Public School Jobs

A typical public school in Korea

What are these jobs

 It’s exactly as the title says, teaching English in the Korean public schools. Since the mid-1990’s, Korea has employed native speaker teachers in their schools in order to improve their English schools starting in the third grade through high school. The program is set up to be like Japan’s JET and Hong Kong’s NET Scheme programs where foreign teachers are paired with a local teacher to primarily improve speaking skills. Today, these foreign teachers are usually employed in the elementary and middle schools with a few teachers employed at the high school level, usually specialty high schools like a foreign language, science-specific or IB high schools. The goal of the Korean government is to have a native speaker in every elementary school and most middle schools.  

Number of jobs available 

 Quite a few, though less than hogwon jobs due to the lesser number of schools and schools only have one native speaker per school. In recent years, there has been a gradual cutback in the number of foreign teachers due to budget cutbacks, slowing population growth and a backlash from Korean teachers who believe they are just as qualified as a foreign teacher. 

 Where are the jobs located

There are jobs in every corner of Korea from the big cities to the small towns and countryside. The biggest demand, of course, is in the cities but these jobs tend to be the most competitive with rural schools usually going begging for a teacher.  

What the job entails 

 As mentioned above you will be nominally working with a Korean co-teacher who is supposed to help with things like planning lessons, translating, dealing with classroom discipline. In reality, you will be pretty much left on your own to plan lessons etc. though a few teachers take the job seriously. You will be teaching 22 classes a week usually 4-5 classes in a day. Given the size of the schools, this means you will likely see each class only once a week. Class size will be large ranging from 30 to 40 plus students a class of all abilities. If you are out in the countryside, expect to be assigned to a couple of schools where you will be splitting your time. You will be reimbursed for transportation expenses and get an additional 100,000 won/month in salary for working in a rural area. 

 

You will be expected to be on campus from 8:30-4:30 Monday through Friday. When you are not teaching, just like a regular teacher you will be required to be on campus planning lessons, meeting with students etc. Lunch is always on campus and you will be expected to eat the cafeteria grub with your fellow teachers. If you need to leave campus say to go to the bank, you will have to get permission from your vice-principal in order to leave campus. 

 

There will also be the occasional special activity you will be expected to attend (for no additional pay) these include some field trips, sports days and faculty dinners. Some can be fun but the faculty dinners can become tedious especially if there is heavy drinking involved. There are ways to get around these events if need be. 

 Winter and Summer breaks

Unlike the Korean teachers who are off during the school breaks which run from mid-July until late August, late December until late January and the last two weeks of February, you will be expected to be on campus every day during regular hours. The primary activity you will be responsible for is the English ”camps” that occur during the summer and winter breaks. These camps can be half or full day in length and run usually a week or two. Activities can include things like cooking, movies, sports or anything that can help students improve their English. If you are lucky, your co-teacher will help you plan these camps or maybe a previous teacher left plans for a camp. Designing one can take a considerable amount of time and effort. If your school doesn’t have a camp scheduled you will be in ”desk warming” mode unless you take vacation then. Desk warming can include planning for the upcoming term, maybe doing some professional development but based on what I’ve seen it is spent surfing the net, watching movies or reading. You will likely be the only teacher at the school with only a secretary and/or a principal for company. Hopefully, the administration will remember you are there and turn on the heat or air conditioning for you. It’s really a huge downside to public school teaching. 

 Salaries and benefits

 A nice thing about teaching in the public schools is that salaries are pretty standardized across Korea. The lowest level is a BA with a TESOL certificate and no teaching experience which starts you off at around 2 million won a month. At the top of the scale is having a masters degree, a home country teaching credential and teaching experience will get you 2.5 million won/month. 

 

Benefits include housing be it in the form of a furnished apartment albeit a small apartment or a housing allowance (apartments though can be up to an hour from your school via public transport. Korean national medical insurance with the premium being split 50-50 between you and the school board. Pension is taken out at 4.5% for you and 4.5% by the school board which you should get back when you leave Korea (Brits can’t get this back) severance pay at the rate of 1 months salary per year you worked. You get 1.3 million won each way for airfare. Americans are exempt from paying Korean income taxes if you file an IRS form. Vacation starts at 18 school days/ year and increases the longer you stay there. You get all Korean holidays off unlike at a hogwon which you MAY get some of the days. Sick time is really good at 13 days.  Overall a very good package when considered to what a hogwon offers. 

Who is in charge of these jobs 

 These jobs are administered by a number of different government agencies depending on where you want to. In Seoul and in a large part of Korea, its run by the English Program in Korea program (EPIK). In Gyeonggi-do province which surrounds Seoul its called GEPIK. Down in the provinces surround Busan, its called GOE. In the Jeolla provinces of southwest Korea it is called JEP. Despite all the different groups running these programs, the application packages are virtually identical and hiring standards almost identical with the exception of Seoul which is requiring a higher grade point average to apply. All require a minimum 2.5 GPA and either a 120 hour TESOL certification course that includes a practicum or being a certified teacher in your home country. 

