Taking one giant leap for teacher kind…

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I work with many English teachers on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I’ve heard almost all the different stories and
complaints from not having enough supplies to support one’s teaching environment to pay issues that run the gamut. Many complaints are justified and many come from the desire to improve the working environment to become a better instructor. At the same time, many complaints about the work they take on could have been easily addressed by really doing a bit ofresearch on their school, asking many detailed and specific questions and getting as much possible in writing.

Here’s my best advice in giving the future teachers and even some of the current ones who plan on staying in Korea “What to ask their next recruiter or employer?”

1) Do you have a curriculum? Ten years ago, the answer to this was mostly “No” despite what the recruiter or owner of theschool said. They had no curriculums. Today, many schools have weak curricula, but the business of English Academies in Koreahas come a long way. Ask the representative questions about the program. Ask them what the objectives for their student body. If they don’t know, ask them if they can get details or a copy of the materials in class. You don’t want to be the person who spends hours and hours daily cutting and pasting things together to teach to your students.

2) It says that you get X days of vacation. How is the vacation time selected? Most academies don’t have backup
instructors. So, they want you to take your vacation/holiday at a specific time. It’s not like the U.S. or other places in the West at your typical corporate employer where you ask for a week on X date & you get it as long as you ask in advance. Just make sure it’s very clear with the employer. Also ask if the weekends are included in those X week(s).

3) Are there split shifts? It’s an unescapable fact that most Adult English Academies can NOT serve their clients outside
the mornings, the lunch hours and after work. Most schools catering to younger students though can operate right after schooland you don’t have to face big blocks of time between your starting time and your end time.

However, with this said, there are many schools who take advantage of the school breaks during the winter and summer –which are about 6 or so weeks each. When Hagwons offer classes during this time, there’s a chance you may have to work during that time. It’s not easy, but good Academies at least pay you for that time. You should make sure they do. The positive thing is that when it is over (the “Intensives” as some Academies call it), you realize how dreamy our “cush” your life was before only having to teach about 6 hours a day and prepping for about 30 mins to an hour or two. And if they pay, it’s a very nice paycheck in the end.

4) How are the holidays handled? How are Chuseok and SUhl-nahl (Lunars New Years) handled? It’s hit and miss on if you getthese days off. Personally, I don’t care much for the regular holidays mainly because businesses sometimes don’t operate and you only get one day off. It’s nice to have the time off, but I like keeping busy and if you’re paid hourly, it’s better you’re working on those days. You may also have less students making your classes sometimes more manageable. The two big holidays of Chuseok and Suhl-nahl are pretty long. Find out if you get the 2-3 days off in addition to the weekend.

Sometimes the schools don’t know because of the plans being difficult to be planned so far in advance. Part of the reason isbecause the schools depend on client sentiment at the time. If all the parents are happy it may be easier to get time off, but if the parents are disatisfied, they may unenroll their child because there’s less class during the holidays or they aren’t getting more education bang for their dollar or should I say won.

5) What is the realistic range of pay? How is it determined? You’ll be able to see from most ESL boards these days
from most English Academies (a.k.a. Hagwons) that pay is about 2.0 to 2.5 million won almost everywhere you go. It’s interesting to see how some schools pay their teachers. My advice is that the more logical the basis behind how they pay an instructor, the more logical they will be in conducting the business. To be frank, most of these over 17,000 jobs throughout South Korea are supported by “for profit” ventures. The business needs to be smart about how they run.

For a school to pay most of their teachers over 3.0 million won, they will need to literally rape the parents of the children
because the tuition can’t be that high. The Education Department sets standards for tuition rates and so they can’t charge tuition that is too high. I’d say the realistic range is up to 3.0 million won, but when you get between 2.5 and 3.0, you’re dealing with either a very smart Academy or one that’s about to go out of business.

6) Do you train your teachers? How are teachers transitioned into their schools? Do they just throw you into classes? I think it’s fair to help a person who’s never even been in the country to be taught some things about the country. More importantly, most people don’t come to Korea with formal education or teacher training and so it wouldn’t hurt to have some, if possible. Nevertheless, this may be an opportunity to see if they have standards.

7) When do you reimburse my airfare? When do you pay my bonus? When do you pay people? Have you ever had a late payment to the teachers at your school? Get to the nitty gritty & find out when money will be distributed. The fact is that if they are experienced, they will know this stuff. If they don’t, you may not see your money ever or sometimes you may see it a little too late for your credit card bills & you get stuck with the interest charges.

8) Can I talk to teachers at your school? If they say “no”, that is one of the worst signs possible, I believe. The fact
of the matter is that they better have good relations with their teachers. If they don’t even have one teacher who’s willing totake questions from prospects, you know they are hiding something.

9) What kind of housing will I get? What’s the allowance? Can you explain how it works in more detail? Housing is one of thebiggest issues for all instructors in the country. Why should it NOT be? Right? It’s your home and it’s your place of rest & soyou want to be happy. Some people find themselves in places that they don’t feel like they can call “home.” It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do a little research yourself as well into all the different types of housing in Korea.

10) If I show up smelling like alcohol and I beat my kids in my classroom, will there be any negative repercussions? Of
course, this is obviously a stab at humor, but more importantly, it wouldn’t really hurt to ask an “off the wall” question to your recruiter to see if they can understand you. If they fail to understand something as simple as this, then they may fail to be able to support you when you get here. Also, you may do it just simply for the fact that you should test their sense of humor. If they have none, can you imagine what’s going to happen when something does happen that does require a sense of humor?

There are many more I could probably advise asking, but use these for starters. Hopefully, the person on the other end has close to native fluency. It’s hard enough to negotiate when somebody does speak your tongue, but when they don’t, chances are there will be something that’s missed in the negotiations and potentially something that will make you angry and in the end, an frustrated teacher who really just doesn’t help anyone. Also, make sure you gauge their honesty — if you’re bad at it, ask them if they wouldn’t mind talking to one of your family members or friends who is a better judge.


Filed under Advice, Business practices, ESL, Korea life

3 responses to “Taking one giant leap for teacher kind…

  1. This is actually really good advice. This is like “THE LIST” of questions I go down when I go looking for work. I’ve come to the same conclusions independently. Weird.

  2. jason

    myself and my wife and her son are thinking of going to Korea to teach, I am a registered teacher in Queenlands Australia, how do you think we would go travelling to Korea. What type of questions should we ask, could we afford to live there on one wage. How would her son go to school, what type of accomodation should we ask for. Any help would be great.

  3. I was a little confused about the first question: do you mean come to Korea before securing a job? You could potentially live off of one wage, but with a child, it may be tough. How old is the child? It would depend on the child’s age. There are international schools, but they are relatively expensive. If you both were working, you could get shared housing. However, if you are working individually, you may want to secure a place on your own — it really depends.

    Your questions are a little open ended & I don’t have exact details as to what is your situation. So, it’s a little hard to address your questions properly. We do have a teacher from Australia who just taught with us this past year. Perhaps he could address your questions as well as another Australian citizen who is currently a head Instructor at one of our branches.

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