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The Origins of ETJ (English Teachers in Japan)


ETJ now has over 10,000 members. How did it start in the first place?


Back in the 1980s

When I was building up my language schools back in the 1980s, I taught six days a week. On Sundays, I played football, had a school social event, crashed out or met friends – often a combination of these. I would occasionally look at the presentation topics of local teachers’ associations such as JALT, but they never seemed relevant enough to my situation to give up my Sunday for. They seemed to be doing an excellent job, but were aiming more at university teachers.


We had many teachers in our schools, and almost none of them joined teachers’ associations. They were professional teachers and we provided lots of in-house support and training that was relevant for the classes we were teaching, and that was enough. Days off were days off.

Getting Spoilt

When my first course book was published and became a bestseller, everything changed for me. I entered the world of conferences and started training teachers all over East Asia. As an author, I was really spoilt for a few years, and was absorbed into a world that was far removed from the one I had previously been in.  I came to appreciate all the tremendous work that JALT, KOTESOL, ThaiTESOL, ETAROC and others were doing to support teachers, but, at the same time, felt they were only reaching the tip of the iceberg. More often than not, they were reaching the teachers who needed the least support with their professional development.


While this was going on, my schools had become highly respected for teacher training around East Asia. Especially in Japan, teachers who were interested in professional development were contacting us all the time to enquire about training courses, MAs, the free journals we published . . . . Our fax machine never stopped. We also had a book store and many language schools and individual teachers around Japan bought books from us. This meant we had extensive data on school owners and teachers who were interested in professional development.


In the late 1990s, I seriously questioned the world of conferences that I had been immersed in. I felt I had forgotten my roots. I felt there was a need for a new organization that would reach busy classroom teachers, independent teachers, school owners . . . in fact, all those teachers who were not joining the existing associations.


The Beginning of an Idea

A new group of the kind I envisaged couldn’t easily happen naturally. If it could, it would have already existed. It needed to be created using a model that was suitable for the teachers it was aimed at.  It needed to be appropriate for busy teachers who had other things to do on their days off and might not realize the value of being part of a new group for teachers.


Hotmail provided the model for ETJ. There was no membership fee, so it was easy to join. Once inside the group, teachers gradually noticed things that might be helpful. This was an appropriate model for the teachers ETJ is aimed at.


Four Elements

At least, four other elements were very important. One was that we made discounts in our bookstore only available to ETJ members. This was why many owners and independent teachers joined and often took a leading role in ETJ. I then started an email discussion list to support and bring these owners together.  My schools also then extended the principle of only offering discounts to ETJ members to everything else we were doing for teachers.


A second important factor was that I was traveling around Japan a lot training teachers. I could talk to teachers at the training courses and encourage local ETJ groups to start up.


A third factor was that my schools could do the donkey work, marketing and administration. Because of the kinds of teachers ETJ was set up to support, we couldn’t have a model that depended too much on individual members, even local organizers, putting in a lot of time. Some key people have put a tremendous amount of work into the local groups, Expos, the journals (when we had them), the discussion groups, and much more, but the ETJ model could not depend on this.


Avoiding a Personality Cult

Another key factor at the very beginning was to prevent ETJ from becoming a personality cult or becoming only for followers of my methodology and books. It could easily have become like this in the early years. ETJ especially focused on teachers of young learners, and other groups for teachers of children almost all revolved around the ideas of one person. To avoid this, among other things, I made a point of never giving a presentation at a local ETJ meeting and encouraging various approaches to be represented. At special events, I only presented if there were also others presenting on different approaches.


Of course, it wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound in this blog post. There were many other issues to consider, many failures, and a lot of lessons that are still being learned. But all that is for future blog posts.


  Dialogue of the Month


There is Life on Earth!


Language Target: Reporting speech without changing the tense


Glug: There is life on Earth!

I’ve found three different aliens!


Are they intelligent?

Glug: I’ll ask them some questions.

What’s 12 ÷ 3 x 2 – 7.5?




The seal said 12 ÷ 3 x 2 – 7.5 is a half.

Zork: That was quick! Ask the frog a question.

Have you read The Complete Works of Shakespeare?




The frog said he has read The Complete Works of Shakespeare.


That’s very good! Ask the dog a question.


Which German composer was born in 1685?




The dog said that Bach was born in 1685.


They’re all very intelligent!


Dialogue and illustration from ‘Motivate 1’ by David Paul (Compass Publishing)


Available in Japan at the ETJ Book Service


Available internationally here

One Response to The Origins of ETJ (English Teachers in Japan)

  1. ETJ has been so helpful to me over the years. It’s great to know more about the story of how it all got started!

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