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Working In Japan: The Hidden Dangers of Corporate Skype Lessons ( for teachers )!

Working In Japan: The Hidden Dangers of Corporate Skype Lessons ( for teachers )!
June 15, 2017 wfire3
Flipped Learning Classes in Japan

Flipped Learning Classes in Japan

So, you`d like to work in Japan, huh? Well, it`s not actually a bad idea nowadays! Japan still has a somewhat stable economy (for the moment) and you can make quite a lot of money here if you choose the right career or have the right type of experience! One of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door of earning Japanese yen-age is simply by teaching English lessons.

English teaching in Japan has been one of the easiest and most lucrative jobs in Japan over the past few decades. It`s an easy career to jump into even if you have no prior teaching experience (because most lesson materials are provided by the company).

Also, the pay is relatively good if you find the right place to teach (the salary can be even better than an a stable technical career in financial IT in some cases if you compare the hourly pay rate to the hours spent slaving away at a company computer)!

But things are slowly beginning to change for English language schools and teachers here in the land of the rising sun and steadily declining salaries. This is partly because of the failing Japanese economy. However, there are other significant contributing factors such as the influx of far cheaper language learning lessons and methods offered by non-native English speakers in the Philippines that are further pushing once profitable English language companies in Japan to the brink of extinction.

Due the inability to compete against the cost effectiveness of Filipino language teachers and online lessons from abroad, English language schools in Japan are hard-pressed to find a new “hook” to lure clients. For obvious reasons; this new niche market must offer a lot of invaluable services to the client and be cost effective to produce.

The answer that some companies have come up with is simple; “Online Skype Lessons provided by native English instructors”.

And here is where the secretly hidden problems lie for English language instructors in Japan who may be considering working at these companies for security, convenience, and peace of mind.

Let`s look at the Pros and Cons of working at an English company that offers Skype-based or Online Learning lessons.


– These companies are generally easy to enter and require very little (if any) experience at all.

– Good for people who are just entering Japan

– Some companies may provide a working visa

– Low, but stable monthly salary (** we`ll talk about this later)

– Flexible working schedule (useful for finding other part-time jobs to supplement your salary as required)

– Some benefits of working at a Japanese company (depends strictly on the company and number of working hours, but not very many companies offer these.)

– The ability to teach from one, convenient location instead of having to travel to multiple clients by train or other transport.

Cons (pay very close attention to these):

1) Generally lower salary than teaching face-to-face private, group classes (or even your own Skype lessons)

2) Loss of proprietary (original) content / teaching style

– By working at these companies and using their online systems, unless you`ve taken the precautions that I will mention below, you are basically giving up ownership of any original teaching styles or materials you may have used or added during the lessons that you have provided over Skype (or whichever system they are using). Normally, for most teachers who don`t make their own lesson content; this shouldn`t be a problem. But for those of us who have been teaching in Japan for a while and may have developed our own content or teaching methods, this could be an issue.

A lot of these companies may provide a basic outline of the lesson plan, but also encourage teachers to use their own original teaching styles and methods to convey lesson concepts to students. While this does help to cut down on the systematic “rigidity” of the traditional format “by-the-textbook” style of English teaching that students in Japan have been forcefully exposed to over the past 30 ~ 40 years  and does provide the instructor with teaching freedoms that are not allowed by some of the larger English learning centers in Japan, there is one potentially huge (and potentially career-fatal) drawback to doing so. That drawback is:

3) Recorded Skype Lesson Content

– Lessons can be recorded in most cases (with or without the teacher`s knowledge or consent), using 3rd party recording software or a school`s original Online Learning system.

This is where language companies stand to make a TON of cash while teachers potentially stand to lose a lot of income as well as their professional value as language instructors!

In Japan, a company does have the right to record employees for security reasons and quality assurance. That`s standard. But they are usually required to notify you in some format (such as a written clause in your signing contract) and the recordings can only be used for internal administrative or legal purposes (due to privacy issues). Companies are not allowed to share your private information or recorded video content with clients unless they have your permission. That could be considered illegal!

However,  since a lot of teachers are unaware of this, a lot of these companies record their Skype lessons and may send the video / give  the client access to their own online video server to watch training videos of a teacher`s recorded content at their leisure (of course for a large monthly fee to the client). These transactions can happen on a regular basis with multiple clients and completely without the teacher`s knowledge.

