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Teaching at International Schools in Japan: How I Added the IB Certificate to My Resume

After I ended my job as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) and went to the United States to earn my teaching license, fate brought me and my education career back to Japan. Interested to know where I could go from here, I began researching different teaching options for what I could do to build my professional skills.

My research said that TEFL/TESOL certificates were desirable in many jobs, that postgraduate degrees could further opportunities in university education and that an International Baccalaureate (IB) certificate was helpful for international school teachers.

I decided to pursue an IB certificate because the world of international schools fascinated me. I wanted to learn more about the IB program and how to teach multinational, multilingual students. Moreover, there are currently over 100 IB schools in Japan and the country aims to increase that number in the future.

Here’s how I earned my IB certificate and what I learned in the process.

The benefits of an IB certification in Japan

Photo: iStock/ marokeAn IB certification can boost your resume if you want to teach at an international school.

According to the IB’s mission statement, the program strives to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

I quickly discovered that IB schools in Japan work towards this goal through activities such as bilingual/language immersion education, service learning and independent study. In contrast to many curricula in Japan, students must do more than simply pass exams to earn a diploma from an IB school.

This diploma can be accepted at universities worldwide. This is why certification can boost a teaching career; holding this qualification is a testament to one’s ability to educate according to the IB’s philosophy and approach.

If teaching at an international school is your goal, there can be advantages to earning certification before beginning a job hunt. Namely, if a non-certified individual is hired for a position that requires a certificate, the school may be required to pay for that teacher’s training. Sometimes this incentivizes schools to hire certificate holders so that they can save money.

This is one reason why I chose to pursue an IB certificate. I had also never worked at an IB school before and generally knew little about the program, so I believed I had much to gain from certification.

My experience

Photo: iStock/ eclipse_imagesNo entrance exams were required for this program when I applied, so applying was straightforward.

Universities worldwide offer officially recognized International Baccalaureate certification programs, and I found one in Japan thanks to a list of courses that the IB maintains on its official website. Courses in Japan vary in format (online, in person or hybrid), length (typically one to two years) and the qualifications earned (some programs award IB certification along with a degree, some only award IB certificates).

I already held a teaching license and a Master of Arts in Teaching, so I preferred a non-degree program. I also wanted something online because I was working in Shimane Prefecture and didn’t want to stop working or relocate to earn this qualification. I found a program that met these needs at Tamagawa University in Tokyo. No entrance exams were required for this program when I applied, so signing up was pretty straightforward.

My classes were a mix of Zoom meetings and independent study. We studied the history of the IB program, pedagogy and teaching strategies commonly used in IB schools and features of the IB’s educational programs for different grade levels. These programs include:

Primary Years Program (PYP) (Ages 3-12)
Middle Years Program (MYP) (Ages 11-16)
Diploma Program (DP) (Ages 16-19)
Career-related Program (CP) (Ages 16-19)

I mention these because, in my course, we were asked to choose one program to focus our studies. This would also be the program for which we would earn certification. I initially hoped to study the DP, but I ultimately chose the MYP since, according to my professor, there are generally more openings for MYP teachers than DP. Since I had no experience in the IB, he suggested that an MYP certification could help me enter the field of IB secondary education more easily.

The most challenging thing about my course was completing it while working because I needed about 30 hours a week to do assignments and attend synchronous meetings. This kept me busy for the entire year of my course, but I managed to finish and now hold an MYP certificate.

Using my certification

Photo: iStock/AndreaObzerovaThe IB coursework taught me how to design classes for diverse students within the context of global topics.

Currently, I work at a Japanese university, not an IB school. However, I have applied the things I learned in my course to the classes I teach now. The IB coursework taught me how to design classes for diverse students within the context of global topics. Most of my current students are from Japan, but some classes have included students from Malaysia, Korea, the United States and Poland.

I can apply all of the teaching pedagogy, lesson planning strategies and reflective practice strategies from my IB courses to these international classes.

There are over 5,000 IB schools worldwide, so I can use this certificate whether my career takes me across Japan or abroad.

Overall, the IB certificate suits experienced teachers interested in international education. Not only can it open job opportunities worldwide, but learning about this kind of globally-focused educational framework can be a positive supplement to other teacher training programs.

Have you considered pursuing an IB certification? Comment on your experience below!

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