Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Job Market

There has been some generated buzz going on about how the current English teaching job market in Korea is undergoing transformation especially in the public sector.

Major issues are changes to housing, length of vacation and competition. Larger than this is that there are a bigger supply of applicants than ever before.

As we all know I am in the job market right now looking specifically for an Elementary gig inside Gyeonggi-do. I am not going the route of applying to GEPIK but looking for schools that hire a teacher on their own.

It is dry out there folks, and I think it is mostly due to it being the off season.

Ben Johnston says:
There are going to be great and terrible changes in coming years, and this place, market-wise, will continue to feel a lot more like Japan and a lot less than the Korea I knew in 2006.
First, I think we need to get out of our panic mode and take a clearer look at the job market and the job itself.

It should not be surprising to see the Korean government make changes to contracts as the world economy changes and in general as time passes. Of course some of these changes are unattractive.

But do we not all look at our contracts before we sign it? And yes I know contracts out here are like liquid, but you can fight for what you signed.


This is what I want to say:

  1. No school's boss or owner is created equal. This applies towards coteachers. Therefore your work environment and the benefits of time off will revolve around these individuals attitudes towards you and the teaching profession.
  2. Public schools, although vulnerable to the same mishaps as private schools, are in my opinion still better.
I am going to talk about the second point because it seems to be the biggest issue of all time. The idea I am trying to convey by stating that public schools are better than private is that we are making a choice based upon the quality of one's life.

Quality of life.

For example:

Private schools:
  • Working hours typically range from 9 am - 7pm or split shifts of 9 - 12 then 2 - 8pm. All in all, the schedule varies. This means that you will eat dinner at 9pm (for some this is okay).
  • You will have 20 minutes off here and there. But what will you do in your time off? You can go walk around somewhere or do planning. In these cases your schedule is not concrete and varies. If you are a flexible person who enjoys changes then this will not affect your quality of life.
  • Also if you don't mind teaching ages 7 - 14 in one day then you will be fine. But for others going from kindergartners to near middle school aged kids can be draining.
  • Intensive periods of teaching nearly 12 hrs straight.
  • Solid vacation time of just 10 days throughout the year. Sometimes clustered together in bunches of 5 days or 4 days for your pleasure.
  • Quality of life could be heightened by higher salary.
Public school:
  • Working hours are most often and typically 8:30 - 4:30, give or take a difference of 10 minutes. After school programs can have a schedule of only working 12 - 5:30.
  • The schedule does not change. However the amount of classes taught each day vary, but that too is a strict schedule.
  • These two aspects make for one's quality of life to be regulated with few surprises as to changes day to day. This means you can wake up at the same time and eat meals at the same time. After work there is still time in the day to go to places before having dinner. You can go home clean your house and do laundry without feeling drained from working till 9 or 10pm.
  • Also this schedule mirrors what a typical job would be like back in your home country.
  • Age range is generally dependent at what level school you teach at. Elementary = 9 - 14 yr olds. Middle = 14 - 16 and High = the rest.
  • Because age range doesn't vary highly you can focus your teaching style and lessons towards one age group. A quality of life bonus, in my opinion, because you won't have to stress over finding multiple materials for different ages and different strategies to keep the material interesting.
  • Vacation time is meant to be 2 weeks in the summer and 2 weeks in the winter. New rules are coming into play but a lot of the current contracts out there, I bet, are within these guide lines. If there are reasons you are being denied your stated vacation time you can negotiate what is going on with your coteachers. Remember this aspect of teaching is about being ahead of the game and inquiring way ahead of time when you get those 2 weeks. Generally around vacation time schools add in "camps" and other extra stuff to keep you busy. So plan ahead with your coteacher.
  • Some days you do no teaching. Due to special days and testing.
  • You get to design your own teaching methods and materials. You base the general classes off a set curriculum by the government but how you teach is yours to develop. This is great for quality of life because it allows you to be creative and grow as a teacher.
  • Quality of life could be lowered by that generally public schools don't pay as much as private. But all the other reasons give a justified look into why public school has a higher quality of life.

I didn't mention housing with these topics because that varies depending on who finds the house, location and allocation of money.

When it comes down to making the decision of private or public it comes down to quality of life. Sure public school is not some magical arena where the same bullshi* that goes on at private schools doesn't happen. But public schools ARE government regulated and if they deny you pension or even salary you can take it up with the local government. Heck, the school will look bad in their bookkeeping if they make mistakes in paying you. I think they call this job security.

Still if you work here after a while working at either institution is possible since you know the way the system works and what to look out for.

One last thing:
I hope I didn't sound pretentious in my thoughts, and I really want to reassure people that there are jobs available here. Although the job hunt has become more competitive it just means we need to market ourselves a lot harder.

And I would like to leave a note saying that this type of job market is amiable to changes at any time whether there are recessions or not.

As I grow older and learn from my mistakes I realize how important it is to remain an adult and be professional. In that case, I am the one with the magnifying glass and skeptical eyes when checking out a new job position. In other words, I can't rely on my recruiter to know what it is like to teach at the school being offered.