Most teachers may know that their lessons are being “monitored” but they may not know that their lessons are being recorded and saved on company servers for future usage. There`s a big difference between the two!

If you think about this from a revenue/profitability perspective; that means that 1 hour of a teacher`s recorded lesson content could easily be distributed to 100 different clients for a monthly fee. This benefits the clients by providing them with unlimited access to hundreds of hours or training. It also benefits the English company by providing a stable flow of monthly revenue from clients who are accessing the lesson and lectures on their internal database.

But what about benefits for the teacher who was actually giving the Skype lesson? In this case, the teacher normally just receives a small, one-time payment for the actual amount of teaching time (possibly 30 min – 1 hour). That`s pretty much it. Usually, no benefits or salary are offered or provided by the company for recorded content being forwarded to clients.

What this means is that even AFTER a teacher resigns or leaves, the company still retains access to all of their secretly recorded lesson content which they can sell to clients for years! That`s the main danger of this system for teachers.

4) Providing Free Lesson Materials to English Companies for Future Publication

There are no shortages of English language schools in Japan. Because of this, a lot of them may find themselves using the same printed / textbook materials as their competitors. Also, since a lot of the materials that English schools are using may simply be reprints of outdated materials; language schools in Japan are hard-pressed to come up with original content to sell to clients.

Not too long ago, some companies would pay teachers for submitting original content (some still do) or even ask them to become content designers for the company. It was a good system, but for companies in Japan, it that also meant additional costs to pay for lesson content.

This is also where recorded Skype lessons by unsuspecting teachers comes in quite handy! If a teacher is providing lessons via Skype or a school`s own original online system; the lessons may, of course, be monitored for quality assurance. But what a lot of schools are checking for isn`t necessarily lesson quality; it`s new and original materials to pitch to their clients.

Say for example; a teacher is encouraged to supplement the school`s teaching materials during an online lesson with their own unique spin. Of course, the teacher may divulge some completely new or original concepts during the lesson. The person who is monitoring the lesson may say; “Hey, that`s a good idea!” and simply make notes or copy the idea to add to the school`s own textbook materials.

Later, if the teacher notices the similarities and brings it to the attention of the school, they can just claim that they were already in the process of designing similar material OR they can claim the right to use these concepts based on the fact that the teacher was utilizing their system when these concepts were given to the student.

Also, if a teacher tries to build or market their own original materials later (or use them at another language school), the current school could step in and block the process by showing him “their own original (and surprisingly similar)” version of the content that he/she is trying to publish and pass it off as copyright infringement of their own published content. In this case, the teacher wouldn`t have a leg to stand on since he/she has been working at the company and providing lessons via their systems.

Either way, the school gets fresh concepts and materials to sell to their clients while the teacher gets nothing in return save for an hour`s lesson fee. See why this can be dangerous?

5) Loss of teaching value / Expend-ability

English schools are under pressure to maintain low operating costs. This is the reason for the steady decrease in salary at most English language schools. However, what would happen if a company could make money by teaching good lessons, without having to pay a teacher at all? You probably guessed correctly, most English language schools would dive right in without a second`s thought!

Recently, “Flipped Classroom” courses are becoming popular at some colleges and learning centers around the world. Since most teachers in Japan don`t know what these are, I highly recommend that you research them. Very good stuff to consider before signing up for your next online job!

But basically, a Flipped Classroom is simply a lecture-based lesson that is provided by video (no teacher required). Students are simply provided with the video link either in the classroom or at home where they will watch it and discuss it later. This system was designed to provide teachers with more class time to assist students with actual questions or assignments instead of wasting a majority of it on lectures.

You should already see where I`m going with this and what the implications are for online language study given by companies in Japan.

Since the teacher is only required for a one-time recording of lesson content and that content can be used with as many clients as the school may have; the value of the teacher who is providing the lessons actually begins to drop with each lesson that he / she teaches!

There`s no reason to promote them or give them a salary increase later. As a matter of fact, once they`ve completed an entire lecture set, there`s really no reason to keep them around… at all. It would prove disadvantageous for a company to do so because they would be taking a financial loss (unless the clients still want physical English teachers to show up on-site every now and then).

Imagine the massive armies of clones and droids shown in the previous 3 “Star Wars” movies – all replaced by cloned English teachers!

That`s essentially where this process is heading in the long term. But if you had access to a good, convenient, easily accessible, distributable and cost efficient clone of a teacher, would you really have any need or desire to keep the original product around or pay them a decent salary? Probably not.

