Saturday, March 13, 2010

advice on teaching English in Korea

NB: This is a reprint of an email I sent to a friend of my brother Sean. There's been some minor editing for style and privacy's sake. The email is actually for Sean's friend's sister, which explains all the "sister" references.

Mr. L,

I received the following snippet from my brother Sean:

yes it's true. My sister's BF works for the [redacted], and he's stationed in Seoul for the next two years. She's moving out with him in [redacted]. I was wondering if you could put me in touch with your brother for some job ideas for her. She's got two english she's be perfect for some type of English teaching job....just want to make sure she gets in touch with the right people to give her the best chance etc.

I promised Sean I would tell you and your sister what I could about teaching English in Korea. Essentially, it boils down to this: if your sister has a choice, she should choose university-level teaching over teaching at a "hagwon," i.e., a cram study institute. Hagwon hiring practices are so lax that they'll accept anybody with any sort of degree, as long as they "look" the part. Yes, that's code for a kind of institutional racism: the whiter you look, the more likely you'll get an English teaching job. Koreans born and raised in the US might speak both English and Korean with perfect fluency, but many parents in Korea don't trust non-whites to teach "real" English to their children. Why this prejudice still exists, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, is beyond me. At the same time, there are plenty of gyopos (ethnic/racial Koreans who live outside Korea) at the other end of the spectrum: they obtain sweet positions teaching at various large corporations, where their Korean looks and their fluency in two languages are seen as an advantage. So if a person is Korean-looking, it's a gamble as to what might happen. If a potential employee is black, Latino, Southeast Asian, or South Asian, however, prospects will be dimmer all around. This is, alas, one of the harsh realities of working in Korea.

Anti-white racism can also be problematic, and might not be immediately visible to the first-time foreigner in Korea. Jobs might be easier to obtain for the light of skin, but living in Korea can still present problems. I can write more on this point later, but I did want to cover this ugly state of affairs in as up-front a manner as possible. Of course, the risk of painting Korea with too broad a brush is that I may be disrespecting those Koreans who aren't racist-- and their number is increasing, especially as the foreign population inside Korea continues to rise (roughly 2% of the South Korean population right now, or a little over 1 million). However, even now, such open-mindedness is evident only in a minority of the population. On the whole, those of us who don't look completely Korean can never hope to blend in; the Korean notion of "dan-il minjok," the (bogus) idea that all Koreans are proudly of one blood, is prevalent even today, despite obvious genetic/racial differences among Koreans. Dan-il minjok is a strong national myth, which isn't going away anytime soon, and it produces a cultural filter that's hard for foreigners to penetrate. (To their credit, Koreans who have spent years in the States, or in other Western countries, are often repulsed by "dan-il minjok.")

Universities, especially the better ones in the big cities like Seoul and Busan, tend to take their image more seriously than the hagwons do, but here again, the potential employee should be careful. Nowadays, many universities have at least two different departments devoted to the study of foreign language. One department is a sort of low-rent, hagwon-style outfit; the other is a more "legitimate" department devoted not only to teaching, say, conversation classes but also to teaching "serious" classes on literature, critical theory, etc. A person with a Master's degree in English should probably shoot for the more prestigious department, but they should also do some research before signing on with any given university. Sometimes, even the Big Three universities, Seoul National U., Yonsei U., and Korea U. (which are also collectively known as the "SKY" schools) can be nightmarish. I heard from one lady who taught at Ehwa Women's University, the most prestigious women's uni in Korea, that she'd had a horrible time getting along with the administration, and was happy to step "down" to teaching at Sookmyung Women's University.

Hagwons are problematic for more reasons than just the racist and slipshod hiring practices. Most of my teaching experience in Korea was at hagwons, so I know this fact intimately. Your coworkers can be fantastic, but they can also be bitter, maladjusted freaks who are basically in Korea to hide from their home country and/or make money to go Asia-hopping (I won't go into detail as to what that might mean, but you can guess). Hagwons often require their workers to work split shifts, which sounds fine at first blush, but is onerous in practice. A split shift might run from, say, 7AM (yes-- many schools do start classes that early) to 11AM, then go from 6PM to 10PM. If you live far away from the hagwon you're working at, going home for a long afternoon nap is nearly impossible, and even hagwon veterans find that it's difficult to catch a nap during the day. Essentially, whether you're working or not, you're "on" from 7AM to 10PM, which very quickly becomes oppressive. Some hagwons will push their employees to work more than 40 hours per week. At my final hagwon, I was averaging 44 weekly hours, which included full-day Saturdays every other week.

