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

How it all began (Part 2)

So after thinking about it, we decided to take a look at teaching in Asia. This is part 2 of how we went from Alpine, Texas to South Korea.

A job with only a degree? Do tell…

So with the flyer in hand, we went down to the Education placement office to find out about what kind of jobs there were and how we could go about landing one. Turns out at the time in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan getting a teaching job was easy, and there were plenty of jobs.  All you needed was a bachelor’s degree in anything, a valid passport and a willingness to commit to a year’s contract and the job was yours. Even better was that the school would provide you with a furnished place to live and plane tickets to and from Asia. We were very interested in this, to say the least. 

The jobs paid well enough you could save money and for us given our debts from credit cards and student loans that looked promising. The actual teaching load was actually only 30 hours a week which compared to a 40-hour grind here sounded nice. Our families thought we were a little crazy but for us that was normal. They thought it was crazy to be out in small-town West Texas for grad school, now head to Asia? 

Research, Research, Research

So we started the process of looking into things and eventually given the money, low cost of living we settled on teaching in South Korea and began our research and started making phone calls.  This included a lot of expensive overseas calls as there was no such thing as Skype. Also, the internet was just becoming popular so not a lot of information was available online, unlike today.  The person in the placement office, a grad student there was also looking at Korea and found the name of a recruiter based in Portland Oregon, Korea Services Group who placed people in private language institutes (known as hogwons in Korean) in the southern part of South Korea. He thought they were a great and advised us to contact them

How it all began (Part 1)

To start this site,  I thought I would first give an introduction on how I got into teaching ESL in Asia back in 1996. The following is part of the introduction to a forthcoming ebook on teaching ESL in Korea I am presently writing. Enjoy

Alpine Texas looking west

Welcome to small-town West Texas

It was in the spring of 1996 while living out in Alpine, Texas that I was first introduced to the idea of teaching ESL in Asia. My wife was finishing her MA in English at Sul Ross State University and we were thinking about what to do next. Do we go back to Austin where we lived, or do we try something else? When one afternoon she was walking down the hallway near her office on campus when a notice on a bulletin board about teaching English in Asia. My wife showed me this and to say the least I was intrigued after 7 fruitless years of trying to land a High School Social Studies Teacher or a community college teaching position and working a variety of low-level jobs just to pay the bills

Where is Alpine Texas

You were living where?

 

So here we were out in small-town West Texas 450 miles from home in Austin and I was knocking on doors for the Census Bureau trying to get people to bare their financial souls to the government. That part of West Texas was a hotbed for the militia movement which was gaining strength after the Oklahoma City bombing which made doing this research difficult. Throw in a large Mexican population many of whom were illegal so imagine what kind of responses I’d get when after knocking on the door saying, “Hi I’m from the US Census Bureau and we would like to ask information about your income”.

Sometimes you got to say “What the…”

Looking back on this I think I was lucky I wasn’t shot or worse. So yeah with a bleak future both in Alpine and back in Austin,  Yes. I was interested in teaching English in Asia. This despite I’d been out of the US exactly 5 times in my life for a total of like 80 hours total. As a Boy Scout in Ohio, I got to go on a weekend campout in Canada across from Detroit. During the preceding 10 years in Texas, I’d been across the Rio Grande like 4 times to go border towns for some cheap tequila and souvenirs. Heck, I didn’t even have a passport, nor did I know how to get one, but thanks to the wife who had her passport she knew how to get one for me.

To be continued…