures, rules, and expectations of the JET program. You might be one of the first few JETs at your school, or not have a predecessor at all. In my case, I am the second JET ever at my school, and it is my supervisor’s first year managing the program. Often, I feel like I’m the one explaining how things are “supposed to work on JET” to my school, not the other way around. This can be frustrating. Be patient, stand up for yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
- You might not receive much support from your school
Closely related to the last point, you might not get as much support from your school as you’d like, because private schools are so new to the JET program. Tokyo Private Schools simply don’t have the years of experience with JET that other schools do, so they might not know what kind of support you need when you arrive. I know many JETs received help from their CO with things like setting up phone and internet contracts, registering their foreign residence cards, figuring out transportation to school, and buying essentials. I did not receive any assistance from my school on any of these matters. I was left largely on my own during my first few weeks in Japan to figure everything out.
- You have to find your own housing, and initial costs are very high
Typically, JETs can move into their processor’s housing, or teacher housing arranged by their CO. Tokyo Private School JETs are responsible for finding housing on their own. This is not an easy feat, and requires a large amount of time, energy, and money. The initial costs are much higher than what is typical on JET, ranging from ¥300,000 – ¥500,000+.
This year, Tokyo Private School JETs were given two weeks in a short-stay apartment, and had to find our own housing in that time. We were referred to GTN, a real-estate company who specializes in helping foreigners. Even with the aid of this company, it was still an extremely long and difficult process, and I received no guidance from my school. I was responsible for applying and interviewing for my apartment, signing the contract, and paying key, deposit, and guarantor’s fees. In addition, I needed to buy appliances, furniture, and household goods.
- You might work at a religious, sports, low-level, or otherwise unique school
Because you’re at a private school, it might be quite different in nature from a typical public school in Japan. You might find yourself at a religious, sports-focused, or other specialty school. Most private schools have unique characters and reputations, and as such expectations for students are different. I work at an all-girls, sports-focused school, and for my students, sports take the priority over academics.
- Your schedule and vacation time will vary
Because you are employed directly by your school, it is completely up to them to set your schedule and vacation time. This could mean working on weekends, or outside of “normal” working hours. Any negotiations about your schedule need to be done directly with your school, and there is no BOE to step in and advocate for you. One perk to this is that many Tokyo Private School JETs get additional vacation time outside of what is stipulated in their contract.
- You might not teach with a JTE
This is a very significant difference. It contradicts the basic premise of the ALT-JTE teaching arrangement, that the JET Program is based on. I know I am in a very unique and unusual circumstance at my school because I do not teach with JTEs. I co-teach exclusively with another American teacher, who is privately hired by my school. It can be very difficult to manage the classroom without a Japanese-speaker, and I miss the opportunity to develop relationships with Japanese teachers.
- You will have more freedom and more responsibility
At my school, I am essentially treated as a regular teacher, not an assistant. I’m given a huge amount of freedom of what to do in the classroom, and with that comes a huge amount of responsibility. Together, my co-teacher and I are responsible for the entirety of the curriculum, lesson planning, and grading. There is no set curriculum, and in terms of lesson planning, anything goes. I am free to use the textbook as much or as little as I choose. It’s exciting to have this much freedom, but it can also be daunting at times.
- You’ll receive less training
Private School JETs receive less training than typical JETs. The Tokyo Private School Prefectural Orientation this year was only half a day. My Tokyo Public-School counterparts had two weeks of prefectural orientation. Throughout the rest of the year, Tokyo Private School JETs have only one day of Professional Development training, while Tokyo Public School JETs have multiple Professional Development sessions lasting numerous days. Training at specific schools will vary. In my case, I received very minimal guidance from my supervisor.
- You must put in effort to stay connected to the JET community
Generally speaking, I think it can be easy for Private School JETs to feel disconnected from JET community. Because we are all out at our own schools, with no BOE or other organization to bring us together, it can feel isolating. This is not to say that I don’t feel a part of the community, or haven’t made friends with others JETs, because I do and I have. But I think this is due more to my initiative than to natural opportunities. Private School JETs don’t have regular trainings and events together. Because we have fewer opportunities to meet each other, and there is less of an established community, it takes more effort to stay connected.
Tokyo Private Schools are some of the most unusual placements on the JET Program, and there are definite advantages and disadvantages to this. For me, the biggest difficulties about my placement were the lack of support from my school, and the high initial housing costs. My first few months in Japan were difficult, but now that I’m settled, I appreciate the responsibility and freedom I have at my job. I believe you can make almost any placement on JET work for you if you try. But, if you do find yourself placed at a Tokyo Private School, just know your experience might be a little different from what you were expecting.