Korean hagwon bosses, being businessmen and not scholars, can often be capricious and unreasonable. It's the rare boss who truly values what you have to contribute to the school. Most bosses feel free to fire even the good teachers, on the assumption that all teachers are replaceable. Hagwons are less schools than they are businesses, so from the admin perspective, the bottom line is more important than actual learning: teacher popularity is a must, as are student reregistration rates. Many expats also complain about "having to act like a monkey" in order to keep the students interested-- an act that merely reinforces Korean stereotypes about foreigners, whom they already view as goofy. Sometimes bonus pay is set up according to a competitive scale, with the high-reregistration teachers earning more. Such competition might seem like a decent motivator at first, but it often poisons the otherwise-collegial atmosphere that's conducive to faculty productivity. Far from being colleagues, teachers in such an environment become rivals.

Some hagwons partner a foreign teacher up with a Korean teacher. While the foreigner might find this pairing nice (and it often is), the Korean teacher is sometimes asked, usually against his will, to spy on the foreign teacher, to make sure that she's punctual, professional, etc., and to monitor private student complaints about the teacher. As a matter of culture, many students have trouble addressing complaints directly to their teacher (then again, some students can be a little too outspoken when addressing an expat, demonstrating a rudeness that would be inconceivable were the teacher Korean). Expats deal with this Big Brother-ish situation in different ways-- by not caring, by becoming overly conscious of what others think, etc.

The pay at hagwons tends to be somewhat better than it is at most universities, but people who have had a taste of university life tend to prefer it to going back to hagwons. University teaching schedules, even at the university hagwon-style departments, tend to be more reasonable: instead of a 30- to 40-some-hour work week, a teacher might teach as little as 9 hours per week or as much as 22-25 hours. Also, it's been my experience that universities are less likely to ask teachers to teach on split shifts. When I entered the Sookmyung Women's University hagwon-style department, I taught only block shifts, usually from 7:40AM until about 2PM, with plenty of hours between classes, often teaching only 3 or 4 one-hour classes per day. My contract stipulated 18 teaching hours per week during any given semester; if my class schedule was below 18, I'd be given extra duties, such as scoring essays or proofreading textbooks. Compared to the grinding schedule I had been working at my previous place of employment, a hagwon called [EC], Sookmyung's schedule was marvelous to me. We occasionally had to work 20-22 hours per week during the summer and winter intensive periods, but we were also working only four days a week with Fridays off. Eight weeks in a row of three-day weekends. Not bad.

Another major difference between your typical hagwon and a typical university is that a university can afford to give its teachers large blocks of paid vacation time. My time at Sookmyung afforded me an entire month off every June and December, and in between semesters, we also had a week during which we weren't teaching, adding up to yet a third month off. This between-semester time wasn't vacation, technically: it was teacher prep time. But in practice, most teachers viewed it as extra vacation time. On top of all this, we had all the regular national holidays, and almost every university will have a day off for some sort of "founder's day"-- in honor of the dude or dudette who established the original campus. (Quite a few modern universities came into being around the same time-- circa 1905, so it was only a few years ago that many unis were celebrating their centennial.) Hagwons, on the other hand, generally act like corporations: they offer the teacher only ten work days' worth of vacation per year, plus the regular smattering of national holidays. Which sounds better to you: 3 months' vacation plus national holidays, or two weeks' vacation plus national holidays? To me, the choice is obvious.

The Korean administrator's attitude toward the employment contract will vary according to the place of work, with hagwons generally being more devious and miserly than universities. Sookmyung University was, on the whole, pretty good about honoring my contract. I did, in fact, teach roughly 18-22 hours per week, and my vacation dates were always consistent. I was also fortunate to have reasonable supervisors who allowed us teachers some creative leeway in how we taught, but who were also concerned enough to want to sit down and discuss departmental standards. My only complaint was the mishandling of how to calculate overtime pay. This was truly bothersome, but the problem never cropped up frequently enough to become a major issue.

