Many English teachers begin their journey in Japan teaching in schools, but there is an excellent freelance teaching option which can be a huge bonus to teachers already settled here.
Benefits for students
By hiring a freelance teacher, students are able to skip the costly sign up fees of traditional language schools, as well as saving money on the hourly rate of lessons (think of the cut that usually goes to the school).
Benefits for teachers
The benefits for the teacher are many: the freedom of not having to wear a suit and being able to teacher wherever and whenever I like are couple of my favorites – not to mention the fact that teachers can charge more per hour (again, students are eliminating the cut that goes to the language school, and this gives a lot of room to charge more per hour than what a teacher at one of those schools is usually paid).
There has never been a more demand for English teachers in Japan: along with an increase in demand from adult learners of English, more and more parents are seeking freelance teachers for their kids.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find work as a freelance teacher in Japan. There is fierce competition, and you will need to stand out from the crowd.
However, the good news is it’s entirely possible to be your own boss and teach freely in Japan. I have been doing this for years: I charge JPY 5,000 per hour and have numerous happy students who I have been teaching for many years.
In this article I will share some of my experience of freelance English teaching in Japan.
The benefits in detail
Charge your own rates
As I mentioned earlier, a massive benefit of being a freelance English teacher is the ability to set your own rates. You can set your rate according to your level of experience.
Generally speaking, you can earn more as a freelancer because you can charge less than the hourly rates of traditional language schools while pocketing more than what you would earn while teaching at one.
The average lesson fees students pay at the large English schools is around JPY ¥6,500 per hour. This means that even if you charge JPY ¥5,500 per hour, your rates are still cheaper. However, it’s probably not the best idea to charge this amount at the beginning – we will come onto this later.
No dress code
Personally, I find not having to conform to a dress code very liberating. This isn’t to say I would recommend rocking up to a cafe lesson in those awful ripped jeans that people wear for some reason. Common sense is necessary here, but at least there is no need to wear a shirt and tie!
A great benefit of freelancing is the ability to choose your location. Many freelance teachers choose to teach a cafe in their neighborhood, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the demand for online lessons. This means that there is now a huge opportunity to teach remotely in Japan.
Eventually it is possible to go freelance full time for the ultimate freedom. This can be an amazing experience, but there are a few potential downsides.
While it is possible to connect with very loyal, long-term private students, it is nevertheless the case that freelancing offers less security than full time employment. Students plans may change, and at the end of the day it is down to you to fill the time if you lose a paying customer.
Depending on your visa, you may be required to be working a certain amount of hours for your status of residence to be valid. Breaching visa conditions is a very serious offence and can lead to deportation, so it makes sense to be very careful here.
Where to start finding private students
So now you’re attracted to the proposition of becoming a freelance English teacher in Japan – that’s great.
Here are some websites where you can make a free profile to attract students.
Another benefit of this site is that teachers are not required to share their personal details as all communication can be handled via the messaging system on this site.
But I still can’t find students?
At the beginning of the article, I mentioned how competitive freelancing could be – that’s true. Freelancing in any industry is challenging, and it’s no different in the ESL industry in Japan.
But let’s look at some useful tips to increase your potential to get students and build that successful freelancing career you dream about now.
Have a professional picture
Japan is a conservative society in many ways, and if you want to look like a credible English teacher, make sure your photo isn’t you at the beach.
If you have a professional picture, it will give students more confidence in your teaching. And better still, they will be more confident approaching you.
Don’t charge too much when you begin teaching
One of the most significant issues for many freelancers when they first begin is setting their rates too low. However, some teachers might find that they have set their rate a little to high to begin with.
I would recommend beginning with an hourly price of around 3,000 yen per hour for your first classes.
Have you described yourself in detail?
If you’re using a website to find students – make sure you describe yourself in detail. Students want to know what you offer to them. Do you have experience teaching ESL all over the world? What made you come to Japan?
And another great idea is to seem personable. Some of the older Japanese students are more likely to choose a teacher that they can relate to. You could always add some of your hobbies and interests. In a way, freelance teaching in Japan involves some personal marketing.
Are you willing to travel to meet students?
It’s a great idea to stay in your neighborhood and steer clear of that busy Tokyo Metro, and it does get jam-packed during the week. But if you add more locations to your teaching profile, you will stand out from the crowd.
It’s a great idea to add as many train stations as possible. Students love to see teachers who are dedicated and willing to travel. You can mention that students will need to shoulder the transportation fee on your profile.
Are there any other ways to get students?
Absolutely, there are many ways. The websites above are a great starting base if you’re new to freelancing or just arrived in Japan. But another great way is word of mouth.
You can print yourself off some meishi and give them to people you meet, or print out some flyers and hand them out outside train stations! Whatever it takes, simply getting your name out there is what counts.
Make it known to people that you meet that you are a private freelance English teacher and build up your reputation.
A word of caution
Understandably, a lot of school owners are concerned with the rise of freelance teaching.
I still remember how the owner of my old Eikaiwa school went ballistic at me when she discovered that I had (quite innocently) become friends on Facebook with one of the school’s long term students. Ironically, I hadn’t even considered the prospect of teaching privately until then, but the incident certainly planted the seed in my mind!
I think anyone who has been in Japan for a while can see that there are a huge number of Eikaiwa schools which are offering little value to the students other than pairing them with a native teacher. Freelance teaching sites are forcing Eikaiwas to up their game, which can only be a good thing.
That being said, any freelance teacher would do well to be mindful of the sensitivity here – outright taking a school’s students and teaching them privately is not cool, and often simply not worth the drama it could cause in the long run.