Teaching English in Korea?

23 May

When applying to teach English in Korea, here are some useful things to note:

Schooling System

There are two types of schools in Korea: private Hogwans and public schools. Both schools have their advantages and disadvantages.

Hogwans are privately owned and run after-school programmes. This means that your classes will be in the afternoon and evening – sometimes finishing as late as 10pm. The advantage is that you have your mornings free which allows time to do your shopping, go to the gym/morning classes, visit the bank or sleep in. The other advantage is that your classes are usually small and can range from 3 students to 15 students in one class. Hogwans fees are a bit more expensive and so, in most cases, the students you teach are either above average or they feel the pressure to succeed. So, most of your students are hard working (although not always). Teaching material is usually provided so you simply follow the textbook but more often than not, you don’t have a co teacher in the class with you. This means that discipline, time management and explanation is all up to you!

The disadvantage with Hogwans is that they are privately run. I have heard countless stories of teachers not being paid on time, or not at all. They don’t all have the stability of public schools. Many people complain that their hours are too long or can change without warning. For example, your principal might tell you that you need to stay longer one evening when you did not expect this. There is no ‘third’ party to discuss your working conditions with. If you are applying for a job on the internet or through an agency for a Hogwan, it’s wise to contact a foreign teacher who has worked there before and get some advice. They can be great places to work if your school management is run properly.

There are hundreds are jobs available in Hogwans and hiring takes place all year. This means, your chance of employment in a Hogwan is fairly high.

In a public school you will work 8 hours usually from 9 – 5 (sometimes 8.30 – 4.30). This means you need special permission to leave school to visit the bank etc. However, your hours are set and you will not be asked to teach on the weekend or the evening. If they do need extra lessons, you will be paid overtime. The class size can vary from 15 to 30 students which significantly affects your teaching style and you will teach students of all skill levels – many students are tired (because they spent the whole night at their Hogwan) or simply don’t care about English.

In theory, you should have a co-teacher in the class with you at all times. I have a fantastic co teacher who is actively involved in the lessons, helps translate and helps maintain discipline. I have another co teacher who never arrives. The presence of the co teacher can be offputting if your lesson doesn’t work well – someone is there to see you mess up. There is usually no textbook and you are left to design your own lessons. Your school will probably tell you what skills to target: Speaking, Reading, Writing, Listening. My husband was asked to target Listening while I was asked to mostly teach speaking. In most public schools, there is only one foreign teacher so it can get lonely.

The best thing about public schools is that your salary is consistent and always paid on time. The teachers test for Korean teachers is also considered very difficult which means that teachers in public schools are seen as very smart and hard working. This means, Koreans have a high respect for teachers working in public schools.

They only hire twice a year (Feb and Aug) and the only way to get work in a public school is through the EPIK program, TALK program or the education board directly (when you’re in Korea already.) The requirements for public schools are higher and they are more difficult to get into.

The Salary

Depending on experience, EPIK salaries range from R14 000 – R19 000 depending on experience. This is tax free and accommodation is provided. Hogwans usually offer R17 000 regardless of experience. The TALK program pays considerably less (and gives you more free time) and it is possible to get teaching jobs with any degree, as long as you speak English well.

Where to apply: city or country?

Schools in the city pay less and cost of living is more expensive but it’s definitely more fun than the country side – especially if you’re single. There are so many other foreign teachers that it will be difficult NOT to make friends. Travelling around Korea is usually easier from the big cities because of the KTX and nearby airports. And you can find all Western brands, including food chains, in the big city. Supermarkets are busy, subways are frantic and social activities centre around spending money so don’t expect to save much.

Cost of living is very low and salaries are higher in the country side so if you’re coming to save money, the country side is the place to be. A single person can travel once or twice a month, eat well, buy clothes and still save about R10 000 a month. Travelling takes longer because you need to catch the slow train or transfer along the way. In fact, everything goes a bit slower which means life is generally very stress free and easy. In my country city, there are no English menus in any of the restaurants so I have had to learn some Korean and I feel like I am experiencing real Korean culture. Also, the air is cleaner and the mountains are nearer.

If you come alone though, it might be best to apply for a smaller city. I know some people who came alone and they got placed in tiny schools in the mountains – literally! It can be very lonely – regardless of how much money you are saving!

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