 How to apply for jobs

There are two ways to apply for jobs. The first way is to contact each of these agencies individually ( they are all online) download and submit an application and submit it online. They will contact you if they feel you are qualified and arrange interviews. The other way is to contact a recruiting agency and work with them through the process. The bigger agencies have connections with all the school boards and have people who know the application process. The upside of this way is, you have somebody working with you on the process including getting ready for interviews, reviewing your application so that it can look its best in front of the hiring people. Once you have picked an agency, ONLY USE THEM!!! If an agency gets 2 applications from 2 different recruiters, your application will be disqualified. 

 The application itself

 For all of these jobs, the application is quite extensive (11 pages). Besides the normal information like education (including GPAs) work experience and references, expect questions about things like your height and weight, do you have any visible tattoos (schools require all tattoos to be covered up while teaching), number and types of piercings you may have, how much you drink or smoke.

Then there are 3 essay questions one explaining why you want to come and teach in Korea, one on dealing with cultural differences, the final one concerns your educational philosophy. The last major hurdle is now school boards are now requiring prospective applicants to submit a detailed lesson plan for a certain age group depending on the level you want to teach. For experienced teachers, this shouldn’t be that hard. For newer teachers this where a recruiter or a site like waygook.org with their lesson plans can be of huge help. Finally, you need to list your location preferences, will you work in the countryside and is your spouse/partner coming with you. 

 

After this, if your application gets through a first screening, expect a Skype interview. Questions will likely come from a wide variety of topics some related to teaching like why did you go into teaching? What is your educational philosophy? Classroom management questions. Korea related topics like why did you choose to come to Korea to teach? What do you know about Korea? These are just a sample of the questions you will face. If you are working with a recruiter, they should be helping you prepare for the interview. If you are applying directly, do some research on teacher interview questions. 

Visa

You will be on a E2 visa like in a hogwon as you will be teaching conversation skills.

 Orientation

You have gotten the job and now it’s time to come to Korea, what’s next? After arriving at Seoul-Incheon airport, you will be taken to orientation. This is usually a one-week event held either in the city you will be teaching in if Seoul, Busan etc. If you are in the GEPIK or EPIK programs, these are usually held at a university or a conference center out in the countryside.

Here you and your fellow new teachers will go through a number of classes about teaching ESL in Korea, Korean Culture, and local school policies. You will also be taken to a local hospital to get the medical exam for your Alien Registration Card. Evenings will include cultural events and you may get to go on a field trip to some sights. The last day of orientation, you will meet your co-teacher and be taken to your school and apartment. Housing during this is usually in dorms and you will have a roommate for the week. I’ve heard the food is not that great but there should be a convenience store nearby to get some munchies. Also be aware that alcohol is usually prohibited during this and there is a curfew so forget about sneaking out and checking the nightlife. It is though a great opportunity to meet your fellow teachers and network. 

 Can an older teacher get a job in a public school?

 Yes. In fact in my research for this topic, I discovered many teachers in their 40’s and 50’s teaching in the public schools and loving it. The only negative age issue I encountered for this type of job is there seems to be an upper age limit of 62. This is the normal retirement age for teachers in Korea 

 Is this a good job to take?

 Absolutely. In fact, after university jobs and international schools, these are the best teaching jobs in Korea. School Boards will honor contracts, you will be paid on time, housing is normally quite good. Benefits are far better than hagwons in terms of vacation, sick time. In terms of academic support, it is quite good as there are Facebook groups and a website (www.waygook.org) that are dedicated to public school teachers. The only downsides I’ve heard of is the boredom of desk warming during breaks and the possibility of being stuck with a bad co-teacher. Also, these jobs are becoming much more competitive given their reputation as being excellent jobs and the shrinking number of positions. Do your homework and you will get a decent job.

typical classroom

Types of jobs in Korea: Hogwons

Hogwon Jobs  

A typical English Hogwon sign

There are many different types of teaching jobs in Korea. These range from teaching children in private language institutes to adult teaching in a variety of setting and all sorts of stuff in between. The first one I tackle is perhaps the most controversial jobs in Korea. While hogwons have by far the most number of jobs available. This post is just intended to give you a brief overview of the job. In later posts, you become more familiar with the visa process and what how to deal with potential problems, and what your rights are under Korean law.

 What are they

These are privately run language institutes and are the most numerous of the teaching jobs in Korea. You can find them in almost every neighborhood in Korea teaching almost every subject from math to music to Tae Kwon Do. Korean elementary and middle school children will spend most of their after school hours going to several in the course of a day. While primarily focused on teaching children, there are hogwons that teach adults primarily English.  For our purposes we will be dealing with the hogwons that only teach English. 

