Notes after the comments
A: Total number of terms the instructor has taught with Westgate.
B: Name of the programs/positions the instructor has taught.
(As of June, 2022)
Q1. What do you like about Westgate?
I like working for the company as there is training and instructors are kept up to date so as to meet client needs. Management trusts instructors to deliver work with integrity which is empowering. Westgate has empowered me to be a better and more connected teacher. Having the opportunity to teach keen students who show improvement soon after the initial lessons is greatly rewarding.(A: 3 terms, B: University-Extracurricular)
I like that you are met at the airport and someone escorts you from the station to the apartment and checks that the water and electricity are working.
I like that the semesters are four months long. I get to teach for four months and then can spend some time in the UK between the contracts.
Westgate has been rewarding for me in that I have inspired my students, assisted colleagues in adapting to the Westgate method of teaching, and developed as an EFL teacher.(A: 14 terms, B: University-Accredited, E-Learning, Senior Instructor)
Westgate is very professional and looks after its instructors very well, from assisting with living advice and practical day-to-day matters, to care during emergency situations. I sometimes feel like I’m being hosted rather than employed! The company strikes a good balance between the traditional Japanese high standards and strong work ethic, and accommodating (where possible) to the lifestyle and culture of its non-Japanese teachers.(A: 7 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, E-Learning, Senior Instructor)
I initially only planned to do one semester with Westgate, but I’ve ended up doing many more! During this time, I’ve enjoyed being able to work on a variety of programmes at different universities. Each placement has had its own unique rewards and challenges. The diversity of teaching has been very satisfying, and it has helped me to develop and improve as a teacher. I’ve also enjoyed working with teachers from a diverse range of backgrounds. I’ve been able to learn lots from my co-workers.(A: 11 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited)
What I appreciate most about the Westgate program is that the teacher is given a detailed framework in which to teach each particular lesson, but is also allowed freedom in terms of how these individual goals are achieved. Due to the high number of schools using the Westgate program, I've also been able to teach at a variety of campuses, and at a wide range of student-levels, which has improved my teaching immeasurably.(A: 31 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Young Learners, Senior Instructor)
Q2. Could you tell us about a good memory from your time at Westgate?
My first contract with Westgate was on the extracurricular program at Meijo University. The students on that course were the most passionate learners I have had in Japan so far. So much so that my optional English Challenge classes scored the highest attendance rate on the Westgate-run programs that term. Exhausting, but wonderfully rewarding to have students so eager to get more of your lessons. On the same course, students would come up to me near the end to tell me that they could use the English they’d learnt to help or even befriend English-speaking customers during their part-time jobs.(A: 7 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Young Learners, Senior Instructor)
My favourite memories with the Young Learners Program are when students have a 'breakthrough'. I have had a few students who didn't raise their hands, say any more than repeating during drilling and were reluctant to say anything to me in English or Japanese! Then suddenly, there is a moment, a chance in or outside of class where the student starts communicating! It is so amazing to watch them burst with all of the things they have been absorbing over time. Sometimes it is a particular topic that will spark their interest - for example, a student who didn't like to participate so much saw that we were doing world flags. She loved flags and knew them all! Her confidence grew and not only did she start participating in other activities, but she started using new language on her own and communicating with me and other students in English! Seeing the students years later being able to communicate easily in English, to be comfortable in an English only environment, is amazing.(A: 24 terms, B: University-Accredited, Young Learners, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
It's very rewarding when students attend the last day of term party and express their thanks to you for having taught them. Surprisingly, it can get quite emotional! I like to think that I have had a little influence on my students and introduced a different culture, different ideas and maybe a different way of thinking to them. And likewise, I have learned a lot from my students, about their part-time jobs, what drives them and what their dreams are.(A: 11 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited)
Upon the end of your contract, the students are often very grateful for your input over the semester(s) and will often leave you with incredibly cute, well drawn and creative goodbye cards / letters. Even the young learners’ artistic talent puts me to shame.(A: 12 terms, B: University-Accredited, Young Learners, Cover Instructor)
I taught the Young Learner Program (at Tamagawa Gakuen.) Teaching Japanese children is really rewarding. When you teach children, you’re not only developing them as English speakers but as people. It was so fun to see their personal growth throughout the year and the happiness they felt in expressing themselves in English. At the end of the term, we held a presentation for the parents. Even though the students were initially nervous, they successfully pulled off the full presentation in English and it was so gratifying seeing their beaming faces (and those of their parents too!)(A: 8 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, Young Learners, Senior Instructor)
While teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University, Sagamihara Campus, I have had several great memories. One particular experience that stood out was a student did not get the score she wanted on the IELTS test and was upset about it. We did extra speaking practice and the second time she took the test, her score went up significantly. I remember when she saw me, she looked so excited to tell me the news, so that was a great memory.(A: 24 terms, B: University-Accredited, E-Learning, Senior Instructor)
One general thing that always impresses me is how much the Westgate staff remember about the teachers. Considering there are a couple of hundred teachers each term then it would be understandable if you were just a name to them. However, they not only know a lot about you, but actually remember it. I find this very appealing.