By contrast, every hagwon I worked at presented me with huge and constant problems; it's a wonder I didn't switch to university teaching sooner! Hagwon bosses routinely violate the terms of one's employment contract, tacking on extra hours, suddenly assigning new courses to teach, taking mysterious deductions from one's monthly pay, fudging tax figures, etc. My very first hagwon experience ended with me suing my boss for $4000 that he owed me. My second hagwon, which had just started up in the rich Kangnam region of Seoul, was so awful that I quit after four months there. My final hagwon experience, at the aforementioned [EC], lasted seven months, but the grinding split shift, the soul-crushing lack of free time, and the assholery of the bosses convinced me to leave. (I did, however, make plenty of friends while there; my coworkers were all wonderful folks, suffering just as much as I was, if not more.) In April 2005, I started work at Sookmyung Women's University, and spent a very happy three years there: good bosses, great coworkers, nice students, and a decent work schedule.

It's important, however, to shop around for a sweet deal. I discovered, after talking with some friends, that Sookmyung was at the lower end of the "cushy" spectrum: some of my friends were happily pimp-rolling onto campus to teach their 9 weekly hours, and each weekday they would leave before noon and do whatever they wanted the rest of the day-- all while earning at least $2000 per month-- net. (A bit of perspective: to earn $24,000/year net in the US, you have to have a salary of about $32,000, assuming roughly $25% lopped off for taxes and other deductions. Also of note: the Korean tax on income was only about 3.3% when I was there. We kept most of what we earned. These days, however, I've heard that extra taxes/fees are being levied on foreigners' income, so I no longer have an accurate picture of what's going on.)

$2000 a month may not seem like much if a person is used to making $35,000-$50,000 a year, so let's branch out a bit from discussing hagwons and universities. Truly high-paying English-teaching jobs are hard to find legally, but the illegal market is wide open, and everyone knows that that's where the money is. The advantage of having a 9-hour-a-week university job is that one has free time to stack up on all the private tutoring. In Korea, a competent (or even an incompetent) tutor can charge upwards of $50-200 per hour to teach at people's homes. There's some risk involved, however, as Immigration will perform very occasional random sweeps of houses and apartment complexes. Sometimes, Immigration will pay residents to inform on families that might be hosting a foreigner who appears regularly at their doorstep. None of this seems to deter the illegal private tutoring trade, however, and if you're willing to overlook the ethical considerations, private tutoring is definitely the biggest cash cow in town.

I've done some of my own tutoring (and copy editing/proofreading) on occasion, so I can't claim to be a paragon of integrity. At the same time, I chose university work precisely because I didn't want to be spending all my time teaching, day in and day out. I have some professional pride, and would rather devote more "down" time to things like lesson prep, as opposed to rushing breathlessly from home to home, all across town, just to earn an extra $100 a day with private classes. Which is more important: money or sanity?

Professional pride is as much an issue, in selecting a place of work, as the money question. Many foreigners come to Korea and teach English merely as a way to pass the time, not because they have any deep feelings about pedagogy, or because they feel any special warmth toward Koreans. This lack of care shows in how they teach. To me, that sort of attitude is a crying shame. Despite the negative things I've said about Korean hagwon bosses, I don't want you (or your sister) to think that that's how I feel about Korean culture as a whole. Koreans are fantastic people, especially once you get to know them, and a widespread network of mostly-dirty businessmen doesn't change that fact.

It may be that, once a foreigner gets his or her bearings in Korea and starts to understand the rhythm of the culture, the act of teaching English will have engendered some-- to use a pedagogical term-- intrinsic motivation, i.e., a desire to teach for the sake of others, because one loves teaching, and not merely because it's a way to pass the time or to earn money for the next shopping trip to Tokyo.

Koreans, right or wrong, see English as a gateway to the wider world, and for all their "frog in a well" xenophobia ("frog in a well" is an Asian metaphor for a blinkered perspective), they are serious about wanting to learn the language. One task of the foreign English teacher is to help students unlearn years of poor language training. Such training was given by well-intended Korean instructors who had been taught to teach by rote, often allowing students little to no time to produce language by speaking and writing. A truly committed expat English teacher will want to invest him- or herself in helping students learn English correctly. At the same time, he or she will try to avoid acting like a monkey in front of the class, thereby falsely conflating education and entertainment. Incorporating humor into one's pedagogical repertoire is OK; being a perpetual clown is just degrading.

