“Your Female Teachers Should Smile More”

or, Things Not to Do/Say During Your Demo Day, Part 1

Let’s start with 3 premises that we can all get behind:

  1. Looking for a new job is stressful.
  2. Stress can make us do silly things.
  3. Silly things in a limited context can turn into embarrassing things.

As a part of MY’s hiring team, I’ve hosted demo teachers in my lessons for over 5 years. I have probably had over 40 teachers from all over Japan observe my lessons and teach my students.

The vast majority of candidates are respectful and professional. I’ve also had a few special cases that are worth mentioning. Silly words and actions may have been said and done as a result of stress. However, due to the limited time of getting to know the candidate, the interviewer’s impression of you can quickly be tarnished. I believe that talking about the examples will be useful not only for your potential demo day at MY, but at any other place of future employment.

  1. “Your female teachers should smile more.”

This gem did not come in the actual stress of the interview or demo day, but afterward. I decided not to hire a male candidate who was overqualified and yet wasn’t able to apply any of his loudly professed qualifications to practice. To be clear, even though I believed that this teacher may be a poor fit for MY, I thought that maybe I could recommend him to someone from tertiary levels of education. At MY, we sometimes recommend teachers to other positions that we think would be a better fit.

However, the candidate responded to rejection at MY with several inappropriate comments, including this one targeted at MY’s female staff.  Needless to say, after hearing that I should “smile more,” my desire to help out immediately vanished.

Why is telling women to “smile, honey” inappropriate? Here are some facts for you:

A comment that all staff need to smile more may be valid criticism. Even without the data above, though, thinking that in 2023 women are to “smile more” is, to be frank, obsolete. And I know – currently, it may be tricky to navigate gender relationships in the office, but I follow this rule that’s been useful for me:

If you can’t imagine saying a phrase to a member of the opposite sex, maybe you shouldn’t say it at all.

In other words, saying, “Cheer up, dude!” is appropriate for both sexes. However, if you say, “Smile, honey,” to your male coworker, and he goes “Eeeeww, mate, what?” – don’t say it to your female coworker either.

  1. “You’re, like, everything I wanted to be in high school!”

Navigating what to say to your interviewer and the person in charge of your demo day is quite tricky. Forbes, for example, has this to say regarding what not to say during your job interview.

 To the Forbes list, I’d also like to add that phrases like “I am so honoured to be here” and “This is my dream job” may make the interviewer doubt how truthful you are. Especially if you haven’t done any research about the company (this particular candidate had no idea about MY’s teaching methodology or fundamental ideas of constructivism), how can you know that this is your dream job?

“You’re, like, everything I wanted to be in high school!” came up after other questionable compliments that I mention above. It immediately raised a red flag for me. Giving compliments to the company or your interviewer is not forbidden, but you need to strike a balance between a compliment and sucking up. The emptiness of this particular phrase made it sound like the person was trying too hard to flatter me. The candidate simply blurted this phrase out with no additional context. Why did they think so? What did they mean by it? I still don’t know.

One of the most important elements of genuine compliments is sincerity and specificity. Praise efforts and achievements, but you do need to actually mean it. At the end of the day, don’t forget that a few cringey poems didn’t save Jane Bennet’s relationship with her admirer!

  1. “So, can I get another job while I work here?”

One thing recruiters look for is commitment. Especially when you start at a new company, you have a myriad of things to learn, from official company policies to whom to befriend and go to karaoke with. You may truly be a multitasking Renaissance man that can juggle several jobs and speak French in 90 days. However, let’s be honest, the likelihood of this is very low. Considering MY’s intense training process and the background knowledge that you will need to be successful in the classroom, focus on one job at a time.

You can have a second job while working at MY. We’ve had several teachers hold part-time positions as adjunct professors at local universities, and they were successful in figuring out a balance between their personal life, employment at MY, and employment at a university. Even so, they spent two to three years improving their teaching skills before even having a conversation with the management about getting another job.