One good specific memory is of a funny student in the extra-curricular course. I quizzed her on who invented the telephone and she replied, 'Edison'. I informed her that it wasn't Edison but Edison's friend. 'Was it Peter?' she asked. 'Peter? Peter who?' to which she replied, 'Well, I just thought ALL English speakers had a friend called Peter'.(A: 33 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited)
Q3. Could you tell us about your experience at Westgate teaching group classes online/working from home?
I was initially worried about teaching online as I had never done it before. There was a lot of preparation involved (like having to adapt classroom activities online), on top of having to learn a brand new teaching tool like Teams or Zoom, and a learning management system like Webclass! However, you realise quite quickly that teaching online has a lot of benefits (like being able to easily show students videos or pictures on the spur of the moment) and once I got used to it, I actually really enjoyed teaching online as much as teaching in a classroom.(A: 7 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Young Learners, E-Learning)
Having come to Japan pre-Covid, I have experienced both face-to-face and online teaching environments. Both have their pros and cons. Modern technology and all the incredible features of Zoom made it possible to be creative and provide worthwhile classes online but personally, I still prefer being in the classroom and interacting with students, despite the hopefully short-term Covid-prevention methods we have to implement on campus. Being notified at very short notice about going back online or returning to the classroom, kept us on our toes and flexible.(A: 7 terms, B: University-Accredited, E-Learning)
Teaching online has been a good opportunity for me to up my skills. Before going online I didn’t use PowerPoint or other online resources very often, but I feel that it’s really helped to improve my teaching style. It’s been a challenge to ensure that the students have as much speaking time as possible, but anything that makes you rethink your methods and try to come up with working solutions can only make you a better teacher in the end.(A: 6 terms, B: University-Accredited, Curriculum Aide)
Translating my university's program to an online platform in a very short time was no easy task, and many of our students were incoming first years, and they were entering a new phase of their lives while also experiencing COVID-19. To hear that the students appreciated all the effort we put into giving them the best experience possible was so rewarding. Also, none of it would have been possible without such a great team of teachers and Westgate staff. We might have been remote, but we were always connected through Teams or Zoom and I never felt lost or alone.(A: 9 terms, B: University-Accredited, Senior Instructor)
The sudden shift to online teaching was definitely challenging, but it was an overall positive experience once I got used to it. I also felt that there were students who definitely benefitted from online communication classes. Those students seemed more talkative while in the comfort of their home and were more relaxed and confident giving presentations online.(A: 39 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
Q4. What was one thing about Japan that was different from what you had expected?
My image of working for a Japanese company, and Japan generally, was that the environment would be very strict. However, throughout my entire time working in Japan I have found Japanese staff, University staff and students very easy to get on with. It is easy to build friendly working-relationships with Japanese colleagues.(A: 9 terms, B: University-Accredited, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
Because of my experience teaching Japanese students in America, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in the classroom. I was surprised at how many of the students weren't as shy as I had expected. On the flipside, depending on the mix of students in class, I would feel flustered as some of the classes didn't speak up much when they had no problem talking when with a different mix of students. I kept having to remind myself that everybody is different. It's a bit of a struggle to teach students to respond in the western way.(A: 9 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, E-Learning, Senior Instructor)
Oddly enough, what shocked me at first was the sheer amount of attention to detail in their everyday life. At first, it felt overwhelming with all the steps that were needed in doing something, but you later learn and understand why these procedures were designed the way they were. It's why things seem to go so smoothly. Mistakes are rarely made.(A: 7 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Senior Instructor)
Despite the size of Tokyo and how confusing the train maps appear to be, I found navigating Tokyo surprisingly easy. The train stations are well laid-out and the lines are colour-coded so that getting from A to B in the city is a relatively easy task.(A: 9 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Young Learners, Senior Instructor)
Q5. What challenges did you face?