Anyway, this email has gone on way too long, and I apologize. But in my defense: I wanted to provide as thorough an initial orientation as I could for your sister. Any foreigner who teaches in Korea (1) should be on their guard, because English teaching is Big Business-- a fact that has attracted all the usual ugly elements of the society; and (2) should have a strong sense of their own worth, i.e., they shouldn't settle for a school that pays peanuts and offers dispiriting work conditions. Private tutoring will definitely net the most cash, but some big universities allow degreed foreigners into their "legitimate" English departments to teach courses in Modern American Lit or Deconstructing Totalizing Metanarratives or whatever. A person with two English degrees should have little trouble finding a decent teaching position. If that person is like me, s/he will keep in mind the following deal-breakers when searching for a job:

1. No teaching on weekends.
2. No split shifts.
3. No teaching at children's "camps" during the vacation months. (Some universities sneak this into the contract, which means that one's vacation time isn't as plentiful as one had thought. On the up side, such camps offer great hourly pay, and that pay is usually on top of the regular vacation pay. A workaholic might enjoy such an arrangement.)
4. No teaching more than 25 hours per week. University teaching hours are, in the normal range, around 12-18 hours per week. The 9-hour figure I quoted above strikes me as pretty rare, and probably hard to sustain from semester to semester. I also imagine that such positions are eagerly sought out, i.e., there's plenty of competition for them.

One option I haven't discussed has gained popularity fairly recently: teaching in a Korean public school. While I personally would find such a situation to be a nightmare, some expats report that they love doing it. My experience has been that Korean youngsters can often be as undisciplined and rambunctious as their US counterparts. Having taught high school French in America, and having visited a few high schools in Korea, I've seen the similarities. Adolescents are adolescents. But this might be a live option for your sister. Unfortunately, I don't know much about this option, though I might be able to find people who do.

Oh, yes, another thing: I should note that, as regards private teaching, the fat end of the market involves teaching children-- often elementary schoolers, but also secondary schoolers. If your sister and her boyfriend have decent connections in Korea, they might be able to obtain some sweet private arrangements with richer families. Don't be modest: charge such families at least $80-100 per hour. With well-paying private arrangements in place, it might not even be necessary for your sister to find an actual school to work at. (Again, a lot depends on visa restrictions and one's ethical orientation. Koreans themselves regularly bend and break rules and laws-- cheating on campus is rampant, for example, as are traffic violations-- so a lot of foreigners just shrug and do as the Romans do. Everyone for themselves. Besides, are Americans really in a position to lecture other countries about corruption and illegality?)

OK... I've emptied out my brain, and will need time for it to refill slowly. If you or your sister have any questions, please feel free to write me. When you do, please put "Kevin" in the subject line of the email, otherwise the email will be diverted directly to the trash. "Kevin" doesn't have to be the only word in the subject line; you can write "Screw you, Kevin," and that'll pass through the filter just fine. I created that filter to screen out the massive amount of spam I receive; it's 99.999% effective, as very few spam emails specify my name.

Good luck to your sister!



PS: One place to look for work is a site called Dave's ESL Cafe, which includes a constantly-updated section on jobs in South Korea. Check it out:

I found my Sookmyung job this way, and it turned out great. Beware, though: some people end up in nightmare situations. It's always good to sniff around before settling on a job.

PPS: At the university level, there's a world of difference in student psychology between teaching a non-credit course versus a for-credit course. Students in non-credit courses often tend to drop out in droves as the semester wears on. A class that starts off with ten students might end up with just three, for example. For-credit courses have far better attendance, and the grade acts as an "extrinsic motivator," forcing the student to worry about their own progress. In terms of teacher morale, teaching for-credit courses is much better than teaching non-credit courses, but unfortunately, most of us expats end up teaching non-credit courses. Competition for teaching positions in the "legitimate" English departments on campus can be fierce, but someone with massive credentials should have less of a problem obtaining such a post.

I imagine that some folks might take a dim view of the above-quoted email. My advice sounds cynical, as if I'm all about bilking rich families and treating Koreans as suckers. My response to such an accusation is that the above is actually a pretty blunt and factual account of What the Market Will Bear in Korea. Like it or not, English is a hot commodity there-- nothing like it is in the States (where even native speakers seem intent on destroying the language through poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation). While I might agree that Koreans should put less stress on learning English and more stress on other ways to develop their global influence, I see no problem with encouraging foreigners to carpe the diem and take advantage of current conditions. I should also note that people who charge too little are often viewed as being of lesser quality. Image matters, as does one's ability to negotiate one's fee. Make no mistake: Koreans are astute hagglers.