So, what if you do need to get another job? The most “genius” idea is to not tell anyone about your second place of employment. However, in Japan, it’s not a great plan not to inform your employer or immigration. If you don’t get a special permit 資格外活動許可許, “Permission to engage in activities other than permitted under the status of residence” and you get caught, you may get in serious trouble with immigration. To obtain the permit, you may need your employer’s expressed written permission.

Start your new job and see your workload after you start teaching on your own. If you are struggling to keep your main job, maybe you shouldn’t consider getting another one. If you’re doing just fine and need another job – congratulations, you may start looking for another employment opportunity. Just remember that you must be transparent with your employer and make sure that you compartmentalize and find a way to do both of your jobs to the best of your abilities. If your second job affects your performance at your main job, your employer may recall their permission. No main job means that you may not be able to obtain your immigration permit again. If you want to read more about having a part-time job while employed full-time, I recommend reading this article.

This is Part 1 of things not to do/say when looking for a job.  Let us know if you want to read Part 2, and good luck with your job search!

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“My teacher is never happy”

And why it’s a good thing.

I know, I know, the title is inflammatory.

However, I do actually mean it. Kind of.

Let me explain what I mean when I say I am an “unhappy teacher.”

I invite you to dissect with me the situation I experienced in my kindergarten class:

After months of trying, we finally managed to play a ball game counting to 20 without dropping the ball on the carpet.

You might not think that it’s difficult at all, but it’s actually quite tricky.

Small kids want to just projectile yeet the ball, preferably hitting someone or something on the way. Ideally, from the slinging student’s perspective, it should hit the light above their heads.

In my kindergarten class, we spent approximately three months trying to count to 20. I gave them three attempts every lesson, and after three fails we put the ball away. The first couple of lessons looked more like Gotham under the rule of Bane – pure anarchy, in other words. As weeks were going by, though, the ball hit the walls and the lights fewer and fewer times, and we were getting closer and closer to the magical number of 20.

After about three months we finally managed to get to 20. I still vividly remember the students’ smug faces when they yelled out “20!” and looked at me, expecting me to lose my mind over their achievement.

My reaction didn’t match their level of expectations.

I smiled, looked at them, and said, “Wow, you finally did it. Wanna try to count to 30 then?”

And so, the ball began to roll up to 30, and since the kids knew how to play the ball game, we could count to 30 relatively quickly.

I decided not to celebrate because I didn’t want 20 to be the end of everything.

So, going back to my inflammatory statement, I was happy, truly. However, I decided not to celebrate because I didn’t want 20 to be the end of everything. Because it isn’t.

A couple of years back at MY, our yearly company theme was “Raising expectations” (still my favorite theme, BTW). To me, raising expectations comes with being “unhappy.” Being overjoyed sounds like the goal has been achieved, while the goal, let’s be honest, can never be achieved. Not with language learning.

To be clear, I do not completely ignore my students’ successes. I praise them, but only after they truly struggled and achieved something. Even then, I only praise them slightly, encouraging them to be proud of themselves first. My praise is scarce. It is, as Pushkin said,  “a fleeting vision, the quintessence, of all that’s beautiful and rare.” By making my praise rare, I make it sound genuine because my students know that it only comes if they went above and beyond and did something extraordinary. At the end of the day, “Whiplash” taught us that “there are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’”.

Praise is something that must be earned, not taken for granted.

When I think about who I am, I often describe myself as a self-taught optimist who’s fundamentally a pessimist. I often feel unhappy, even though I don’t know why. I could have tried to go against my nature and play up a character that’s not me. However, I made the choice that I will use my personality trait for good, maintaining the value of praise as something that must be earned, not taken for granted.

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Professional and Personal Development at MY: A Shelf Study

One early morning in March 2020, I was on my way to our Sakata School to interview Chris about his five years at MY which, unfortunately, were coming to a close. It was bitterly cold outside, snowing so hard that I had to drive 20 km/h just so I could see 20 meters ahead. It was a Monday, an official day off, I was just getting over a small cold that I had for a good while, so with all the factors combined I think it’s needless to say, I did not want to be at the school. I would much rather lie down and degenerate under my fluffy blanket with a smartphone in my hands looking at owl pictures and memes.

