So you’ve found yourself researching about teaching English in South Korea! Teaching at an English academy in Korea is truly a life changing experience. Maybe this is the first time you’ve thought about doing something like this, or maybe you are about to be signing your first teaching contract.
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In this article we will tell you all about a Korean contract, teacher contract hours in Korea, what are the best things to look for when signing a teaching contract and so much more. We will also tell you a bit about what Hagwons in South Korea, what type of hagwons are the best hagwons in Korea, and how to teach English to Koreans.
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What is a Hagwon? Hagwon Meaning Explained
Ron and I decided to teach at a Hagwon instead of a public school. A Korean hagwon/hagwon in English means a privately owned after school “academy” O-hagwon is an after-school Korean English academy. In Korea, most children attend some sort of after-school academy ranging from Music to Taekwondo to Math Academy. Some of my students attended up to 5 different academies in one day!
It is extremely common for most children to attend an after-school English academy. Because of the sheer number of children attending these academies, there are a lot of them out there. In 2005 in Seoul alone, there were 25,000 English hagwons. That means the quality of the school can range greatly. Also, because these academies are privately owned the people opening and running them have a variety of motives. This makes finding the best hagwons in South Korea pretty difficult.
Obviously, the best hagwons in Korea to work for would be ones where they actually care about the children’s education and less about how successful and profitable the school is. There are academies like this out there! This is why it’s important to know what questions to ask when applying and interviewing as well as what red flags to look for.
Signing a Contract to Teach at a Korean English School
When we decided moving to Korea to teach English was something we wanted to do, our next step was interviewing and finding a school we wanted to work for. We also needed to know what the teaching in Korea requirements were (more on that below.) We then scoured the internet for any tips on things to do before moving to Korea so that we could be as prepared as possible.
Below you will find 10 actual sections from the contract we signed and an explanation of what you are agreeing to when signing a contract to teach in Korea.
1. How to Teach English to Korean Students
In our contract: "The employee must have adequately prepared for the class in advance."
When communicating with the school or a recruiter it is imperative you discuss and are aware of what preparation your employer expects of you before each class. If you are required to teach 35-37 classes per week, and only work 40 hours total, that is not a lot of time to prepare full lessons for each class you teach.
The way our school operated was we would pick out books at the beginning of each semester. We would then teach from those books. Some classes we had to plan an entire curriculum for, but that ended up being only 1 or 2 classes a semester.
Ron and I had very little teaching experience before figuring out how to teach in Korea. But we figured it out along the way!
Our best advice on teaching English to Koreans is: go with the flow. Every school is so different in terms of what they want from you. Every day we thought we were prepared and were expecting to teach certain things and by the end of the day that day looked completely different than we thought it would.
Have fun with your students, learn some Korean so you can connect with them, and just try your best!
2. What Age Range You Will Teach
In our contract: "Teaching of the English language to (Target student ages: kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school students and adults)"
No matter what your school or recruiter tells you before you arrive at your Korean English school- if it’s in the contract- it's free game. Our recruiter told us we would only be teaching elementary and middle school students, but in fact, we taught students ranging in age from 3-60 years old.
Wondering how to teach English to Korean adults? I was actually super nervous about this as well, especially because my adult classes were "free talk" classes- meaning we had no materials to teach from and were just expected to have conversations with the adult students. It ended up being just fine and actually a great learning experience!
3. English Teacher in Korea Salary
In our contract: "The salary is considering 30 hours a week (1,800min.) and the payment will be once a month."
This is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the contact (in our opinion). Whatever you do, if your school has written their contract to include minutes instead of just hours or number of classes (with class time specified) RUN AWAY. 30 hours a week = max 30 classes a week. 1,800 mins a week when classes are 50 minutes each = 36 classes a week.
When you start asking your teacher friends how many classes they are teaching at their Korean hagwons per week and they say 15-20 classes and you are teaching 36, planning lessons, and everything else on top of that while simultaneously running around like a chicken with its head cut off, something is wrong.
An ok contract would require you to teach 30 classes or less in a week. 25 classes is a good amount to teach without going crazy. A good way to understand how many classes will be expected of you to teach is to talk with the teachers you are replacing.
As far as salary and money wise- many people can save a pretty good amount in a years time teaching in Korea. How much money can you save you ask? That totally depends on your spending habits.
We made 2.1 million won per month which converts to approximately $1,735. When we were in Korea, that was a pretty average Korean teacher salary. You could make more depending on your experience/what school you end up working for.
We were very frugal with our spending habits and were able to save $26,000 teaching at our hagwon in Korea for a year.