For what it's worth-- I personally have never charged $100 an hour to teach English to anyone. I have friends who have no compunction about doing that, but such behavior just isn't me. I have, however, taught for several months at a proposed rate of $75 an hour (how could I say no?), and once-- only once-- I did twenty minutes of proofreading work for a large conglomerate, and received a completely unexpected $600 for my trouble. The document wasn't even ten pages long, and whoever had written it had already done an excellent job of putting it together. The English was as perfect as could have been expected; the only errors were three or four very minor typos. More jobs like that one, please!



Nathan B. said...

I'd add:

Remember that you're in a foreign country with a fairly homogenous population. Their mores are sometimes different. Adjust and inwardly laugh at them and yourself when things seem a little strange.

There's a different sense of body space and temperature in Korea. You'll ride trains so crowded that you can barely move--and then the heat will be on full blast!

Get a TESL certificate--it's much easier to get a job if you have one--even if you have a regular M.A. already. A M.A. in TESOL puts you above the others.

Learn some Korean, and definitely learn the script, which is easy--this will make eating and finding places much easier!

Stay as far as possible from the many maladjusted North American expats who are trying to screw the whole country while constantly bitching unfairly about it.

Start a blog, so that all we nosy porkers can see how and what you're doing. Read the blogs of others. This helps to remind you that you are not alone; it can give you ideas for where to go to see the various attractions; it can produce friendships (as it has in my case), and it can lead to employment tips (as also happened in my case).

In my opinion, there's no real reason for an ordinary single person to dislike Korea to the point of leaving (unless one has been in the country for a long time and simply wants a change). That said, if you don't like it, leave.

Enjoy the food, the hikes, the many things to do, and the people-watching!

Kevin Kim said...


I had actually wanted to add something about learning Korean, so I'm glad you did it for me. Learning Korean is the best weapon for living in Korean society. Mastering the basics is indeed good for what you've mentioned: eating and finding places.

Going further and learning to converse to a fairly decent degree-- then making people aware of your ability-- also limits what some of the trickier, less scrupulous elements can do to supposedly ignorant foreigners. This is especially good advice if one happens to be black. Nothing startles a Korean more than a black dude who speaks Korean well.

Aside from the above reasons, though, I find Korean a fascinating language in its own right: it's a wild combination of ancient and modern vocabulary, tied to a grammatical structure that's almost identical to that of Japanese, and light-years different from Chinese (despite all the Chinese loan words).


Charles said...

Good summary of teaching English in Korea, although if I had written it my section on hagwons would probably have consisted of "don't do it." But I think you painted a pretty accurate picture of things, or at least the way I remember things (although that was almost fifteen years ago, so things have probably changed).

Taxes on foreigners have indeed been raised, and quite significantly (don't know the exact figures, although I could check if you want). However, if you work at a university, they will often file your income in such a way as to minimize the amount you actually pay taxes on, so you never end up paying the full amount. The bottom line is that I still pay far less in taxes here than I did in the States.

Andrew Dunkle said...

Interesting post. I never taught English in Korea, just Taiwan, but from what a few people have told me it does sound like the Korean school system can be pretty tough on teachers.

Do you think it is fair to say the same about government programs like EPIK, GEPIK or SMOE? My understanding is that they are much better.

Kevin Kim said...


I've heard mixed reviews re: EPIK, and I don't know anything about GEPIK and SMOE.

Korea has plenty of horror stories, but they are, for the most part, confined to the hagwon end of things.

Part of the problem, too, is the attitude that some expats bring with them into the country: an unwillingness to understand the culture, or try the food, or learn the language. This sort of mentality doesn't endear such expats to Koreans.

What's it like (or rather, what was it like) in Taiwan?


John from Daejeon said...

This website is probably the best on teaching within the South Korean public school system as a native English speaking teacher:

He has done it for several years and has a ton of great information on it. The last few installments are a good reference as to why I refused to join that system. Also, I happened to luck into a great job at a hagwon for the last several years; however, this year things have gone downhill quickly as we've joined a new franchise that uses substandard texts and forces the students to purchase a new set of expensive books each month. If the owner wasn't one of my best friends, and I didn't care for most of my kids, I'd probably have pulled a runner over this change. When I re-contracted and took my month-long paid vacation, my boss did not inform me that I would have to give up my set of awesome texts. The school is struggling to survive and he knew I would not have come back had he told me the truth. If you decide to come over, get used to this last minute nonsense and being lied to. Not having any rights when compared to the nationals is also a bit disconcerting.

