It seems like all the pay is basically the same.

Posted on 01.02.2017

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It’s like being stuck on a level in a game, and I can’t move up.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and it’s really not 100% true in all situations (which I will explain a little further down), but it seems like as far as teaching English as a second language (ESOL) is concerned, there is one general pay grade that rarely varies.

I’ll try to explain my personal experience:
In Germany, it was about 15-E per 45-minute session, give or take. I got raised to 16-E by the end of my time with the company, but overall, this was the going rate in a school setting. We are talking freelance, paid per lesson. It was the same at all of the schools in the area. So there was no ‘going to the other school’ in order to get a raise.

In my private lessons, depending on the students’ budgets, I was charging between 30 – 50-E per hour. Much better than my rate at the language school. And this is generally the going rate for private lessons, as long as you’re trained or experienced and can offer some form of a curriculum or improvement.

Here in Japan, it’s basically the same. Most companies will start the new teachers at Y1,500 ($15) per 45-minute session. Please keep in mind that Y100 here is the equivalent to $1 in the US, 1-E in the EU, etc. A dollar is a dollar, as they say. Some companies will raise you up to about Y2,200 per session, but it’s getting increasingly rare. A lot of the schools seem to actually be cutting the pay rates of those who have gone that high, rather than giving raises to those of us at the lower end of the scale.

That’s the language schools. Competitive rates, and all that. I’m STILL charging the same for my privates: Between Y3,000 and Y5,000 per hour, depending on their budget. And that is still working out just fine, since it’s still cheaper than what the schools are charging them to see me and pay me less.

But here’s where it gets tricky: In that time when I’m teaching private lessons and NOT at my day job, I have to factor in travel time and lessons lost with them.

So let’s imagine I am going to teach a private children’s class. I’ll get paid Y3,500 per hour for 2 hours. So that is Y7,000 for 2 hours of work. That’s great! BUT: the school is an hour away, and afterwards I have to go to my day job. So that rate just went from Y7,000 for 2 hours to Y7,000 for FOUR hours. Doing the math, that ends up being Y1,750 per hour. Just Y150 ($1.50) more than I would make sitting in my dusty office. Thankfully, they are paying my travel costs, so that ups the amount a bit.

But still: it seems that in this field, at this moment in time, the math never works out to much more than $15/session. I’m not terribly upset about that, and doing the children’s class is a good way for me to diversify, and maybe pick up some MORE private students on the side. Every little bit counts, as they say, right?

Online, the prices are even MORE competitive due to the fact that a lot of the students come from poorer countries. So I only charge $15/hour on my teaching website, instead of what I would charge my private students for a face-to-face meeting. I like to rationalize that in my head as ‘I get to sit at home in my pajamas and talk to Russia/Saudi Arabia, and no one is giving me a negative review based on possible dandruff (true story)‘.

At other companies that do other things than just one-to-one courses, I get paid more. There is one company I work with that pays me Y4,000/hour, plus travel costs, to do a full day of work with them. It’s amazing and actually really easy. I really enjoy the work! The only issue is that they don’t call me that often. So I can hope for work with them, but they’re not totally reliable for paying the bills.

I know there is other work out there, but it’s hard to go out and look for it, find it and interview for it. All of that takes time.

And that’s why I feel like I’m stuck at this pay grade. It’s enough to pay the bills and college loan off, but it’s not really enough to SAVE on.

***

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And here is some new information, since I started writing this 2 weeks ago and am just getting around to it now:
This article
 and Glassdoor (thank you for existing!) have basically just shown me that I am actually earning an above-average salary in Tokyo, compared to other people in the field.

So I really need to keep my mouth shut. And when I do the math for what I make in a  year here, it’s still a pay raise compared to my last job in the states and in Germany, and according to the typical American average for my age group, it’s the average.

But still. I’d like to make enough to actually save.

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