If I were to tell my Japanese friend that I plan to become a teacher, would I literally say that I will become a sensei? I have always thought of this as an honorific title, and it feels odd to call myself as such. I don't know of any "general" term for teacher. Is there one?

Thank you.


In general, you're correct. Calling yourself as sensei has to be avoided, because it's an honorific word. The better word is 教師【きょうし】.

However there is an exception. If you are to become Sensei of elementary schools or kindergartens, I think it is OK to say "小学校の先生になりたい", at least informally. Kids do not understand honorific expressions, and teachers in those facilities frequently use 先生 as the first-person.

"高校/大学の先生になりたい" would be frowned upon in a formal setting.

EDIT: Actually my answer didn't mention how "高校/大学の先生になりたい" sounds like in informal situations, but in that case I totally agree with @dainichi.

  • I work at a junior high school, and teachers routinely use 先生 as a personal pronoun here, too. – alexhatesmil Jul 16 '14 at 2:25
  • Thank you, this answer is comprehensive and gives the word I was looking for. I'll give a nod to @dainichi 's answer for explaining that it's okay to use 先生 informally. I plan to teach in a high school. – SoulReturns Jul 16 '14 at 3:05
  • @alexhatesmil, it is often used as a second- or third-person pronoun, but (almost?) never as a first-person pronoun. – Eiríkr Útlendi Jul 16 '14 at 15:14

In informal situations (like yours, talking to a friend), I see nothing wrong with "先生になりたい" for all kinds of teacher.

It is quite common for honorific words to shift towards use as general nouns in informal situations. For example, in informal settings, many will use お母さん (honorable mother) to refer to their own mother.


If you mean a classroom teacher as an occupation, I think the general term is 教師{きょうし}.

先生{せんせい} is rather used as a suffix after names or to address/talk about a particular person in honorific terms.

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