I opened the door of the school with a fair few filthy words directed at the weather and saw Chris looking pensively at a massive cardboard box with a picture of a bookshelf on it. After greeting Chris, I inquired about the box in my customary expletive manner, and he simply shrugged and said: “I figured we needed some more space to store the new Extensive Reading books that we’ll purchase later this year”. The notion surprised me. Why, I wondered, was someone that was leaving their workplace for a new exciting adventure bother themselves with prospects for the future of their previous place of employment? Regardless, while I was setting up, Chris unpacked the box and the conversation began.

Chris has a rich experience of living and working in Japan. He used to be an ALT working for a dispatch company for five years before joining MY. “There was little opportunity for professional growth outside the classroom”, said Chris while glancing at the incomprehensibly Swedish manual, figuring out how to put the bloody thing together, “I did two years of off-site kindergarten lessons and received no training on how to do it at all”. After getting tired of not having any fun or opportunities to grow, Chris moved to MY in 2015. A former employee of MY, Pat Conaway, who later moved on to teach at a university, remembers Chris’ first days at MY. “Chris used a lot of songs with his Finding Out classes”, Pat said. “Up until then almost everyone ignored the music CD with Finding Out, but after he demoed using songs with Finding Out activities other teachers started using the songs too”.

Even as a new teacher, Chris was able to change his far more senior co-workers’ attitudes towards songs in the book, starting as he meant to go forward at MY. “When Chris first started, he was still a very fresh teacher despite having worked as an ALT for a couple years before joining MY”, says Melissa Ng, the former head of the Professional Development team and the current manager of the Kansai schools. “However, he made a solid effort to get advice from veteran teachers and attend professional development events, such as PanSIG and ETJ”.

Chris’ drive for professional development organically led him to joining the Professional Development team at MY in 2016. “I wanted to grow as a person”, said Chris. “The job was challenging and yet I enjoyed the nice, friendly atmosphere and the autonomy it gave me”, said he while putting two pieces of the shelf together. Melissa also recalled that with time, Chris started to take on other leadership responsibilities at MY by actively creating better connections with the local communities, teaching lessons at community centers which eventually led to the opening of our Tsuruoka school. Ryan Hagglund, the CEO of MY, mentions that he appreciated not only Chris’ leadership skills, but also his honesty. “One thing I always appreciated about Chris was that he wasn’t afraid to tell me his thoughts on things”, said he. “I remember one time when after a conversation we had, he felt a little discouraged by something I had said. He contacted me later in the day to talk and let me know how he had felt after our conversation. This honesty and willingness to tell me how he viewed things was invaluable”.

Chris’ ability to be honest about everything was in fact, one of the first things I noticed about him. I joined the PD team the year Chris took over the role after Melissa went to Kansai to manage our schools there. During one of the weekly meetings, he criticized a staff member’s work attitude, which I thought was fair at the time. However, a week later Chris apologized for saying those words “because it’s unfair to criticize someone when they are not there to defend themselves”, and I realized that he was absolutely right, that his words were wrong, but because he admitted to being wrong first I did not feel upset at him. Myself being still somewhat a child in the world of adults, felt shocked by his accountability and willingness to accept the blame even if no one was pointing their fingers at him.

Looking at the mostly assembled shelf, Chris moved onto sharing his future plans with me. “From April, I am planning to study computer science for two years and work as a part-time English teacher”, said he while putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece. He was excited to move on to his new adventure but he shared how grateful he was for the experiences he got while at MY. “I acquired leadership skills and an appreciation for time management and planning”, indeed, skills that are essential for the leader of the PD team.