 The number of jobs available:

Numerous. Due to the sheer number of hogwons out there and the turnover of teachers, there are always plenty of jobs out there. Just take a look at the major job listing sites and the number of recruiters out there you will see what’s available. 

 Working Hours:

 For the hogwons focused on children you will be working one of two shifts depending on the ages you teach. If you will be teaching kindergarten, expect an M-F 9-6 shift with kindergarten classes until around 1 PM followed by school-age kids. If you are teaching just school-aged kids, expect an M-F 1:30-2:00P – 9:00-10:00 shift. Adults tend to have split shifts built around job requirements. A typical adult teaching day might look like an M-F 7:00A-10:00A block followed by a long break and coming back to teach a 6:30-9:30P block. In any case, you should be teaching around 30 hours a week with the number of classes you actually teach depending on the length of the classes. For younger kids, expect anywhere between a 25 minute to 40-minute class. Older kids and adult classes usually run 50-90 minutes in length with a short break after 45-50 minutes.  

Curriculum:  

Textbooks are normally provided by the school for all classes (Interchange and Parade are an example of titles) though you will be expected to supplement your lessons with games, songs, and chants for kids. Besides a textbook, I would recommend adding a discussion topics book. It will be up to you to design lessons. Hopefully the school will have bought a teachers edition. If not they aren’t expensive and you can find them quite easily. 

 Class size:

 Usually quite small with under 10 being average. With younger kids, your school should provide a Korean speaking assistant for translation and classroom management issues. Older kids you will be on your own. Adult classes tend to be very small with some classes being one-on-one classes. With adult classes, you can also arrange to meet them at coffee shops etc. 

 Housing:

 Hogwons should provide a basic one-bedroom partially furnished apartment. More than likely this will be the apartment of the teacher who you will be replacing. If that teacher is still there, expect to be sharing the apartment until they leave but I would insist on being put up at a nearby hotel. Very few schools will give you a housing allowance and let you find your own place. Most apartments will be within walking distance of your school. The rent will be paid for by the school, but you will be expected to pay for gas, electric, water, building fees, cable, and internet.  

Salaries

Between 2.1 to maybe 2.5 million won a month. This is enough to live somewhat decently on. If you teach over 120 hours/month you should be paid overtime at a rate of around 30,000 won/hours 

Benefits:  

Your employer is required to enroll you in the  National Health Insurance plan. This provides basic accident and illness coverage. Premiums are around 6% of your salary/month with you paying 50% and your employer paying 50%. Most nationalities will also be enrolled in the National Pension System. You pay around 4.5% of your salary and your employer matches. When you leave Korea, in most cases you can get this money back. Finally, your employer is required at the end of your contract to pay you one month’s salary for every year you worked there. This is in addition to the pension plan you are enrolled in. Vacations tend to be only 2 weeks if that. You will likely get a week in July or August and a week between Christmas and New Year’s. You should get Korean holidays (Red days on Korean calendars). Sick time tends to be little if any with maybe 3 days a year if you can get it despite Korean law guaranteeing it. 

Taxes: 

 Korean income and citizen taxes are also deducted. Figure around 2% for taxes. Your employer will file a tax return with the Korean government for you.  

 Airfare:

 Most schools will provide you with only a one-way ticket from your home to Korea. Gone are the days where the school will pay for your return ticket, though it may be negotiated. Some will buy the ticket for you. Most will expect you to buy a one-way ticket and then reimburse you when you get to Korea.  

 Visa type:

 You will be on what is called an E2 or a conversation instructor visa. For details on this, see the visa section. 

Where to find jobs: 

 Jobs can be found on a number of ESL websites. A few include Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com), worknplay (www.worknplay.com), Craigslist Seoul and others. Most jobs are advertised by recruiters who can either be great or awful. Some of the major chains recruit from their own websites. 

 Problems:

 Hogwons tend to have the most complaints about working conditions, not getting paid, not honoring contracts to name just a few. See the in-depth section for more on typical scams 

Big Name Schools: 

 YBM, Pagoda, Wall Street, Chungdam and EF tend to be the big adult chains. Kid chains include these but some other big names are, SLP(Sogang Language Program, a part of Seoul’s Sogang University), Readingtown, Ding Dang, Doing and Wonderland, G”nB, Avalon and POLY. 

 Can an older teacher get a job at one of these schools?

 For the kid schools, the answer is usually ”no”. These schools tend to want young female teachers though it’s not unheard of for an older woman to land a job at one. Guys tend not to get hired by them. The best bet is going to the adult programs. Yeah, the hours may be harder but they tend to like older teachers given the age of your students. 

Would I recommend teaching at a hogwon? 

No. Why? Simply there are too many problem schools out there that don’t follow the contract. The housing can also be substandard. Finally, schools just don’t tend to want to hire older teachers. Given your life and teaching experience, there are far better options out there. If you do decide to go this route, do your homework, research the school and ask to talk to the teachers there.