How-to: Public vs. Private English Teaching Jobs in Korea

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Field trip with my students: Catching bugs and having a quiet picnic!

If you’re here reading this article, chances are you’re fairly new to the expat community like me or you’re planning to become one in the near future. While this site is aimed at Expat’s currently living in Korea, it is becoming a great resource for those hoping to make the transition to living in Korea themselves. What brought you to read this piece today? I’m sure it has something to do with you wanting to teach in Korea and you’ve probably had the idea planted in your head for some time. You did a lot of research, but are still hesitant about the information you’ve come across. Either that, or you’re currently working in public or private and are looking to try out another option.

WELL, here’s an easy-to-navigate ‘how-to’ guide that aims to highlight the most essential, key points and basic differences between ‘public’ and ‘private’ institutes in Korea, and what can be good or bad about the two. Take a read through, and I hope it gives you a good idea about what you will be signing yourself up for.

Let’s get started, shall we?

First, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Public or Private?
2) Kindy, Grade School or Adults?

Make sure you are certain about what kind of environment you want, and stick to it. If you decide to go through a recruiter, chances are they will try to force you into a private kindergarten, because that is where the majority of foreigners are being hired these days. The big problem with working in some kindergartens (not all), is you may end up becoming a glorified ‘English’ mascot instead of an actual teacher. You, at times, may feel like you are just parading around and acting like a fool to appease the children and to assure the Korean parents (who are shelling out the money) that there is a teacher in the school who speaks the English language fluently. If you want adults, go for it! If recruiters try to give you something you don’t want, look on your own.

Now, once you’ve made your choice, make sure you have this: A bachelor’s degree. You likely already know this, but it is important that you have it in your hand before even thinking about applying. This is essential to get the whole process started. However, you don’t need much more than this to get the basic, entry-level teaching jobs. If you want something with higher pay/at a university, you’ll need more experience and certification. You’ll also need a visa, but that’s an entirely different topic altogether. Check out our new piece titled ‘All About Working in South Korea‘ or visit the website for the Korean Consulate General closest to you.

Let’s get into the meat of this article! Here’s a breakdown of the key points to keep in mind when considering public vs private:

PUBLIC:

I haven’t personally worked for a public school, but I have a lot of close friends who took this route. If you decide to skip the private academy route and come through the government program EPIK (the best way to go), you are likely to have a smooth transition to Korea and there is a much smaller chance of you getting royally screwed over by your employer.

Pros:

  • A stable working environment that should run like clockwork (in theory)
  • A good chance to experience the education system in Korea from the inside
  • You will most likely develop close relationships with your students
  • If learning Korean language is important to you, chances are you’ll end up somewhere outside of Seoul and that will give you a lot more chance to speak Korean in your free time
  • Pay is usually not as high as private, but it is enough to pay for expenses and leaves some left over to save
  • Longer Vacations (Usually 2~3 weeks)
  • Start and finish work early (7 or 7:30 to 3 or 3:30 is typical)

Cons:

  • Often times public schools offer a lower salary than academies
  • If learning Korean is not important to you, there is a high possibility you will be confined to a very remote area in Korea (countryside is far less accessible and convenient than Seoul in terms of shopping, transportation and expat communities)
  • Typically the hours are firm, and non-flexible
  • Large class sizes (25-50+ students)
  • Less resources
  • Hiring time happens twice a year (December-February for March start or June-August for September start)
  • You could end up being the only foreign teacher at your school

PRIVATE:

In my experience, private schools pay well, but you will probably end up working more hours in the long run. Also, private schools are often run for the sole purpose of making money and you have to be sure to do a lot of research about every school you consider. Some private English academies treat their employees poorly, and often go out of business due to sketchy and fraudulent activity. This isn’t always the case, but you need to be careful when looking into these jobs.

Pros:

  • Pay is typically a bit higher than public
  • Hours can be more flexible than public (day shifts or evening shifts available)
  • More room to use your own personal creative flair in the classroom
  • Lesson plans are more flexible and improve skills are very valuable in these jobs

Cons:

  • Contracts are restrictive & have many loopholes/unclear details (read contracts very carefully & question EVERYTHING)
  • Your pay may be delivered to you later than posted in your contract (take these issues to the labor board – it is illegal)
  • Your insurance (may) become void and null if you ever end up very, very sick. There are cases of foreign teachers falling ill and needing hospital care. Some private academies will cancel insurance when teachers can’t make it into work. This makes the insurance a very unstable benefit
  • There can sometimes be less chance to get close with students
  • Usually only 2 weeks of paid vacation a year (depends on your school)
  • Chances are you will have 3~4 (or more depending on size of school) foreign teachers working in the institute with you
Small infographic to explain sor

Small infographic to explain basic pros and cons of Public vs. Private

So, that’s the breakdown of things I have noticed in my time as Korea teaching English. I haven’t been here for too long, but with my experience teaching English in both Canada and Korea, I have been through my fair share of ups and downs. I do sometimes feel like a mascot, but the job has many rewarding qualities. I was very adamant about working with adults, but went against my personal preferences just to get here as quickly as possible.

The most important thing I want to emphasize here is – always stand your ground. If you want to come here, there is a good chance that you will have a good experience. This country is beautiful, the people can be very welcoming if you put in the effort to appreciate their language, culture and traditions. Just be sure to do your research and ask a lot of questions when deciding where you want to work and what you will be doing. There are just as many people who have had unpleasant experiences in Korea, but that can happen in almost any country. It is important to be open-minded and try your best to be true to yourself in the process.

Teaching is a very rewarding job, especially when you develop really close relationships with your students!

Teaching is a very rewarding job, especially when you develop really close relationships with your students!

Still unsure about something and looking to ask an actual teacher rather than an agency who’s mostly looking out for the schools that they promote? Leave a comment and start a conversation with myself, or other expats who may be reading this article who have experienced some of these things themselves.

Happy job hunting!

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