All in all, let's keep an eye on these changes and before we press the panic button let's do a little more thinking and research into what is going on.

***Also if any point I made here about private or public school contrasts from your experience then please share. Teaching jobs vary so much here so it can be difficult to sum them up in a few points.


  1. While first I must say I believe I am fortunate to be in my situation, at a quality school with quality people, I think the public route beats the hagwons generally, for many reasons you describe.

    As for vacation, the first contract is 21 days, but upon renewal, we get 2 more weeks. At my school, we ended up with only 2 weeks between the end of summer camp and fall semester, but in the winter, I had no school from Jan 23 to March 2. And didn't have to show up.

    Another benefit (well, mostly a benefit) is that typically you teach only two grades, meeting each section once a week. This means only two preparations per week--which is good for me, since I believe that preparation frees you up to really encounter the students.

  2. I've taught for that last three years at a great hagwon here in Daejeon, and yesterday I was asked if I would consider “re-contracting” (re-signing, which is very easily confused with the opposite ”resigning” in English) again. It's hard to say no when the owners are some of the best friends I've ever had, and my vacation time can be taken in three-plus week chunks at the end of my contract each year. It's actually strange now to think that after my first couple of months here I was seriously considering leaving because of a few small problems.

    After teaching in the public school system in the U.S., I was a bit out of my element when I first got here, but I quickly learned (via open communication with my bosses) that my hagwon was mostly utilized as a caring after school daycare with a bit of teaching thrown in as a bonus. Slow and steady wins the race here. I am lucky that my school has excellent hours (2pm – 8 pm), and I currently teach only 5 – 50 minute periods a day. Also, during the intensive sessions my workload doesn't go over 30 hours a week, and the schedule just moves to earlier in the day (10am – 5pm). I actually prefer working later in the day with my mornings free, and I like the variety of teaching kids from 1st grade elementary to 3rd grade middle school. What's even better is that after my first couple of months of finding books that were appropriate for all our student levels, I have not had to lesson plan since then. It's been a wonderful well-oiled machine which makes it hard for me to want to give it up or let someone else luck into it if I were to leave. Yeah, I still get the occasional kid who likes to act up in class, but if they are really uncontrollable, my bosses will quickly give them the boot. They understand that just one really bad apple, or bully, can cause a mass exodus if you aren't careful.

    No matter where you work though, a little professionalism in the classroom, and in your dress, will go a long way in making a good impression. For my first year here, my kids never saw me without a tie, a dress shirt, and slacks during the workweek or without a clear lesson plan in each class. It's hard for me to believe that my first class way back when pretty much cried for the entire hour. Now, I've got kids already realizing that I am coming to the end of another contract and already asking me to please stay. It's also great teaching brothers and sisters at the same time and the same kids over a series of years as they learn and grow.

    Oh, yeah, you do have to stick up for yourself though and not let yourself become a door mat. I am not a big fan of last minute “seemingly” mandatory get togethers. I went to the first couple out of respect for my bosses, but I let them know that I do have a life and would need more lead time in the future. So, of course, they pulled that last minute nonsense again, and I politely refused stating that I already had plans even if I sometimes didn't. After the second time in which I didn't participate because of their last minute shenanigans, they got the message. Now, they give me a week's notice or more; however, I probably only make it to about half of them as my time outside the classroom is very precious to me and they actually get it. It also helps that my bosses lived/worked outside of South Korea and are about more understanding about what other cultures place value in. I can also get away with it because I'm never late to class, rarely take a sick day, and I've only caused three kids to leave in three years (two were in my second month and one of the two was a hanger oner to her best friend).

  3. Being in Korea, you can easily find a private school that is better than Public School, at least on the 'quality of life' scale.

    I worked Public School and had a hellish co-teacher after my first one left. No need to go into details, but I quit and vowed never to return.

    My first Hagwon had a block shift of 3-9pm (except summer intensives when it was 10-6 with a 2 hour lunch break), a 30 minute break during that time (at 7pm) and a "go home if you have no classes" that I was able to exercise whenever the Middle-School kids had exams coming up. This was a pretty standard deal, and whilst I got paid a little more than my E-2 visa holding colleagues, they were actually a little better off due to the flights that I did not get (or really want). Working conditions were the same for all. The reason I loved this job is that I saw the same kids every day. None of the "once a fortnight" crap that you get with the Public Schools. You become a much better teacher, you take much more pride in your work, and you see REAL RESULTS!

    My current job is not one for E-2's I'm afraid. Again, it is a hagwon, though I now work for the company and so I move to different locations. I won't piss you off by giving away all of the details, but I will never teach as much as a PS teacher and I get more vacation than I did with GEPIK in 2007 - it may have improved.

    So... my point is... not all hagwons are bad. If you don't get desperate and take the first thing that is offered, there are some real gems to be found ;)

  4. Another thing I'd like to point out is that contracts, quality of life, and extras vary by province. Down here in Jeollanamdo, vacation times for both public schools and hagwons are typically a lot more than provinces with large cities and most of us end up with two months in winter and 5+ weeks in summer. With few exceptions, any camps or extra classes we decide to do is extra money. Apartments are larger. Work hours are significantly less (Our contract has only 20 hours per week but most work fewer). Hagwon owners tend to be more accountable to their employees since it's small town areas and word travels fast. The expat community seems to be much tighter here than in larger cities.

