Public vs. Private: Teaching English in South Korea

Note: This is a recap of my experience with  teaching English in South Korea. I’ve been here for one year and eleven months. In August 2009-2010, I taught grades 4, 5 and 6 in E.P.I.K. Currently, I teach kindergarten ages 3-7 and elementary grades 1-3 in a private school.  I hope this helps anyone who’s considering teaching in South Korea.  Feel free to message me below if you’d like to talk more about it!

                Public(EPIK) 1 year                             Private(Hagwon) 8 months

Work hours: 8:30-4:30, gives you tons of free time—so make due by getting a hobby. Work hours: 9-6. 9 hours. Work more.
Textbooks are provided. In EPIK, the lessons are all in English and Korean in the teachers guide. Everything you need to say, ask students and do is in there. There’s usually a schedule you follow—that can be found in the book as well. Textbooks are provided. You can teach them however you want. There’s usually a deadline for when the book must be completed by, but that depends on the school.
Class size can be as big as 28-35 students per class. Total student population: 700+(That number’s based on my student count last year) You might not get to know all your students, but you’ll definitely have your favorites—and that goes for any school. Class size can be as small as 6-12 students per class. Total student population: 66 kindergartners and 28 elementary. Smaller class sizes rock.
Schedule: 4-5 40 minute classes a day (back to back) 9:00 to 12:20 or 1:20-2:00. Sometimes, it can be the same lesson, over again. Schedule: 5 30-minute kindergarten classes in the mornings (back to back) 9:30-12 and  4 elementary classes in the afternoon with 10 minutes in between for break, 1:40-5:30. The lessons–I have two of the same grade, the others are 1st and 3rd, so the textbooks are different.
Class duration: 40 minute periods. Usually you have a Korean co-teacher in the room with you (either co-teaching or handling discipline) Class duration: 50 minutes. No co-teacher in the class with you.
Choosing your living place: Many choices, but you’ll have to narrow them down to three. As for where you’ll end up–that’s done randomly. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don’t. Choosing your apartment: No sayResponsibility: Show up on time, help plan lessons with co-teacher, help co-teacher with classes by co-teaching, come up with fun activities for students that deal with the lesson’s material. Also fill in attendance sheets and weekly plans. Get signatures from principal, vice principal and co-teacher.Classroom or not: This depends on your school. I had an English classroom at my visiting school, but not at my main.Lunch: School lunch. Most principals want you to eat with everyone (teachers and students) in the cafeteria. You’re choice if you want to eat the food or not. The meals are free. My visiting school had bad lunches, so I always brought my lunch. But my main school had awesome lunches, and I always ate there.Sometimes you have to go to group lunches. (Seafood or meat, depending on what everyone likes. For my school, it was seafood.) It was pretty much mandatory to go, but I never had fun at those lunches because I never liked the menu. I’m not a fan of seafood, so it was always hard for me to enjoy. And there was a point in the beginning when I was vegetarian, so it can be a bit difficult. Advice: be flexible.

Co workers: Your co-teachers will either speak little to no English or have great fluency. Depends on who you meet.  Those at my job went out of their way to make me feel welcome–giving me  dishes and toilet paper when I moved in and even going with me to get bedding because I didn’t know where anything was.

Work attire: Casual at both my schools. I dressed like did on the weekends. For open lessons, I’d make an effort to look really nice—wearing dresses.

Open classes: You basically have normal class and people from other schools and your own, sit down and observe. I had a great one at my visiting school, but my main school wasn’t so great. When it’s finished, you sit down for an hour to talk about it with a school official in Korean. Sometimes, there’s fruit and juice.

Overtime: There was none at my school. Some people do have it—it’s about 17,000 won or more an hour.

Student level: There’s a huge mix between students that are low-level and high-level. Some can read, write, listen and speak. Some can’t at all. Ultimately, it will depend on the students English language background.

Vacation: TONS of vacation. If you don’t have debt to pay off, see the world. It’s cheap to travel to other parts of Asia, and if I had the chance last year, I would have done it.

Teaching: I didn’t feel like a teacher. I was a tape recorder—only there for listen and repeat and singing songs during lessons. I used to teach them a little in the beginning, but the went strictly textbook after a month or so. The routine of the book became boring for me, I had students that wanted to be there and those that didn’t. I found it hard to do more in class with such a mixed level of students. In the end, I needed a change.  Of course there are tons of people who love EPIK and do more than the textbook. It’s something I never saw beyond due to the school I taught at. I found classes most fun when I got to share something about American culture– something most students didn’t know much about.

Desk warming and other stuff: Yes. I’ve done it many times. The one thing you have to remember about working in a public school is to be as flexible as possible.

I learned that I didn’t enjoy public school in the last months I worked there. It was a struggle for me to keep up with the routine because I felt like my job was a joke. That experience made me realize what kind of teacher I wanted to be and which one I didn’t.

Choosing your living place: Many choices if you know where you want to live. Choosing your apartment: Normally there’s no say, but I got lucky.Responsibility: Show up on time, make attendance sheets, fill them out, fill out progress reports, make monthly plans for all classes, decorate the classroom, clean the classroom, make classroom rules, meetings with directors, sometimes taking phone calls from parents.Classroom or not: Yes. I have my own classroom, which I’m responsible for maintaining and up keep.Lunch: School lunch, and it’s free. However, I’m allowed to leave the building during that time to eat what I want. Sometimes I eat school lunch, but most times I bring my lunch or eat out.Co workers: Your co-teachers will speak better English because they too teach classes in English, but it also depends on your school.   Those at my job went out of their way to make me feel welcome–especially my directors–buying me a broom and dustpan because I told her I didn’t have one, that can of kindness. People in general are very nice here.

Work attire: Casual. For special events (festivals, open lessons) I wear a dress, and a little makeup.

Open classes: No, not for elementary students. Sometimes the directors will stop by to have a look-see but that’s it. Nothing formal. Yes for kindergarten and it’s a lot of work just like for an EPIK open lesson. Same stresses and worries. But no sit down at the end.

Overtime: Yes but for kindergarten. Last semester I’d have to stay late for an open lesson presentation or a special themed event held on Saturday (open lesson or open class.)

Student level: Mostly all the students you teach will be in the same grade and at the same level of English ability. Most can read, write, listen and speak, even if just a little. It also depends on their English language background.

Vacation: 10 days with national holidays. 5 days in the winter, 5 days in the summer. Chuseok, Children’s Day, Buddha’s Birthday and Christmas are always off.

Teaching: Because I have more responsibility as far as duties go, I feel more like a teacher. I create my own worksheets and try my best to teach them so they understand the material.

Desk warming and other stuff: Yes. I did it once. The one thing you have to remember about working in a private school is  to be as flexible as possible.

I learned that I enjoy private school better. It was a real struggle for me for the first three months (working with kindergarten/disciplining kids/the increased workload and responsibilities), but all the experiences I had has made me a stronger, better teacher and person.


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One response to “Public vs. Private: Teaching English in South Korea

  1. TD

    Crazy helpful. Thanks so much for sharing.