I've had quite a few questions from people about teaching in Korea. I guess lots of people have got interested in Korea through SC (hihi).
Although the teaching itself is not very rewarding, I think its a great way to spend a year. For people who have just graduated with no experience in the field, the pay is okay (saving and having fun is certainly possible) and you can experience first-hand the really unique Korean culture (as well as making your token appearance in broadcasts and being immortalised via Youtube ^^)
So! Here we go.
Sober up please.
It goes without saying that you should think hard about doing this. There are too many people who think English teaching in Korea is just an easy, rosy cakewalk. People like that come here, get depressed, get bitchy and then pull a runner after a month.
Remember, you're in a totally different culture!!! Strange shit happens a lot. The ESL (English as a Second Language) industry is pretty fucked up in Korea. By fucked up, I mean it is poorly regulated, poorly organised with lots of dodgy practices going on. You're gonna be teaching full-time too. ESL jobs can vary a lot but it can be more work than you expect and job-satisfaction is generally low. Finally, for the most part, Korean administrative practices in ESL are pretty horrible so your patience will be tested.
I said that to really kill your expectations. Good lol There's more to come. But don't fret...because despite all those things, you're gonna have an awesome time here. Just keep that mind OPEN and go with the flow.
General job requirements
-You are a native speaker from an English speaking country
-You have at least a BA from a university in that country
You do not need (except for applying to better jobs):
-A teaching related degree
-Any teaching experience whatsoever
Cutting through the bullshit. (Director's cut)
We need to get this out of the way. Let's be frank. Most of the teaching, at non-adult level is a bad joke. Ignore the over-done bullshit in the job advertisements about 'highly-motivated students', 'specialised curriculums' and 'unrivalled job satisfaction'. Discard the stereotype of good little Asian student robots diligently processing every English command. These exist only in little pockets of anomality, my wettest dreams and the deluded brain of the Korean Ministry of Education.
For public schools, said Ministry's bright idea to improve English speaking in schools is so sad it hurts. They figure that if they put a mystical 'Native Speaker' with normally zero experience in teaching in every classroom, have no set curriculum, no proper training and no exam incentive for students to learn then POOF! magically, students will be fluent by the time they leave high school.
For private english academies (aka hagwons), I have no personal experience so I cannot be as sure about them as public schools. There are some good hagwons out there but generally the result is the same but the means different. The fact is that for most hagwons, Money >>>>> Learning English.
Money comes from student attendance.. and student attendance comes from how happy mummy is to continue sending her kid to the hagwon... So everything is about pleasing mum. I know there is a balance that can be struck between effective teaching and pleasing of mums but the focus is almost completely on the latter.
Many directors are looking for people who can entertain kids for an hour whilst giving the impression that english is being taught seriously. Happy kids = happy mums = fine. Bored kid = unhappy mum = unhappy director = unhappy meeting with teacher where teacher tries to explain that learning a new language isn't always about playing word games = teacher is ignored/fired.
So there you go. Unless you are a) lucky, b) do your research well or c) teach adults.. chances are that you will find it very hard to teach English in the way that you learned 'French' in high school.. GENERALLY, any ESL teacher in Korea who hypes up his job to be just as professional and exclusive as a normal teaching job is a lying, pathetic fool. Fortunately enough, very few do. Most realise that teaching in Korea is more like a gap year between unis and their real careers.
But these depressing facts are actually why you can even consider teaching anyway. If they wanted proper teachers with proper training, they wouldn't be looking for people like you and me (20-25 year old recent/upcoming graduates who have never taught English before in their lives.) If they were really serious about teaching spoken English, they would hire Korean English teachers who could actually speak English. If they wanted to clean up the corruption in the hagwons, they would start applying the law.. If .. and more ifs..
The best advice is to try and to just accept the reality of the situation. Even if you really hate the teaching, the rest of Korea will more than make up for it. ^^
+ Show Spoiler +
Btw, I'm not saying you should accept a teaching contract without giving a shit about teaching. That's completely unacceptable. It's tough but you should still try. It's your goddamn job! You signed a contract after all.