Looking back, Chris was quite content with his work at MY, but “long drives to Nairiku royally sucked”, chuckled he. In the world of ass-kissers, Chris was a refreshing tool of brutal honesty mixed with a dazzle of the good old British sense of humour. “I also appreciate Chris’s sense of humor”, added Ryan. “His wife was apparently surprised by it, however. One time he and I were talking on the phone while he was driving with his wife. After the conversation, his wife apparently chastised him saying, ‘You talk to your boss like that? You might get fired!’” Chris is a serious educator, but I’m also glad for his sense of humor”, concluded Ryan.

Chris took a step back to admire his completed bookshelf and after a contented smile, I watched him stroll away to do yet another chore. I suddenly came to a realization that Chris’ behaviour made perfect sense. That is what he did. He cared about things, even if it was not “his job” per se. I have heard the “it’s not my responsibility” line so much that if I got paid a dollar for it I’d be the richest person in Japan. Apathetic, passive people plague everyone around them with their conscious decision not to act. Negativity spreads around way faster than positivity, and people that give in to apathy destroy companies, societies, countries, and the world in the end.

Chris though is different. His empathy, genuine care for people and ability to see situations from everyone else’s point of view and ability to admit his wrongdoings, made him extremely easy to get along with. For MY, Chris leaving was, dare I say it, a huge loss, but whichever path he chose afterwards, whichever employer he works for now, has gained a tremendous amount of professional attitude and enthusiasm. As the current leader of the Professional Development team, I understand that filling Chris’ shoes is a monumentally difficult task, but having had him as my example of how to lead with compassion and love, I hope that one day I will deserve the kind words that people still remember Chris with.

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On Adaptability

Two years of teaching… Finally, the almost constant feeling of panic and uncertainty about my lessons has been replaced by something that from afar, resembles confidence. Finally, I know the curriculum (well, more or less), I’ve taught all the books at least once, I’ve kept most of my classes from last year and I’m familiar with every school and advisor. After two years of having worked at MY I’ve gained enough expertise to try and sail by myself, fix the mistakes I’ve made over the course of two years so I won’t repeat them again, and I will be able to reinforce my strong teaching skills. I’m ready! I’m ready! Let’s nail it!

And then someone ate a bat!

Moving to remote lessons was devastating to my confidence. Yet again, I’ve come back to the square one, back to March of 2018 – having no clue about what I’m doing. It is terrifying, really, to have an enormous amount of expectations put on you and you feel that you just can not carry it all. The first day of remote lessons went disastrously bad. A myriad of technical issues, crappy sound quality, lessons being too teacher-centered, inability to do proper error correction, regular silence as a response to my question… To me, an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, this was too much. After coming back home I just wanted to let it go and forget about it, but I couldn’t. Suddenly being stripped of my strengths and ripped out of my comfort zone made me feel powerless and forced me back to the lesson-conscious Alina.

However, as weeks went by I started to feel better. Lessons went way smoother, and my students’ smiles returned to their faces. Wondering what happened I started to reflect on the first week of teaching lessons remotely, and I found a simple answer.


One of my favourite books from this year so far “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel has this amazing quote in it: “All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

Why is adaptability so important in the current uncertainty? Adaptability matters because being able to restructure to new circumstances and do necessary self-correction is one of the things that separate people and organizations of the past from the people and organizations of the future in our hyper-globalized world. An English school can easily fold its wings and shut down for several months because they can’t swiftly adapt to the unfolding events since it’s easier to wait for the “whole thing to blow over”. Another English school though can quickly reassess the situation and figure out the best a possible solution to the existing problem not only for the business side of things, but also for the clients.

In fact, this almost a buzz-word now, adaptability, is what I think separates MY’s teachers from those who don’t make it here. On this note, the list that Professional Development and Hiring Teams made together that talks about the kinds of teachers we are always on the lookout for, adaptability came first. Of course, one can come with a phenomenal amount of teaching experience, a great CV and yet fail miserably in a student-centered classroom. Another person though, even with zero teaching experience and straight out of college can still make a difference and blow us all away. The key to this, I think, is being able to see the environment around you and adapt to it.

