The Pros and Cons of Working in a Korean Public School

Korean public school jobs all have their ups and downs. If you’re interested in teaching English in South Korea, chances are you’re seeking information as to whether or not you’d like to work as a public school instructor or in one of the nation’s omnipresent hagwons. There are plenty of benefits as well as disadvantages to both work environments, which is why the continuous comparison of both jobs exists. While I don’t have any personal experience working in Korean public schools, my amazing boyfriend at James on Planes was kind enough to write down his experience.

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After working in the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) for two years, I thought I would share some of my thoughts pm working at a Seoul public school, dividing the list between pros and cons. I was overwhelmed by all the blogs I read before deciding to apply to EPIK. So, for what it’s worth, here are my two cents.

These are my feelings in teaching with SMOE in specific and not EPIK generally. There are some differences (for example, pay and holiday allowance) between working in Seoul and any other Office of Education in Korea but the concept of teaching and co-teaching is the same.

PROS:

  • You will have easy teaching hours.

I have to be in school between 8:40 and 4:40 each day between Monday and Friday. I am contractually obliged to teach 22 hours a week. In fact, this isn’t even 22 hours. Any more than this and the Korean public school pays me overtime. It’s actually 22 40-minute-lessons per week. At the latest, I finish my lessons at 12:50, have lunch and then have to lesson plan until 4:40. I teach 5 unique classes a week, so it’s quite easy to plan for just 5 lessons (repeated about 5 times with each grade). This means that I have ample free time to plan my lessons and don’t have to do anything after 4:40.

  • You will have a lot of free time.

So the time spent at your desk in the afternoons is called ‘desk warming’ and there is lots of it. I can plan a week ahead and get some other activities finished but most of the time I definitely have a couple of hours each day when there is no work for me to do.

Personally, I like desk warming more than I dislike it. If you have something to do for example, blogging, learning Korean, enrolling in an online class or researching your next holiday or job on the internet then I find that desk warming can fly by quite quickly. Yet, if you have nothing to do, time drags and I’ve found that I’ve wasted your hours mindlessly watching strange YouTube videos. It’s not the most entertaining part of my time in Korea, but it is not stressful.

  • You will have guaranteed holidays.

All Korean public school teachers are given 21 vacation days a year. There’s also 15 national holidays a year which all schools take off. Additionally, in the two schools that I have worked at, a day is given off for the school’s anniversary and there are also a few more days in the academic year where the school has decided to close the school gates and give teachers and children the days off. If you renew your contract for another year with SMOE then you are  given five bonus vacation days. In my first year of teaching in a public school I managed to go abroad three times because of the generous vacation allowance. Other Korean public school teachers get around 18 vacation days and hagwon teachers generally get 10 vacation days.

  • You will work with a co-teacher.

I teach with a Korean teacher at all times when I conduct my lessons. I’ve listed co-teaching as a pro in this post because for me, it is a positive point. In my first school, I had an amazing co-teacher and we still see each often, even though I left that school eleven months ago. If I had a query about vacation dates or assistance or paying a utility bill she promptly helped me. In my current school, I have no problems with my three Korean co-teachers. I plan the lessons that I share with my co-teacher and I’m the lead teacher in my classrooms, with my co-teachers jumping in sometimes to help outline something in Korean or help me explain an activity to students.

Co-teaching should be judged on a case-by-case basis. At the end of the day, it comes down to personalities and you gel with your teaching partner or not. I have a friend who doesn’t contribute to her lessons because the Korean teacher takes over and for those lessons she is immensely bored. Another friend’s co-teacher often walks to the back of the classroom, unrolls a fitness mat and spends the lesson practising yoga while my friend teaches!

CONS:

  • You will spend lots of time at your desk.

So earlier I said that I liked desk warming. It does come with its drawbacks. As mentioned above, Korean public school teachers get 21 vacation days a year. This means that Native Speaking English Teachers have to come in to school and sit at their desk and essentially do nothing.  In my first year, I didn’t desk warm at all as English camp was a total of 5 weeks and I received a week’s vacation as bonus for renewing for my contract. In my second year, I spent just over two weeks in total coming into school, sitting at my desk from 8:40-4:40 and just doing nothing.  It’s surprising how tired you get for having nothing to do.

  • You won’t have much control over your vacation days.

It’s great that Korean public school teachers are given 21 vacation days a year right? Well, quite often the case is that you don’t actually find out when you can book these vacation days  until it is quite late. The reason? You have to plan your vacations around English camp. This isn’t be too bad but quite often the case is that English teachers don’t find out the English camp dates until quite late, meaning flights and hostels can be more expensive or even fully booked. Like hagwons, your vacations take place in the peak travel seasons of July/August and December/January, but unlike hagwons you may not get much notice as to when you can take vacation dates.

  • You won’t have control over your placement.

If you apply to teach at a Korean public school, then you can request a preference for placement. Before you leave for Korea, you will find out in which Office of Education that you have been placed, yet you do not know specifically where you will be placed.  You could be placed anywhere, so if you want to be living and teaching in a specific neighbourhood or region then the Korean public school route is not for you. With my first school,  I was placed on the fringes of Seoul. If I walked 10 minutes west from my apartment, I was technically in Gyeonggi-do. Seoul’s subway is well connected that I could still go anywhere. It just meant that I spent a little longer on the trains or the taxis were a little more expensive.

  • Your classes will be large.

In the two elementary schools that I have taught at, the average class size has been about 28. In my first school, I taught 4th grade and 6th grade, totaling to about 360 students. In my second school, I teach 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade, which is about 610 students. In my experience the classes have been easy to manage especially with a co-teacher present. The vast amount of students I teach mean that I don’t actually know them and I cannot even recall all of their names. In hagwons, the class size is usually less than 10. Students can learn quickly in smaller classes and teachers can pay more attention to each individual student. I’m envious of hagwon teachers who can brag the progression of students’ English ability throughout a semester. I see each student once a week in a class of 28 so it’s quite difficult to witness progression at all apart from seeing test results.

If you’re interested on more information regarding the pros and cons of working at a hagwon in Korea, be sure to click the linked text!

Have I left anything out about Korean public school jobs that you think should be included? Please be sure to comment below!

 

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