But just don't come to Korea thinking you definitely will be able to make a major difference to any student's English ability. You will be sad. Trust me.
But just don't come to Korea thinking you definitely will be able to make a major difference to any student's English ability. You will be sad. Trust me.
Okay hmm.. that hit me hard.. I'm still up for it though. Where do I start looking?
There are many, many English teaching job sites around that you can use to find a job. You don't need to pay any money, They match up wannabe teachers and their preferences with schools/academies. The agency guides you through the application process, answers all your fears, deals with problems during your job, gets a one-off commission payment from the school and you start your ideal teaching job.
In theory of course lol. Most agencies are as scummy as the hagwons they serve. Many will ignore your preferences, mislead/lie about your concerns and shine a turd of a job so fucking well, you'd think it was solid gold. Then, when you arrive in Korea, they will send you an innocent email, asking "was the flight was comfortable.. was the food good? ^^ got any concerns yet? how is the weather? :D the jetlag is horrible right!? XD" etc. When you hit reply though, you sure as hell aren't ever gonna hear from them again. You just secured their commission.
So be careful. Don't apply to just one agency. Apply to a fuckload** and see what turns up. If anything looks decent, do some RESEARCH. Don't go in blind. Poke those turds very carefully. With a barge pole.
How do I search?
Google of course! There are tens of thousands of sites about ESL generally and hundreds more specifically for Korea. There are agency sites, portals, forums.. etc. etc.
Perhaps the most popular site is daveseslcafe.com. The forums are a very bizarre place but it has been around for a long time, so it has an incredible amount of information. The search function is totally screwed there so use an indirect google search here: http://www.google.com/coop/cse?cx=006359271486458796786:_ooozypbm6u
Amongst the mass of trolls and disillusioned English teachers, there are quite a few long term veterans there who will give solid advice. Like with TL though... search first!!
So what am I looking for? What are the different types of jobs?
Public School Programs
There are several programs in Korea which are run by governmental districts/areas of education. E.g. for public schools in Seoul, they are run by SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education), for Gyeonggi-do (area around Seoul), its GEPIK (Gyeonggido English Program in Korea), majority of the rest of Korea, its EPIK etc. etc.
I'm in SMOE, the Seoul one. But all of these public school programs offer very similar contracts with similar job environments:
- hard to/impossible to pick which school you will end up at
- lowest pay (SMOE starts at 1.8million won/month if you have zero teaching exp/quals)
- lowest risk (probably the most important factor giving the probability of being screwed elsewhere. You can always find some official to complain to if you have problems. Compared to your hagwon director who mysteriously disappeared last night with your pay.)
- good holidays (you will get 21 days off in your 1-year contract. but if you are diplomatic, you can get anywhere between 1 week to another 3 months in unofficial leave when the school is on holiday)
- co-teaching (you will always be with another so-called co-teacher in your class. Whether they do anything to help or hinder you is a complete lottery as they sure as hell have no idea what they are supposed to do either)
- Average of 40 unmotivated students per class (see my last blog for one perspective)
- can be elementary, middle or high school (rigged lottery decided by the program)
- good hours (Mon-Fri 8am-4pm,9am-5pm. overtime can be forced upon you, but again, be diplomatic and you can adjust it to suit you)
- little/none contract negotiation (standardised contract which is relatively reasonable anyway)
- largely fixed hiring periods (Korea has 2 semester years starting in September and March, so the main hiring periods are in July-August and January-February)
- can be lonely. you will normally be the only foreign teacher in a school where very few people speak any English. (even the other Korean English teachers)
- the treatment of you will vary from school to school (shit treatment in public schools exists too but is rare)
Hagwons / Private English academies
So, this is the other large category of teaching jobs in Korea. They vary hugely though, some are very suspect, family-sized schools whereas others are multiple city-spanning chains. From what I hear, even within the chains (and more commonly, franchises), the working conditions can vary a lot. I've heard some great stories about some professionally-run hagwons and absolute fucking disaster stories about others. Here are some facts:
-higher pay than public school (should be 2.3million+)
-generally higher working hours (varies hugely, some require a sacrificial Saturday, others shaft you with a split shift where you work in the early mornings and in the late evenings)
-higher risk of being screwed (depends on the director/owner of the hagwon. you can be screwed in any number of ways, from pay, to visa issues, accommodation, non-contracted working hours)
-smaller class sizes (1-20)
-can be teaching any age
-no Korean co-teacher
-contract negotiation possible (harder with large,chain hagwons)
Privately contracted school contracts
An interesting beast. This is where you contract directly with a public or private school. You will have a very similar life to a normal public school teacher. But with added benefits:
-you can choose the goddamn school/area!