One of my classes was giving me a hard time, but I sat down with a Program Coordinator and we tossed around some ideas. I tried some of them out, and it really helped to turn the class around.(A: 16 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Young Learners, Curriculum Aide)
I don't think I was prepared for just how big Tokyo is. As such, I had to adjust to how long it takes to get places. The train system here is incredibly efficient and easy to use, but it can also take a while to cross the extensive sprawl of the Greater Tokyo Area. If you're someone who tends to run late for appointments, give yourself a little extra time when navigating the train system here!(A: 10 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
For me the principal difficulty is the climate. I don't handle heat and humidity well and from June until sometimes well into October it really can be difficult for me; I've learned to put up with it, but I'll never get used to it.
Oh, and then there's the language! I'm kind of old to be confronted with the Japanese language, and it's really quite intimidating if you are that little bit more mature or simply don't have a good memory for vocabulary.(A: 15 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Senior Instructor)
The train lines in Tokyo were so difficult to understand at the beginning and they are still fairly baffling now. During my first term in 2016, I was constantly getting lost since I had no internet data to check maps and routes when I was travelling to new places. Thankfully, Westgate provides teachers with smartphones these days so it's much easier to navigate the train system.(A: 12 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
There were some inevitable small difficulties adapting to a different culture and way of life, including not speaking or understanding much Japanese, moving to a relatively small apartment in Tokyo, and of course sleeping in a futon! Over time though, you get used to these things and learn to adapt. This experience can also help you appreciate your students’ situations of travelling abroad to English-speaking countries, such as studying abroad.(A: 7 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
At first, teaching larger classes was a challenge, but I found that using management techniques that I used when teaching young learners helped. It's often the case that learners who come in disliking English because they find it difficult and/or boring, are the ones that improve drastically throughout the year, and end up really enjoying coming to class.(A: 9 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, E-Learning)
Q6. What advice would you give to teachers who are new to Japan?
My advice before teaching in Japan would be to learn about the culture, especially the current trends. This will help a lot when you are trying to make your lessons interesting and relevant for your students. I have taught at many universities during my time at Westgate, and all of them have been rewarding experiences. Take the time to get to know your students and create a relaxed environment in your classroom, even if you are teaching in an accredited program.(A: 26 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, E-Learning)
Many of the students will seem shy when you first meet them. Do not confuse this shyness with an unwillingness to speak. In most cases, they really do want to speak English and just need the patience and guidance to do so. Start slow and be patient. Secondly, most of the students in the Westgate program want to learn about other cultures and want to learn how to share aspects of Japanese culture with you. Bring realia from your hometown/country. Our programs afford the students a unique opportunity to learn about not only English but the culture that goes along with it.(A: 23 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Senior Instructor, Curriculum Aide)
Be patient with your students. They tend to be a little more naïve than the students we may be more accustomed to. For many of the students, this is the first time that they’ve been in an informal classroom with their teacher. It can take them a while to break down those barriers – and sometimes they break down too far and you have to figure out how to raise them again! Once you find the balance though, Japanese students can be a real joy to teach.(A: 13 terms, B: University-Accredited)
Keep an open mind! Some things might look the same as back home, but sometimes things are done differently here. Not necessarily for the better or worse, but just different. Try and go with the flow.
And don't be afraid to ask for help. I've been here for years now, and still I feel like a fish out of water sometimes. But there are a lot of people here that can help you. Don't hesitate to ask!(A: 22 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Secondary School, Young Learners, Senior Instructor)
Come with an open mind to experience the culture and beauty that is Japan. Leave your expectations behind and the experience of living in Japan will be all the more rewarding, and you may very well end up learning a lot more about yourself than you ever have before.(A: 12 terms, B: University-Extracurricular, University-Accredited, Secondary School, E-Learning, Senior Instructor)