Public school jobs vs hagwon jobs
This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea.
There are many web pages which discuss the pros and cons of hagwon (private academy) and public school jobs. Unfortunately, they tend to discuss this as if someone interested in teaching English in Korea should carefully balance the advantages and disadvantages of each. They usually conclude by saying that hagwon jobs have some benefits, while public school jobs have different benefits, and it depends on the individual.
Don’t believe this.
Public school jobs are better than hagwon jobs.
I am going to be absolute on this. Public school jobs are just better; hagwon jobs are second-rate. In a public school you are part of a community whose purpose is to educate. In a hagwon you are part of a business whose purpose is to make money. If you value your free time, your sense of security, and your soul, you are better with a public school position.
Here are the reasons usually listed as to why, in some instances, hagwon jobs may be better for some people than public school jobs.
The “advantages” of a hagwon job
1. You can choose where you work. This is partly valid. If it is essential that you work in a specific city, perhaps because you have friends there, then a hagwon is your only option. Increasingly it is difficult to make any sort of choice at all with public school positions. With EPIK these days you can’t even specify more than just “Seoul”, “city” or “provincial”.
However, if you only want some control over your destiny, there are options. With the GEPIK program your recruiter will work to place you in a specific school in Gyeonggi province. It is also possible to contract directly with Incheon or Busan city, or Gyeongam and Chungnam provinces, and in these cases you will have some control over where you end up.
2. At hagwons, you are paid more. Based on job advertisements I’ve seen, this is not true in most instances. Hagwon jobs generally pay the same. Actually, they pay considerably less, if you take into account the greater working hours and fewer holidays and average it to an hourly rate. There may be some positions that are exceptions to this for highly qualified or Korean-speaking teachers, but the general hagwon job does not pay better than a public school position.
3. At hagwons, you will have other foreign teachers with you. This is very misleading, because it gives a sense that native teachers in public schools are isolated and never have contact with other native teachers. This is not my experience, nor the experience of any public school teacher I’ve known here. Yes, at a hagwon there may be other foreign teachers. And this is much less likely to be true in a public school, where you will probably be the only foreign teacher. I know this seems like a big deal if you’re going overseas to live for the first time. Please believe me – it will not be a problem. All the public school programs have orientations that allow you to meet other native teachers**This may not be true for GEPIK – see the comment below. Regardless, I think all cities have facebook groups of local waegukins – it shouldn’t be too hard to make friends., and all those other native teachers are new to Korea like you, and very anxious to make friends. There will be other foreigners in your city. You will not be isolated and alone, unless you have social problems.
Also, as hagwons tend to attract the bottom rung of recruits, there is a very good chance that some of your co-employees at a hagwon may be the sort of person you would run a mile to avoid. I’m not trying to be snide – I have heard many stories from hagwon teachers about “my psychotic co-worker”. It’s practically a genre. They are good stories, but it’s probably not worth experiencing it just for the stories.
4. At hagwons, there is no deskwarming. This is just absurd. You will be teaching, continuously and without respite, instead. I am no fan of deskwarming, but after six months of teaching six hours a day at a hagwon without a holiday or day off, I don’t know of any hagwon teacher who wouldn’t be happy to spend a week coming to work without any responsibilities.
5. At hagwons, you have smaller class sizes. This is true as far as it goes. But in my experience Korean students’ willingness to be quiet and pay attention decreases the farther they get from what they perceive as the “real” education system. In their own class, with their homeroom teacher, they are well behaved. In English class? Somewhat less behaved. In an after-school class, again: more rowdy than they are in a curriculum English class. I doubt that they are so very easy to control in a hagwon. From the teachers I have known who have worked at both hagwons and public schools, none have said that a smaller hagwon class size was any easier to control.
Why a public school job is better
1. You are part of a community, and not a business. It is just more pleasant to be in a school environment than a business one. There are lots of hagwon stories about teachers getting pressure from their bosses to retain students and increase their numbers. There are stories of teachers being told never to discipline students, for fear that their parents will withdraw them from hagwons. You don’t hear these stories from public school teachers.
2. Longer holidays. Contractually you will get nearly twice the holidays. Beyond that, if you play your cards right and are lucky, you might get substantially more.
There are also many days in public schools when you will come to school, but not have to teach – school holidays, opening and closing days, field trips, sports days, etc. These are generally relaxing, and if you can participate in the activities, quite pleasant. In a public school it is not unusual to go an entire month without teaching a full five day week.
3. You won’t get screwed out of your pay or end of contract bonus. There are many hagwon horror stories like this. I take them with a grain of salt because, as previously noted, hagwons tend to attract the worst sort of foreigners, and some of them just like to complain. By and large, the good teachers I’ve known who have worked at hagwons haven’t experienced these sorts of problems. However I have no doubt that some of the stories are true.
4. You can teach all students, not just the privileged ones. Do you want to spend your time helping to increase the class gap in Korean society?
5. You will have a Korean co-teacher in class with you. In truth this could either be an advantage or disadvantage, but I know it is reassuring to people who haven’t taught a foreign language before. Ideally, your co-teacher will help you and share the workload.
If you want a more visual, less ranty assessment, Footprints Recruiting has a table listing most of the above points, which I think is honest.
A hagwon job might suit you if you really need to be in a specific place in Korea, if money is your prime concern and you can get a high paying position, or if you are unable to get a public school position. Otherwise you are better off with a job in a public school.
I realize that it might seem that I’ve implied hagwon teachers in Korea are socially awkward suckers with psychological problems, and the bottom rung of native English teachers in Korea. Do I mean this? In some cases, yes. In other cases they are good, hardworking teachers who either through ignorance or some other reason have ended up working in a hagwon. Just the same, if some of those teachers are reading this now, I imagine cognitive dissonance is kicking in. If you want to say how I’ve got it wrong, and hagwon positions are really great – or if you want to tell me about how you have the fabled Good Hagwon Job, then go ahead in the comments.