Hiring Teachers

In a mad moment of unwarranted faith, my previous bosses entrusted me to hire future English teachers for their conversation school. I gladly accepted the challenge because at that moment my colleagues were a chap who thought motorbike engines were an acceptable topic of conversation and whose ear-wax was dribbling down his lobe, and a girl who thought the capital of France was Belgium. I wish I were making that up but sadly I’m not. You can probably understand, therefore, why I welcomed the opportunity to handpick future co-workers and potential friends. I thought it would be difficult to make poorer choices than my bosses had done but when I got started on the interview process I began to realize that choosing the best candidate for the job was like choosing your favourite imbecile. I know there is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black here, but you really do get a lot of hopeless cases applying for English teaching jobs in Japan.

My bosses did the initial screen of CVs and then asked me to conduct telephone interviews based on their selection. With many of the candidates, though, the interview was pointless because I had written them off in my mind with just a quick glance at their application. The person, for example, who insisted that she was a ‘vivid’ reader could be dismissed without too much consideration, as could the young man who attached a photograph of himself looking slightly pissed on a beach holiday and the fellow who announced in his cover letter that he was a ‘very humble gay who loves teaching’. I took it for a typo at first, but ‘a’ and ‘u’ are nowhere near each other on a keyboard. It felt wrong to laugh and dismiss him out of hand but it wasn’t discriminatory – I would have equally mocked anyone who claimed to be a humble heterosexual, or shyly straight.

Sometimes CVs were deceiving in that they looked quite normal, but when interview time came along the writers of those CVs, to be perfectly frank, were not. I chatted with a guy who deemed it perfectly reasonable to ask whether it was easy to get girls in Japan because in Spain, where he was currently teaching, he was having no luck at all. It was, he confided, because they were all staunch Catholics. Obviously, I didn’t hire him. Well, he clearly had no skills in ascertaining the root causes of problems. Later I interviewed a guy who refused to send a document to us by fax because it was too expensive, and a woman who confessed that she wanted to teach in Japan to get away from her overwhelming personal problems in the United States. She may have been being honest, but you’re supposed to have enough sense to lie about things like that.

My favourite interviewee, however, was a guy who answered all of my questions extremely well, was pleasant and chatty and whom I had already decided I would recommend that the bosses hire.

‘Well, it was really nice to talk to you,’ I said. ‘Have you got any final questions or anything you want to say?’

‘No,’ he said, then hesitated slightly. ‘Well maybe just one thing.’

‘Go ahead,’ I said.

‘Well, I have quite a bad temper,’ he said, ‘and sometimes I just lose it big time!’

‘You lose it? In what way.?’ I asked, concerned.

‘Big time,’ he said again. ‘I’ve stormed out of class on a couple of occasions, but usually I jut slam the door closed or punch the wall, that sort of thing.’

There was a small pause as I considered how best to respond to such a confession, and then the silence was broken by the interviewee cheerfully announcing, ‘But, I don’t do it so much now. It’s probably under control.’ Then he let out a scary high-pitched cackle. The laughing stopped abruptly and he said with frightening sincerity, ‘Seriously, I’m fine now.’

I didn’t hire him.


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One Response to Hiring Teachers

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Another fine post helping start my morning off on the right foot.

    It’s interesting that the applicant pool for English teaching positions hasn’t vastly improved. It should be a buyer’s market these days with eikaiwa in decline and the U.S. and U.K. economies in the toilet. Maybe the best applicants are headed to China these days since it’s in fashion.

    We had a pretty good staff at the school where I worked, which was an all women senmon gakko owned by Kawaijuku. We had one senior gaijin lifer who wasn’t a horrible person (though his Japanese wife was pretty bad), but he was pretty useless, had a doctorate from a diploma mill, and after some 20+ years in Japan, still wasn’t fluent in Japanese. However, the Japanese staff would still make horrendous mistakes every once in a while and rarely consulted us prior to hiring.

    One failed experiment was a German-American guy (born in Germany and didn’t moved to the U.S. until he was in HS). He was a bit like your applicant with anger management “issues.” He was always civil enough in the staff room, but was known to make his charges cry every once in a while and would cadge money off middle management when he ran short toward the end of the month. Rather an amazing accomplishment as an apartment was included in the contract and this was at the height of the Bubble.

    He was physically intimidating as well being about 6’4″, probably over 240 and sported a white-blond brush cut. National stereo-typing aside, the Aryan ideal instantly came to mind once you knew his heritage.

    Thankfully, he left the school before his contract was up.

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