4. Teacher Contract Hours
In our contract: "The employer cannot guarantee any specific work schedule requested by the teacher."
We didn’t run into many problems with our working hours. Since we worked at an after school academy and Korean school hours typically are 7:30-2pm, we arrived to work at 1:30 pm and left work at 9:30 pm.
Our hours changed for the month of January as well as June/July while the public schools were on winter and summer breaks. During this time hagwons generally open their doors for the kids at 11:00 am and close at 7:00 pm.
When going through what to look for in a contract, make sure you ask about summer/winter breaks as we were not told our hours would change at all (and weren't told this until a couple of days before the change was about to happen.)
5. Working Other Places & Transportation
In our contract: "The employer has the right to request the employee to work for the other workplaces if it’s necessary. However, it will not be longer than the working hour that is commented from above. The Supervisor will provide transportation costs for the long distance."
If this is in your contract, again, run for the hills! After arriving in Korea we found out the teachers we replaced were asked/bribed to travel an hour across town to teach the CEO of a huge Korean company and his employees English. They then had to turn around and travel another hour back across town to teach their regular classes at the academy. Sure they were compensated for this extra teaching and time, but not much.
If teaching business English in Korea is not on your agenda- make sure you ask about any kind of situation like this.
We also had many other instances where we were asked to teach at other Korean academies or other places besides our school. Our director opened up a sister school while we were in Korea and we were asked to teach there. Our director cared more about money than anything else, so when a student refused to come to class, instead of turning down the extra money, I was instructed to go teach him at his house.
Ron spent more than half of the time that we were in Korea teaching two days a week at a totally different school with a different director who paid our director for his time. This is actually illegal and a violation of your work visa. Unfortunately we weren't sure there was much we could do at the time.
6. Adjustment Time Period
In our contract: "Upon arrival in Korea, the employee may be allowed a few days lead time for adjustment and preparation for school prior to the beginning of his/her regular teaching work."
I never met a single foreigner teaching in Korea who was given “a few days lead time” before starting work. We arrived in Korea at 10:00 pm after traveling for over 24 hours and were picked up at 11:00 am to go to lunch with our director. We shadowed classes that day and were teaching our own classes the next day. Jet lag is real. Culture shock is even more real.
When moving to Korea, be prepared to be thrown in head first looking like a deer in headlights. There is no way of getting around this, it's just one of those things that makes the experience a fun ride. Buckle up and hold on tight!
7. Medical Insurance & Pension
In our contract: "CLAUSE (MEDICAL INSURANCE, RETIREMENT TAX)
A. The employer will provide the employee with medical insurance through the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC).
B. The half of the insurance premium will be paid by the Employer and the other half by the employee. (For reference, the current insurance premium rate is about 2.8% of a monthly income)
C. The employer will provide the employee with a National Pension Scheme. The employer and the employee will contribute fifty (50) percent each of premiums and fees."
These three points are required by law. Make sure to read your contract carefully and know what it says. We heard about a lot of foreigners not getting their pensions when they left Korea. Because of this, and having a wishy-washy director, we decided to be proactive and go to the pension office halfway through our contract to make sure our director was contributing her 50% into our pensions. She was and we had no issues with claiming it at the end of our contract. Whew.
You should also know that not everyone is eligible to claim their pension when they leave. Your home country must have an existing agreement with Korea that allows you to do so. But at the same time, everyone is required by law to pay into the pension system, so if you are one of the unfortunate souls who can't claim it when you leave, that sucks and we're sorry!
8. Vacation During Your Contract
In our contract: "The employee will be allowed for vacation as specified by the school, which is indicated in a yearly academic calendar being accompanied by this contract.
(The vacation will be 3 days in the summer and 3 days in the winter. The vacation days will be determined by the employer.) The employee will not work on Korean national holidays."
After getting offered the job and receiving the contract we were so excited we pretty much decided to ignore the fact we were only receiving 6 vacation days for the entire year. We also decided it was fine to have our director tell us when we could take said vacation days. What were we thinking?!
Compared to public school teachers (who get 2 months of vacation a year) 6 days felt like a prison sentence. Use your own discretion with trying to barter for more days. In the long run, teaching kids is hard; you will want those vacation days to relax, explore neighboring countries or even more of Korea!
9. Paying Utilities & Monthly Services
In our contract: "The cost of monthly service, utilities, and telephone charges for the accommodations will be paid by the employee.
For the first 2 months, the employer will collect the deposit of 200,000 won for each month from the employee, in order to pay off the bills of utilities and telephone charge, which the employer is to service during the two sessions after the employee has left. The deposited money will pay off the bills and the balance thereof will be transferred to the employee’s account back home."
