JET? What's that?
Question : Hey Captain Fugu, why the JET Program? What is it all about anyway?
Answer : Well, actually there are two commonly accepted explanations for the JET Program. One comes from Japan and the Minsitry of Education while the other comes from the interested applicants. I will attempt to explain them both to the best of my knowledge and as honestly as possible.
Japan and the Ministry of Education
The JET Program was started in 1987 as a way to introduce Japanese students to both a foreign language and foreigners at the same time. Japan was still somewhat of an isolated nation, and someone must have realized what a good idea it would be to teach english conversation to their students. JET is actually an acronym which stands for Japanese Exchange Teaching. People who apply to and are accepted into the JET Program are placed into elementary, middle, and high schools throughout Japan as teaching assistants (aka ALT's: Assistant Language Teachers). The point of doing this isn't to replace the Japanese teachers of English, but rather to supplement their ability to teach a foreign language with a person who is fluent in english and all of its tricks and inconsistencies. In order to fill this type of position, the applicant does not need to speak Japanese nor have any teaching experience. The only requirement of the JET Program is a desire to improve the english language curriculum in order to foster greater communication skills instead of just english literacy. Basically, JET is looking for motivated people who can help students communicate in english, not just memorize what is required to pass the high school and college entrance examinations.
Although the program was rather small when it started, the JET Program and its contracting organizations currently employ over 6,000 assistant language teachers from 39 countries (as of the year 2000). Participants range in age from 21 to 50, though the target age range is between 21-35. They are spread throughout every region of Japan whether it is rural, urban, suburban, mountainous, island, tropical, temperate, fridgid, or extremely rural (ie: rice paddy's as far as the eye can see).
Many people choose the JET Program for different reasons. Here is just a small section of the possibilities: desire to teach in foreign country, really love Japan and want to live there, need a break after college, need a break from ordinary life, want to teach english, love kids, really really like Japanese food, want to learn Japanese, etc. to name a few. The key word in any of these situations (and once you look into the JET Program you'll hear this all the time and I am not kidding) is -internationalization-. The JET Program exists solely to help the Japanese people gain a better understanding of the other people on the planet and to educate them in the language which is commonly spoken over a wide range of countries.
-- So why would I want to apply to the JET Program? --
If you have a desire to learn about foreign language instruction, how children are taught in Japan, Japanese language, and the beautifully rich Japanese culture, then perhaps you should look into joining the JET Program.
By far the best reason for looking into JET if you want to teach english abroad, is that offers far better benefits than any other foreign language instruction schools while at the same time usually offers the teacher a greater degree of flexibility within the curriculum. You can also apply to become a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) if you have extensive Japanese language skills. This job is based solely around the idea of internationalization. A CIR is usually placed at the offices of local prefectures or international organizations in order to assist with international affairs and events. Another new position that JET offers is the SEA (Sports Exchange Advisor). If you have experience teaching a team sport and would like to use athletics as a way to promote international exchange, then this job is for you. As of now, there are only 35 SEA's in Japan through the JET Program, but I believe they are looking for more.
Having been accepted into the JET Program, you can look forward to a vast and rewarding experience. Not only to you get to experience Japanese culture in a most intimate way, but you do not have some of the stresses that other english teachers in Japan have. Your pay is rather good, you have insurance, you have a roof over your head, and should have enough to pay off student loans.