** NOTE:
The funny thing about this particular problem is that actually affects English companies who are providing the Online Lessons as well!

Eventually, what will naturally happen is that clients will realize that they too can record lessons to their own servers using easily installable 3rd party software. They may then just ask for trial period or one set /session of a company`s lessons for “future consideration” and then record them onto their own databases for internal usage to train their own employees…

After that, the providing company would no longer be required, so there`s no need to renew the contract for services (unless they can keep constantly keep developing content that the client company needs or finds useful – which is probably what most of these online English companies are really relying on and one of the main reasons why they are trying going out of their way to recruit a lot of teachers).

Honesty and integrity aside, most companies simply will not pay for something that they can gain access to for free because client companies are looking to cut training costs too! So in the end, the only one who will really win will be the client companies.

In Japan, it`s very difficult for a company to fire someone unless they have a really good reason to do so. The laws are actually pretty strict about that for most companies. However, Japanese laws tend to get bent a lot when it comes to English language companies here; which can be good or bad depending on the situation.

But most English companies know that firing someone isn`t necessarily the only way of getting rid of unwanted teachers. Since most work is client/project based in most cases or teachers are paid by teaching hours; the best (and most efficient) way of running a teacher out of the company is simply by decreasing the amount of hours they can teach or by not giving them access to clients. Some of the larger English companies in Japan are notorious for doing this once a teacher has “outlived his usefulness” or grown “problematic”.

They`ll simply decrease his working hours/access to students or clients or assign the lessons to a less troublesome person (usually the young, new guy who is single and knows nothing about Japan) until he can no longer financially survive at the company and is forced to seek other employment. Problem solved.

This was going on way before Skype lessons started, so you can probably see how easy it would be for a company to save a ton of cash on expenses by hiring teachers to teach a complete set of recorded online lessons and then simply saying; “We`re sorry, but we have no more clients for you to teach at this time“. The teacher eventually has to find another job and walk away penniless (yen-less), and the company has a complete set of shiny new video lectures to sell to the client(s) – for years to come!

This is why teachers who are considering working for companies that offer their own Online / Skype-based lessons should be extremely careful and proceed with caution. While there are some language schools that are on the up&up in terms of honesty and integrity; you have to remember that English teaching in Japan is first and foremost; a very lucrative business with a LOT of competition!

Those are the pros and cons of this system in relation to English teachers (it`s very good for businesses and clients).

In my opinion, teaching onsite group and private lessons is still the best way to ensure a more stable income from English language schools and provides a higher yen value than teaching online. It also keeps you from ultimately losing your teaching value in Japan by having your image / recorded training videos posted to multiple clients that you may want to work with later.

However, that doesn`t mean that all companies like this are bad/evil money-grubbing dens of cheap labor. I`m pretty sure that there are some good ones out there. You just have to be careful in selecting a company to work for.

If you`re new to Japan, just looking to make some quick cash, don`t have any original teaching materials, styles or methods that you mind losing; or if you don`t mind the company potentially using your image and online lectures to sell to clients after you`ve left the company or gone a different way; then this system might work out quite well for you so I`d recommend giving it a shot! Skype lessons can actually be a lot of fun!

However; if you are a bit worried about some of the points that I`ve mentioned above but  are still interested in working for one of these companies; how do you protect yourself in a way to make sure that your identity isn`t used to sell lessons without your knowledge, your original content or concepts aren`t stolen and you don`t eventually outlive our usefulness at the company? Here are some tips that I would recommend:

1) Research the company you are applying for before you sign a contract – See if they are offering “Flipped classrooms / Learning” courses anywhere. If they are, make sure you ask them about that and research where they are getting their lesson content for the “Flipped” classes before you sign up. This is the mistake that most teachers make. They don`t research or ask questions about the company during interviews, then they get screwed later based on “I didn`t know”.

The laws in Japan are very lax on a lot of things and since Japan is far behind the curve when it comes to online learning, Skype lessons (and basically anything internet related outside of basic connectivity). These are completely new concepts to most companies. Right now there are basically no laws or standards in place to protect teachers from potential exploitations of these online learning systems, so it`s very important that you learn to look after yourself at this time and take the necessary precautions until laws are created/implemented to deal with this type of situation.