Yeah, we never saw that money again.
When putting together your teaching English in Korea budget it's important to know how much money you will need to be spending up front and month to month. Make sure that you factor this expense into your budget and know that it's a 50/50 shot you will see the left over money.
10. Medical & Drug Screening
In our contract: "The employee should examine the medical checks (including HIV, TBPE, Cannabinoid (THC) after coming to Korea.
If the employee tests Positive, The Employer may terminate this contract. And the employee has to reimburse all of the cost of the plane ticket to the employer for coming. Also, the employee has to reimburse all of the cost of hiring the employee. (Commission for the agency, and so on), the employee should leave Korea by the employee."
This is just a good heads up to let people know you will be tested for different diseases and drug use. At the time I was prescribed to an ADHD medication and inquired with my recruiter about my prescription. I was informed that unfortunately if my medication showed up on my drug test, I would be sent back home! Everyone has his or her own opinions about this subject; I’ll leave you to decide how you want to feel about it.
Ron showed up to Korea looking like this:
Let’s just say Ron didn't have his dreads for long. Ron debating cutting off his dreadlocks before we even starting the interviewing process; knowing it would be more difficult to get a job with an unconventional hairstyle. He decided to keep them and so he asked the recruiter and the teachers we were replacing if he would be expected to cut his hair. Both told him his hair was fine and so we went on our merry way. The night after our first day at school Ron received a message from our recruiter saying:
"Hello Ron and Jessie,
We've talked to your director and she said she really like you and believes that you guys would be good teachers for children:) By the way, since students are young, lots of students are interested in Ron's hair:)
As we mentioned before, Korean people believe that a male teacher should have short and neat hairstyle without mustache based on Korean culture. So the director asked me to ask you carefully to change your hairstyle and shave your mustache. We understand and respect your hairstyle which is very personal. However, since Changwon is more conservative than Seoul or Busan, the director is worried many parents and students judge you from only your appearance. I hope you understand this and let me know if you have any concern."
At the time we weren’t too happy. Now it's a funny story to look back on.
What Should be Included in a Korean English School Contract
-Airfare to Korea and home again after completion of your contract.
This is a debatable subject and the year (2014) we arrived in Korea we were told by our recruiter that most hagwons were no longer paying for return airfare. Most of our foreign teaching friends also did not receive return airfare. This could be true and hagwons no longer include return airfare in their compensation packages. But it could never hurt to ask!
-A bonus amounting to one standard paycheck upon completing your contract
This is required by law and should be written in your contract. If it is not and you sign the contract anyway, sorry 'bout ya.
-Your own furnished apartment with a bed, refrigerator, stove (no ovens in Korea), etc.
Getting Out of a Teaching Contract
After spending a year teaching English in Korea and learning about other people's teaching experiences in Korea, we found that the situation at our school could have been much better, but also could have been much worse. We felt overworked every day and were put under quite a lot of stress due to the amount of classes we were expected (and were) teaching.
There were many times that we thought "Can I get out of my teaching contract?" Of course no one can make you do anything, but there are consequences to leaving your school before your contract is over.
So if you're wondering how to get out of teaching contract- know that you will lose out on money in the process.
Our contract stated that if we terminated the contract before it was over we would have to:
-Reimburse our director for our plane tickets to Korea
-Possibly forfeit our pensions (we could not find accurate information if this would be true or not)
-Forfeit the 1-month salary bonus
-Give 30 days notice
We were also paid a month behind as we did not have a bank account when we first arrived so our director just waited until the next pay period to pay us. We were afraid if we terminated our contract early we would not receive the money from our final month working and we would also not receive the money we had been paying into our pension nor the bonus owed to us at the end of your contract.
Best Recruiters for Teaching English in South Korea
Our best advice on finding a not just ok teaching gig in Korea but a great one (they are out there!) Is to join expat groups for different cities in Korea on Facebook. Just search on Facebook: Expats in _____.
Teachers leaving their jobs will post in the groups looking for teachers to fill their positions (you get paid a bonus if you fill your job on your own.) This way you can talk to the teacher directly about the position and hopefully they will be honest with you about what it is actually like teaching there.
Why Do You Want to Teach in Korea?
Even though we had a rough experience at the school we worked for, we had an amazing time in Korea. Yes, we were overworked and might be a bit bitter about the school we taught at. But we have chalked it up to experience hard earned.
Teaching in Korea is an experience like no other and if you want to gain a whole new insight into the world, this is a perfect opportunity. Just make sure you do your homework first and know what to expect before diving in headfirst and signing that contract.
Have you taught ESL in South Korea before? Leave a comment below or contact us and let us know, we would love to hear about it!