It is no secret that my wife and I run a chain of language schools here in Kagawa. Our schools are called “englishbiz”. We chose this name to model the trend of “coolbiz” and “warmbiz”, two terms used in Japanese for people to dress accordingly to the hot and cold seasons that we have in Japan. We like the term “englishbiz” because it is something that kids need for all seasons, and they can shape language to their personality and style. It is also very clear what our schools are all about. A school name like “synthesize” or “emancipate”, while meaningful in some other context, mean little as stand-alone terms.

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As I said, “it is no secret” but what may be a “secret” is how we started our little school with a brown bag of school stuff (flashcards, kids books, homework sheets, pencils, and erasers) into a chain of schools that serves about a thousand kids in this prefecture. I want to take some time here, and perhaps in blogs to come to put out there, out there on the intrawebs, the process we took to get this done. How did we go from a little group of students, no facility, no advertising, no help, no family support, and only a few ideas to a bunch of schools here in Kagawa-ken? I wonder about the process myself as it happened so quickly, but I want to share with you a little in terms of how it all came together.

Okay… here it goes…

For a long time, actually, most of my teaching career, I worked for someone else. I worked in schools. I taught high school for a few years, I taught on the JET program way way back, I got my graduate work done and then I taught at universities. I have taught at major universities, grad schools, colleges (in Canada as well), in junior colleges, in senmon-gakko (trade schools), junior high schools, daycare, kindergarten, and elementary schools. I have also taught groups of business people, politicians, professors, doctors, government people with secret jobs (they wouldn’t even tell me what they did…), retired people, and artists. I think that I have had the great fortune of meeting a lot of different kinds of people. Those years, now that I look back a little, was also my own education. I had to figure out how to teach. I had to really get into what people need to make progress as they study. I had to develop the key ingredient to be successful in teaching: empathy.

Empathy is the magic bullet for this line of work. It puts you both in the driver seat of your own work and also in the seat of the kid or adult sitting across from you. It gives you both insight and power in terms of how to teach and how to get that person from point A to point B. It gives the person across from you satisfaction because they made progress, and more importantly, they felt “heard”. Empathy gets them on “your side” and when they are on your side they stick with you, and they tell their friends.

I suppose the first step to run your own chain of language schools is that you really need to be a good teacher. You need to do everything in your power to be good in the classroom. You need personality and good people management skills. There is no checklist to follow. You know when you have good classes, and you know when people are glad to see you. If you can get your classes to that point, you are on the right track.

If you can’t be a good teacher, you need to look for another line of work. Sorry to put that so bluntly, but seriously, if teaching is not your bag, or just a “job I do until I find what I want to do” you are damaging your students and yourself along the way. Get out of the classroom and go some place where you will be happier.

I think that now after a good 25 years or so of teaching I am not too shabby at my job. I love my job. I love teaching, and I enjoy the time I have with students in the classroom. They come to the school because they are interested and curious in something. I get to figure out what they really need, and then send them home later feeling glad they came. This is the microcosm of your entire business. People come to you. They need something. You give them what they need. They go home happy. They come again. Maybe…. they tell someone or bring a friend. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Your company grows.

That is what happened to us here in Sunny Takamatsu. We started with one group of students (just a list of names on paper actually) and then started classes. I taught my heart out, but I changed what was going on in the classroom to be REAL English. I lost some students at the beginning because they wanted something that I would not supply. We boiled down the student list we started with to our “core clients”, and then we worked very hard for them.

This blog is the first in a series of blogs on this subject. Stay tuned. More to come. Whether you like it or not!

In the meantime, have a great day. The weather today is very cool and breezy in the morning. These are the last few cool gasps of spring. Summer is coming. Brace yourselves.

See you soon.

Mark