2) If you do have original teaching ideas or concepts write them down and create an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) for the company to sign stating that they cannot copy or use any of your original content or creative ideas without your permission and vice versa. Be very clear about the details. (That`s what I did). If a company is on the up-&-up and isn`t after free original materials to pillage, then they shouldn`t have a problem with this as the NDA also protects them from you.

If they throw a tantrum or won`t sign one, that`s a bad sign and you should probably consider other options. Do not work for an online learning company who won`t sign your NDA (especially if you are creative or have your own online courses like I do)!

3) Ask if lessons are recorded / Pay attention to each lesson that you teach to see if you are being (secretly) recorded. A lot of companies won`t even mention the fact that lessons are being recorded and forwarded to clients (for obvious reasons). Mine didn`t. I found out by complete accident when a message just randomly popped up on my screen saying that my session was being recorded to the server. What server??? When I asked the Sales Team about it, I was told that some  (possibly all) of the lessons I had already given had been recorded and sent to the client without my knowledge (because the client had requested them, and in Japan, the client is “god” and can never be refused – regardless of legality of their request). I asked my company to stop Immediately, and they did — well, kind of.

But if you notice that you are being recorded, you should bring it up IMMEDIATELY via email and ask them to either explain why you`re being recorded, provide proof of how / where these recordings are being used or ask them to stop recording you (yes, you can do that)!

Realistically, if a company is being honest and wants to record your lessons; they should have already made you sign an agreement or a clause in your contract prior to your working with them that fully explains that your lessons can be recorded for at the company discretion for whatever reasons. It may be included in your privacy policy. You need to sign this agreement BEFORE you start working if possible.

But if you find out that you are being secretly recorded and you haven`t been notified / signed anything allowing that, you have the right to ask them to stop until they provide you with the proper documents stating that they will do so. That`s actually your responsibility. If you notice that you`ve been recorded and keep allowing them to do so for a long time without raising it as an issue, it can come back to bite you later!

As with anything, you should ask them to stop recording you via a nice, respectful, but detailed email (documented proof of your request and the fact that you did indeed raise this as an issue as soon as you noticed it) so that nobody can deny it later. This is for legal purposes.

You can also ask them to sign a document stating that they will not use your previously recorded videos/likeness or send them out to clients without your express, written permission if you have not already signed up for them to do it. (Most companies will probably try to ignore this and will do it anyway without your knowledge as this was probably one of their major selling points to the client, but this email protects you and gives you legal cause if they ever get caught forwarding your stuff to clients. That`s the thing about the internet, videos always get copied and shared on YouTube by somebody, somehow. 🙂 )

If you`ve done all of these things and your company is still acting a bit shady (constantly monitoring teachers, locked doors, teaching materials are looking similar to things that you`ve passed on to students) then it`s probably a good idea to pack up and move elsewhere.

Create Your Own Online Course? Sure, why not?

Besides, why give away all of your best lesson material and content to an English company when you could just make your course for students and clients? English teaching is still a very good way to make money, and while teaching at companies does has it`s advantages if you`re working onsite with clients; developing your own online course with your own original materials and lesson content for Skype can be just as lucrative (if not even more so in some ways)!

Why teach for scraps when you could eat the whole steak? By making your own course, you can not only name your own price; but you can also ensure lesson quality for your students or clients by making sure that your concepts & ideas are taught the way you meant for them to be taught!

All you need is a little know-how, a website, and some knowledge of social networking! Check online to get some ideas. Also, if your idea is good enough or picks up a lot of fans/recognition, you could offer your content to English companies as a solid package if you ever get tired of it and don`t want to teach English anymore.

The point is, at least you have more options and you`re not giving your content away to them for free.

Making your own original content and putting it online is also a great way to establish ownership (branding) nowadays so that companies can`t just swipe your ideas and claim them as the company`s original content. So if you`re teaching at a place that starts developing content that is strikingly similar to your own, you already have proof that you`ve developed and published the system/content before you started working for them and you can ask them to show you the source/time date of their content. Most companies will refuse, but it`s still a good practice and you can use the emails for legal reference later if you notice that they really are swiping/altering your ideas later.

But why go through all the trouble just to teach Skype lessons for someone else? Students in Japan and clients alike are tired of English language schools and are actively seeking other options both inside of Japan as well as abroad. They`re all looking for the next best thing.

My advice? Instead of selling yourself short, why not try creating something new and put it out there for people to see! You never know how far you might actually get! (^_~)


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