ESL South Korea

Private Schools

Hagwon Working Environment

Both the private and public school systems have their pro’s and con’s and both provide very different working environments

To help you make an informed decision regarding the choice of schools, I’ll outline the two for you, then you can decide which you think will work better for your circumstance.  Let’s look at Private schools first:

Private schools
When working at a private school or hagwon, your role as an English teacher is pretty much determined by your boss.  He or she will decide which classes you teach, what you teach and how you teach them.  It’s difficult to try and put down a universal kind of ‘normal’ when it comes to hagwons, since these schools differ vastly from one another.

A normal schedule at a hagwon would consist of an eight hour day, six of which are teaching hours with small classes of 10-15 students.  Depending on the school, a curriculum might be provided, or you might have to rely on your creativity to come up with lesson plans and activities to keep your students busy.  Because hagwons provide after-school programs they usually open after 12pm and run into the night (sometimes up to 10pm or later).

Pro’s of working at a hagwon:

– Pay scale.  If you’re fresh out of university with a fancy looking bachelors degree, you’ll likely get a higher salary at a hagwon than you will at a public school.  Hagwon owners usually don’t care too much about teaching experience and if you’ve got the degree (which you need to get a visa), they’ll take you and give you a decent salary.

– Smaller classes.  Since hagwons provide a type of private schooling, individual interaction between student and teacher is important.  Therefore classes are usually smaller.

– Can be a great experience.  During my first year in Korea, my wife and I worked at a hagwon where we had a great, caring boss who was also our friend.  We taught 3-4 hours per day for the same pay that most teachers get for teaching six hours.  If you land at the right kind of hagwon, it can be a rewarding experience and help make your stay in Korea a feast.  That’s why research is so important when choosing a school.

Con’s of working at a hagwon:

– Your boss will be a business man/woman, usually profit driven (since a hagwon is a business) and, in a worst case scenario, corrupt.  While it is rare that a hagwon owner is a corrupt, money-laundering bully, it does happen and the internet is ripe with horror stories of innocent foreigners cheated out of pay and benefits by a greedy hagwon owner who’s more interested in the size of his plasma TV than the education of his students.  You have been warned, so be carefull…  Do research on your school before you sign a contract.

– More unstable working environment.  Since a hagwon is a business and you are basically left to the wills and whims of your boss, the working environment at a hagwon tends to be more unstable.  Your boss might decide to let you go early, change your working hours or change your schedule without consulting you.  If you’re the kind of person who’s very reliant on a stable, secure working envrionment without sudden unexpected changes then you might struggle at a hagwon.

– Little vacation and sick leave.  With a hagwon contract you’ll be lucky to get 10 working days of holiday a year (apart from the national public holidays).  This is almost half of what you get offered when working at a public school.  Also, when working at a hagwon getting sick is almost frowned upon.  This might seem strange to westerners, but Koreans generally come to work even when they’re feeling under the weather (unless it’s
serious) and therefore paid sick leave is a rare commodity you shouldn’t expect too much off.  Generally, if you’re absent for more than 3 days during the year, your boss will start deducting from your salary for every day you miss.  See Korean sick leave for more info.