    This is just personal opinion but I do think overall, quality of life can be greatly increased in provinces away from Seoul or Busan.

  5. Hi, Are you sure I am the author of that quote you have in this post? I don't remember writing that on my blog, other people's blogs, or on facebook.

    I think you may be misquoting me, and may have confused one of the links that I used the "share" feature on facebook to link to someone else's writing on this subject...

    I've been very tired and busy this week and may have just tossed out a comment somewhere and it's slipped my mind....

    Can you put up the link to where I made that comment--if it was me ....?


  6. It wasn't me that said this--I was posting a link from facebook to a note on Ben's wall using the "share" feature--I don't always write a preface comment before the links I post so please be careful in the future when putting up quotes. Ben is an awesome writer and deserves the credit.

    "There are going to be great and terrible changes in coming years, and this place, market-wise, will continue to feel a lot more like Japan and a lot less than the Korea I knew in 2006."

    "Are Public School Jobs Still Worth It?" by Ben Johnston



    Rob makes it pretty clear here that I was only re-posting the writing on facebook and not the author of it.

    "So random facebook character Ben Johnston wrote an interesting facebook note, which I came across when Kimchi Ice-cream’s Jason Ryan commented on it."

    Please correct the citation.


  8. No problem. And I am truly sorry for the mix up.

  9. I'm currently on my third contract at the same private school and our school hours have never changed in that time, they're the same ones listed in my initial contract, and I'm allowed to come in late and leave early if I don't have classes. This means the longest stretch of time I have ever had to work is 2pm - 8:30pm (no split shifts for me, thank you very much), and my typical shift is 3pm - 7:50pm.

    The exception to this is when students are on winter/summer break from public school -- those usually require working from 3pm - 6:45pm. Working just short of four hours a day is hardly grueling work. ;) Not everyone working in a hagwon has experienced the following situation -- "your schedule is not concrete and varies." How many hagwon teachers have you talked to about their schedules in order to make that generalization?

    As you said, when it comes to age level there can be a lot of variety. However, 65% of my students are girls in either their 4th or 5th grade of elementary school.

    On top of that - and related to one of the 'perks' you mention under public schools - our hagwon has a set curriculum to follow, but I am also allowed to add my own information in the extra time we have. If a class is full of slower learners I devote the whole session (month) to the book; other classes might have an extra couple of days where we do other activities. I had one class that wanted to know about monotremes, marsupials, and placental mammals -- so that's what I talked about for half the class.

    I have never had "Intensive periods of teaching nearly 12 hours straight". Where did you get a statistic like this? It sounds more like a scare tactic to get people interested in public schools than actual truth. None of the hagwon teachers I've met have worked hours like this.

    I've actually heard from a public school teacher in Gyeonggi-do who was told something equivalent to "work after school classes or you're fired". That seems much closer to intensives than anything I've encountered at my hagwon.

    Also agreed that the vacation time for hagwons is less than what public school teachers are given. However, I had 4 days off for Chuseok (equal to public school teachers in my city; more than public school teachers in Gwangju). Plus I was given an extra day off for Buddha's Birthday since it fell on a Saturday. My hagwon director pays for one of my flight tickets each year - which, granted, is like covering my return airfare home at the end of a contract, but it is a nice perk. Note -- he doesn't enforce a price cap like I've heard some public schools do.

    Higher salaries do seem to be one general perk over working at a hagwon over a public school.

  10. One aspect I didn't see you mention is that teaching individually rather than with a co-teacher in class can be quite different. While I share teaching duties with a Korean teacher, we each teach the class on our own for our given days of the week (either Mon-Wed-Fri or Tues-Thur). Some public school teachers have great co-teachers, others complain online about the poor quality of their coworker.

    If you can find a hagwon with their own curriculum it's much easier to jump into teaching than if that isn't the case. Many also offer training programs; mine was a two-day affair at the branch headquarters where I was able to meet other English teachers (both foreign and Korean) located in schools across the country. We covered discipline, making lesson plans, and how to best utilize the hagwon's curriculum. Perhaps not as detailed as the public school orientation, but it does make a difference.

    I've often heard that hagwons don't give much time to 'settle in' before asking teachers to start work. This is not something that ever came to mind to ask a public school teacher, but it is worth noting for anyone considering between the two types of jobs -- look into the difference between your arrival date and start date. There are stories of folks who had to teach within 24 hours of arriving in Korea. Then again, I had a whole week of paid vacation before I had to attend training. (One week time off, two days of training, three days of observing classes at my hagwon ... that's almost like two weeks of paid vacation to start my first year in Korea!)

    Hope this doesn't come across as too confrontational -- but I did want to point out that there are hagwon jobs out there which are much better than what you portrayed in your post.

    As I grow older and learn from my mistakes I realize how important it is to remain an adult and be professional.

    I hope this will also apply to how you act in the classroom and interact within society. :) Just saying! Some of your entries have been rather .... surprising.


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