-you can negotiate the contract.. which means..
-checking out your accommodation before hand
-higher normal/overtime pay
-clarifying abiguous bits of the standard public school contract such as extra hours and summer/winter programs
Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible for newbies to get these jobs as you need to be in Korea already to sell yourself to these schools. You'll also need to know a bit about teaching already to be able to pick a decent place and get a good contract. Normally, its the more veteran teachers who do this.
Some agencies do have such public schools on file but the possibility that you are being screwed between the agency and the school is greater.
Only attainable if you have something extra like a Masters / PhD, teaching experience or a teaching qualification. These generally have:
-the best pay (starting anywhere from 2.5-3.0million)
-longest holidays (they usually follow the uni calendar, meaning you get awesome breaks)
-best chance of developing a long-term career
-motivated adult students (you might actually enjoy teaching here lol)
Be slightly careful of some so-called university jobs though. It has become more trendy for universities to whore out their name to a hagwon. In which case you could be in for a lot more pain than you thought.
Public v. Private
Its important to bear in mind, that like any Asian country, Korean working culture is pretty demanding. Signed contracts can hold as much weight as secondhand toilet paper. So a school may try to force you to do non-contracted work, pay you late, refuse holidays etc.. Going all Judge Judy on their ass will not help either. Oh sure you can try. Just plan to stay 3 more years while your case crawls through the legal system and rob a few Shinhan banks too, so you can fund it.
Therefore, when thinking about risks, the emphasis should always be on prevention. Getting problems fixed, especially because of the language barrier can be incredibly stressful, time-consuming and sometimes impossible. You're gonna be here for at least a whole year. It's not like problems will be a temporary thing to tolerate. And if you fuck up, don't think you can seamlessly slide into another job while you're there.. visa issues can be a complete pain in the ass.
From what I have heard, it seems to me that if you can find a good hagwon with a director that doesn't treat you like that shit, then it is better than a public school job. The trouble is of course finding this unicorn of a job and making sure that its not actually an aforementioned turd.
If you cannot do this, public schools should be the way to go.
I reckon you need to spend at least a 1month researching and finding out about teaching/Korea the job etc.. You will almost certainly go through an agency/recruiter who will guide you through the process. To join an agency, you should send your photo, resume/CV and a (possible) cover letter.
You can pick from a list of jobs that the agency have already. Alternatively, you'll get emails with offers that the agency has 'matched' to you. If you like something, the agency will get in touch with the school and see if they like you too. A telephone interview will then be arranged... nothing hard, they really just want to hear you speak English.
After you pass this, it will be at least another 3 weeks before you arrive with your heart-pounding in Incheon airport. (Docs need to be sent to and from Korea)
On the subject of docs... There are a fuckload of documents you need to prepare. So, you should get these sorted well in advance so when the time comes to send off the docs, you don't get delayed. Some of these like the criminal record check can take around a month. Then you need to take a bunch of docs to a solicitor and/or embassy so they can 'legalize" and/or "notarize" it (read: handing over an outrageous sum of money for a few doodles/stamps on your papers).
Important things to bear in mind while applying
Is rampant. There is a reason why the first thing recruiters ask from you is your photograph.
Let me put it to you bluntly. If you are white, you will find (hagwon) jobs 10x more easily than others. This isn't bitter whining. It's the truth. The ideal candidate is a Caucasian woman with blond hair and blue eyes from North America.
