Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Happens When Public School isn't the Dream Job

I have been reading the blogger, "What Would Eve Do?" and noticing that she has been having a hard time at her Public School. It reminded me how when I was working at a hagwon (my first job here) I thought that Public Schools were a lot better. I quit that school after 5 months and moved to a Public School. Indeed, many improvements were felt and life was somewhat less stressful. But the fact that I was working in a Korean work environment never transformed.

Today I am addressing the allusion some people might have that Public School jobs are somewhat more magically better than hagwons. However, at PS jobs you definitely get paid on time and have solid vacation.

But the real difference, I feel, is that you are very close to a close-knit part of Korean society. What I mean is that PS's have a lot of bureaucracy within them, and they function in a way that is practically different from how one would imagine a school should be run. More often than not the Principals reign as Kings (sometimes Queens) and the people working below them do everything they can to please. Because of this your experience at a Public School highly depends on the quality and generosity of your Principals.

Take Eve's experience, for example. Her Principal apparently disapproved of her and would spend at length yelling at her in Korean. Now this was not helped by a coteacher who didn't like her as well and so would boast this to make her image look bad. (Same thing happened to me last year.)

Now not everyone's experience at a PS are bad, and for the most part are very good. A school that is good would be one that nurtures the foreign teacher, accepts differences and shows a lot of concern for their well being. Sometimes there are Principals who speak good enough English to have conversations with, and some who care extensively about the English program.

So in the end, I want to say is that no matter what job you take in Korea be sure you know that it's not going to be perfect. It will depend on the people you work with and most importantly your attitude towards strong cultural differences. Unfortunately for Eve she is making her way out of the job and country. But her struggles show us how not all PS jobs are perfect and there are still a lot of obstacles from both the Korean and Native Teacher side that need to be overcome.


  1. The 'public school vs. hagwon' debate sounds like it's swung back to equal. There are good jobs - and bad jobs - in both sectors. It sorta bites that there's no real way to know until you start - or if you get a great psychic reading of the people you'll be working with.

  2. IMO, vacation time alone makes public schools a much better option.

    Still, no doubt there are bad ones. Always try and speak with as many _current_ foreign teachers as possible, and preferably not ones who've been there too long. Counter-intuitively, those teachers may be getting perks and better treatment from the principal for sticking it out for three or four years.


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