I don’t know how many more people are doing this weird thing that I do, but often, when I look back at some traumatic and difficult experiences of my life, I remember them with warmth and gratitude. Being severely bullied in high school was a horrendous experience, but now thinking about it does not hurt anymore. In fact, it makes me feel grateful since it has shaped me and made me myself, and, to be frank, maybe precisely as a result of this I made it all the way here. Even the Japanese driving school that I attended last year brought me so much stress and anxiety because learning how to drive with my limited Japanese skills and awful sense of direction was one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced. Nevertheless, now I remember that time with so much affection I sometimes wish I could go back and experience it all over again. I think, in the end, I adapted to most challenges in my life and ultimately feel beholden to those trials as a source of continued self-improvement.

I hope in a few months I will feel grateful about the remote lessons too.

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Changing my mindset – Silence

(Me)                    – “What is it?

(Students)         –

(Me)                    – “Do you know what is it?

(Students)         – (silence)

A very familiar situation, isn’t it? Regardless of the situation, whether it’s a language school classroom or our day-to-day life, not getting an answer to your question is upsetting, annoying and, truth be told, sometimes infuriating. Especially in a teacher-centered classroom not receiving an answer can be seen as straight up disrespectful and rude, or worse – as a sign that your students are absolutely clueless.

Or are they? That’s what I noticed when I joined MY. Sometimes,
after presenting a new topic I realised that instead of a wave of different
responses and answers I got only silence. And, as human beings, we hate when
silence falls upon us. Have you ever been on a date that suddenly went silent
and you wished that you were anywhere but there? At first, that’s exactly how I
felt. Thinking that this grammar target is the easiest in the world I hadn’t
been prepared for my students’ silence. Upon encountering this, our first
instinct is to avoid the situation – scrap the activity, move on to something
else, hoping that the second attempt later in the class would me more

However, after several months at MY I noticed that sometimes I
used to get a different kind of silence. Not the desperate, students trying to
avoid looking in your eye’s kind of silence (“not Slytherin!”). No, there was
something special. This was a curious, hungry silence of someone who knew
exactly what was going on, but wasn’t sure how to express their feelings.

Allow me to give you an example.

In one of my elementary school 2nd grade classes we started to study occupations, and the first question we were supposed to learn is “What do you do?”. Excited, I sat down with my students and “accidentally” asked them “What do you do?”. Being MY’s loyal students, my kids immediately asked me “What do you do, Alina?”, to which I proudly announced “I’m a teacher! “.

And then silence fell upon us.

Concerned, at first, I felt that maybe they didn’t understand the
question, and maybe I should either make myself clearer or do another activity,
allowing them to think over this new mysterious grammar point. But a few second
later I saw that students, instead of avoiding my eyes, were actively looking
for answers by looking at me and at each other curiously. That second a very
simple truth for an experienced teacher suddenly hit me.

What if they don’t know how to say “student” in English?

What I did was I gave them several examples. Smiling
mischievously, I asked my students

(Me)- “What’s “hon” in English?

(Students)- “It’s book”.

(Me) – “Hm, I see. What’s baggu in English?”

(Students) – “It’s bag.”

(Me)-” Hm, I see. What’s….


And at that moment I felt badass like never before. And, because this knowledge was obtained through a hard thinking process where students were allowed to think things through, and got the answer only after asking other follow-up questions, I realised several months later that this knowledge was retained by them. Even last year, when I just joined MY, some of my classes didn’t keep this knowledge and we had to recycle it way more frequently than I’d wished, and yet with this class even after a long time they were still able to ping-pong “I’m a student” to your “What do you do?”.

Becoming more comfortable with silence is one of the most
fundamental changes I’ve experienced since joining MY. In fact, I might say
that I Mia Wallaced myself – now I’m able to shut up for a minute and
comfortably share silence knowing that my students are figuring out the answer,
making sure that this knowledge gained after some elbow grease will stay with
them and go into their long term memory.