As for non-Caucasians, it hurts me to say it, but generally the darker your skin colour, the harder it will be to find a job. Foreign Koreans are at the top of this category for obvious reasons, but even they will be ignored by some hagwons. Just accept it, sorry.
What this means is that for some people, applying to hagwons is practically not an option. Very few will respond, let alone consider your application. You have little choice but to pursue the public school route while is much less discriminating.
Public school applications
Although I said a good tip was to mass join a shitload of agencies. This is true for hagwon searching. BUT, for public schools, you need to be careful that multiple agencies don't apply you for the same program (e.g. SMOE, EPIK etc.). This is because most programs will auto reject any applicant who has sent in multiple applications.
Some agencies specialise in hagwon jobs, while others in a particular program. So obviously, don't mindlessly send an application to two agencies which specialise in the same program.
Imagine Tom Cruise lectures you for 3 hours about Scientologist beliefs and tells you at the end that if you don't believe him, you're a complete fucking moron. Would you be agitated? Raged? Good. I certainly hope so. But this is the same righteous cynical wrath you should employ when dealing with hagwons.
Ask lots of questions. Why exactly is there a vacancy now? (an old teacher left? why? if its during the middle of the term.. RED FLAG... contracts don't usualy end midterm...the guy might have done a runner... there might have been a good reason he did... ). Get photos of the apartment. (theyre saying it isnt necessary? RED FLAG... its not hard to upload photos... what are they afraid of.. ). Can you get the contact details of someone working at the school now? (Why not?! RED FLAGGG)..
I'm exagerrating slightly but I can't tell you how many teachers I've met who have been screwed in some way by their hagwons. Psychotic paranoia can be useful here.
Most teachers receive the standard E-2 visa. The visa is directly linked to your teaching job, so if that goes, your visa is void.. If your visa is void... you need to be on a plane out within 24 hours. The practical consequence of this is that some bosses will use this leverage against you. I.e. "Listen bitch, start packing your bags unless you do those extra hours".
If you have Korean blood though, you will be immune from this bullshit as you can probably go for some sort of F visa which lets you stay in Korea whatever happens.
Just something to bear in mind.
Long-term Teaching Careers?
Decent, long-term ESL career development prospects are pretty rare. The industry as a whole is geared towards hiring short-term, (1-2 year) recent graduates who have never taught in their life.
If you're still teaching here past the 3 year mark.. it's probably because (in order of exponentially descreasing frequency) 1) you can't find anything better and don't know what to do with your life (sad), 2) you have a seriiiiiiiiiiious case of yellow fever (sad), 3) you're getting married to a Korean (congrats), 4) you're a lucky bastard and snagged one of the few high level / well paid positions (GJ!).
Stigma, in here and in Korea
There is a certain stigma attached to teaching on these forums. Surprisingly though, you shouldn't believe everything thats written on the internet especially from people who have never actually taught before, or from people who have only met the same shallow, retarded, arrogant piece of shits doing the same shit that they themselves are doing in Korea.
There are certainly a lot of asshole teachers here. Just glance at the so called 'job requirements' again - some of the very worst scum come here (usually because they failed their education/lives so hard back in the US). But the majority of teachers I have met are decent, likable people.
No doubt there is some anti-teacher sentiment in Korea.. But 1) I've personally never felt any negative consequence from saying I'm an English teacher here (this could be because I am Asian though and I a work in a public school). And 2) I think that any anti-teacher feeling is part of the whole anti-American white guy feeling. (Typical Asian xenophobia + most foreigners are from America + Korean history + occasional US retard/paedophile in the headlines. It's not a big problem though).
Hope that was helpful to some of you.
This is completely broken-record style but... just remember that every second you spend finding more about the job, means less time wasted dealing with post-fan-hitting-shit scenarios in Korea.
P.s I genuinely want to help other TLnetters who are interested in teaching in Korea.. So pleasee keep this blog clean and on topic. Pointless replies like "teaching again in korea roflfmao" and 'lol here comez rek" can remain in the maker's retarded heads.