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This post is part of a series about teaching English in Korea. To see the rest of the posts, or find more information about teaching English in Korea, check out this page.
This is the first post in a new series about teaching English in Korea. Although the topic has been covered many times in the blogosphere I still get a lot of questions about how to get a job here and what it is like. Because of this, over the next couple of months I will be featuring posts, written by both myself and others, that will answer the most common questions about how to get a good teaching job, as well as what it is actually like to live and work in Korea.
There are two major job markets for teaching English in Korea. One is working in the public school system through a program called EPIK. The other main option, which I will talk about today, is working at a private school or hagwon.
A hagwon is a private language academy or preschool. They offer English language education to young students before they start Korean elementary school, after school classes for elementary to high school students, or instruction for adults looking to improve their language ability for work reasons or otherwise.
Starting the search for a hagwon job can be very overwhelming, especially if it is your first time working in Korea and you are unfamiliar with the system. While weeding through the job postings can be intimidating there are a few things you can do to make weeding out the good from the bad a little easier. Here are six tips that can help make your job search a little easier and hopefully land you a great job teaching in Korea.
1. Use Dave’s…with caution
Dave’s ESL Cafe is far and away the most popular website for teaching English abroad. The job posting board is a wonderful resource. Here you can browse job listings and get in contact with recruiters. I found both my jobs using Dave’s. The message boards, though, need to be taken with a proverbial grain of salt. While they can provide a lot of invaluable information about different schools and life in Korea, many of the regular posters are incredibly negative. If you take everything they say as true, you’ll probably start wondering why anyone would want to come to Korea to teach. I promise you, it’s not nearly as bad as they make it out to be.
2. Know the current job trends
Do your research. Read blogs, look at the job posts at Dave’s, or get in contact with people currently in Korea to find out what is currently the standard in terms of pay, vacation time, and teaching hours. Currently, a “good” hagwon job would be about eight hour days, teaching around 5-6 classes a day with 10 days of paid vacation, a starting salary of around 2.1 million won a month, and a month of paid severance upon completion of the contract. However, because of saturation in the job market, many hagwons are trying to take advantage of English teachers. Work days are getting longer and pay is getting lower. Say no to any workday over 8 hours. Trust me, it’s not worth the money.
3. Don’t put blind faith into a recruiter
Most hagwons do their hiring through third party recruiters. These people are paid for each job they fill so, while they may seem like they are working for you, they aren’t. If a recruiter keeps sending you jobs that don’t fulfill your wants or needs don’t me afraid to say no and to remind them of what you want. In addition, although the recruiters might not like it, don’t just work with one company. Working with a few recruiters will allow you to see the most job prospects.
4. Read the hagwon blacklist
Once you’ve received a job offer or interview take a look at the Hagwon Black List. This website takes user submissions and lists schools who fail to abide to their contracts. While things may have changed, if a hagwon is on the black list (if you’re looking at a job with a chain make sure you look for the correct campus) I would err on the side of safety and not agree to an interview.
5. Talk to a current teacher
Before you sign a contract ask for the email address of a current teacher. Send an email to this person and ask for the lowdown on the work environment, students, coworkers, and management. Also ask about the location of the school and condition of the housing if provided my your school. You might not get the entire story but you’ll be able to catch any huge red flags.
6. Don’t sign a contract until you are sure
Once you’ve completed the interview process, checked the blacklist, and talked to a current teacher you are almost done. Your prospective school will send you a contract to sign. Go over this carefully. Make sure that everything including salary, housing, vacation, flights, pension, severance, and work hours are clearly stated. You can also post your contract on Dave’s and teachers who have been in the ESL game for years can go over it for you and check for any irregularities. If you find something that you want changed DO NOT sign anything until a new copy has been sent to you. Don’t rely on them to change it after the fact. Do not sign anything until the contract fits your needs and expectations.
Another thing to remember is that the job that you end up with could be dependent on your level of education. If you have an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, you will have access to jobs that those with a bachelor’s degree and TESOL certification will not. As a result, those who have advanced degrees on the subject can command higher wages and apply for jobs at more prestigious institutions. Jobs within universities and corporations sometimes offer better wages, but always research each individual institution to see how they treat their employees.
There are a lot of English language hagwons in Korea. The jobs can range from absolutely horrible to fantastic. Remember to do your research, don’t rush into anything, and that there a thousand other jobs out there. If it doesn’t seem great, something better will come along soon.
Have you taught in English at a hagwon in Korea? What are your ESL job hunting tips?
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