Before coming to Korea, I came across many horror stories on the internet about teaching in hagwons. Everything I read indicated that public schools were a much better option. We didn’t end up taking that route, due to timing and because we wanted to share an apartment (with one of us getting a housing allowance), and we’re both glad. I feel like there is still a stigma against working in a hagwon but in many ways it is better than teaching at a public school here. So I just want to set the record straight, for anyone who is considering teaching in South Korea…
Pros for teaching at a public school:
-Paid vacation time (about four weeks opposed to two weeks at a hagwon)
-Fewer teaching hours (usually 15-20 a week)
-Reliability (you will get paid on time, insurance, pension, etc.)
While it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get more than two weeks paid vacation at a hagwon (and you certainly shouldn’t work for one that offers any less), it is possible to find one with low teaching hours (I was teaching for only about 15 hours a week at my last job). As far as reliability, just do your research! Talk to current and former teachers at the school you are considering (this is standard so if the school won’t provide you with email addresses it is a red flag!) and post on forums such as Dave’s ESL Cafe and Waygook to see if anyone knows anything about that school. Also Google the school to see if it’s been “blacklisted” on any websites.
Cons for teaching at a public school:
-Pay. If you are a teacher just starting out in Korea, you will only be offered 2.0 million won per month at a public school. Expect to make 2.1-2.2 (or higher) at a hagwon.
-Timing. Public schools generally only hire in March and September, although there will be a few openings at other times. Hagwons hire year-round.
-Lack of flexibility. There is a strict pay scale, you won’t be able to get a housing allowance (if you are coming with your significant other and want to live together), and you won’t be able to get any money for a plane ticket if you don’t go directly home after your contract ends (hagwons might be willing to negotiate on things like this).
-No other foreigners at your school. Now some people might prefer this, but if you are coming to Korea for the first time then the easiest way to make friends is by hanging out with your co-teachers. If you work at a public school then this seems to be much more difficult as the other teachers are most likely older and few will speak English. I made great friends with the teachers at both hagwons I worked at, both Korean and American/Canadian.
-Class size. In a public school the classes are huge, maybe up to 40 students. I don’t know about you, but this is very intimidating to me! When I went to observe at a public school where I had a job offer, the teacher used a megaphone and the students still didn’t listen to her (and she had been working there for almost a year at that point…). Some may argue that you have a co-teacher in the classroom with you at a public school and therefore they can discipline the students for you but this is not always the case. (Also, just for the record, I worked at a hagwon with Korean teachers and teaching assistants in the classroom at most times and with few discipline problems.) In hagwons, the typical class size is ten or fewer students.
-Boring lessons. From what I know about public schools, lessons are basically by the textbook. A lot of hagwons (but not all) will give you more flexibility to have fun (for example making crafts for holidays). At my last hagwon the foreign teachers taught subjects such as art, drama, and PE.
-Not getting to know your students. Depending on how big the public school is, you might have hundreds of students and only see each class once every few weeks. At a hagwon you will quickly learn all of your students’ names and get to know and love (or loathe) them.
-Apartments. Most public school teachers I know have tiny apartments, the kind with the shower over the toilet.
Now these are all generalizations, and of course there are amazing public schools and really shitty hagwons. But like I said, do your research. But I just wanted to get it out there that hagwons are not the devil and can in fact be much preferable to public schools in Korea!