Kevin Kim said...


All good points. I didn't realize that there were hagwons that actually allowed workers to have month-long vacations. That's definitely new to my experience.

Sorry to hear about the "going downhill" part, though. That, to me, is one of the main reasons to avoid hagwons: their inherent instability. The Chongno area of Seoul, where I originally began working, was a good example of the Darwinian nature of the hagwon business. Even in the 90s, hagwons appeared and disappeared all the time, with only the very strongest and best-located surviving. The place I worked at in 1994, Korea Foreign Language Institute, was situated right next to Chonggak Station, just across from the downtown YMCA. It was an ideal location for any hagwon, and there were, as you can imagine, a lot of hagwons in that vicinity. KFLI was a crappy place to work, but it didn't have to raise its standards thanks to its location.

The second hagwon I worked at, Campus Language Institute, folded within a couple years of starting. I was there for its opening, and had quit after four months-- not because of the teachers or students, but because of the unscrupulous administration and the insistence on grinding us down with split shifts. By Month 4, I was a totally unmotivated worker there. It was years later that I found out the hagwon had folded, despite a pretty good location not far from Exit 7 of Kangnam Station.

My third major hagwon, EC, recently collapsed in on itself due to scandalous accounting practices and other problems. The grueling schedule and slightly-psychotic management were major factors in my departure after seven months there.

A person looking at my hagwon track record might conclude-- and I wouldn't blame them-- that I was an unreliable, uncommitted worker. But I also wasn't crazy: I instinctively knew what a good, stable work environment would feel like, and it was only when I found myself at Sookmyung University that I felt at home. I spent three happy years there, and would have done more had I not decided to do a trans-American walk before turning 40.

Life at Sookmyung wasn't perfect; there was some "last-minute nonsense" there as well, but the scale of said nonsense was nothing like it had been at the hagwons. Example: a class being canceled just before the beginning of the semester because of low registration. But that sort of problem wasn't a major concern for me, even though it meant tossing lesson plans and calendars. Whatever material I had created could be recycled for a subsequent semester. No biggie.

Compare that to KFLI. My boss was furious when, at the beginning of my eleventh month, he asked whether I was renewing and I said no. He cut me off from my twelfth month of teaching, thereby (in his mind) depriving me of my severance pay. I sued him, and eventually got both my twelfth month of pay and my severance, but it took a year and a half, plus the help of a Korean friend, plus a long fight in the Korean superior court (go-deung beop-weon) to wrest that money from the boss. What a fucker.

Anyway, I ramble. Thanks for the blog reference; I'll check it out. And good luck with your own future. Things are tough all over these days.


John from Daejeon said...

After three plus years of good times and bad here, I was so furious they used these underhanded tactics on me that I confronted the owner and gave him my 30 day notice. Oh, I was beyond angry that one of my best friends could do this to me. He figured that I’d just deal with it, and I might have if the books weren’t absolutely atrocious and useless for teaching even the most basics of the English language. Not only were all the authors South Korean, but not a single one had an English background. Instead, it was put together by a dentist, chemist, economist, and other assorted graduates or equally odd backgrounds. But as part of the franchise, he gets a part of the backend of each book sold. The books have on average two questions per page and a small paragraph of about 4-6 sentences on the next page. This is in order to make as much money for the company as possible and make it look like getting through these thick wastes of paper (page 10 is the first page of the book that has actual information on it) is accomplishing a great deal for their parents to see on a monthly basis. We used to actually try and teach something, now it’s all a charade to make a few won.

After a couple days of careful deliberation, I decided to try and honor my contract and help out my fellow co-workers, but I really don’t think I will finish the last 8+ months left on my contract, even though I don’t want to leave the kids (or even my once friend) in the lurch. But even the kids know that something is up as these texts aren’t even worth using to wipe your rear with, so they are acting up way more than normal.

As for things being rough back in the states, I’ve actually been approached by several companies in my old field that would like to sign me on. It seems the younger generation isn’t very keen on hard work. Right now, I’m even doing consulting work for my old company as these kids aren’t churning out the reports and data fast enough or in coherent business English. I just don’t know if I want to live back in Los Angeles or New York City again, especially if I can continue to do the work via the Internet. While I might not get the same benefits package, I could live in Texas with those cheaper taxes and a wonderful roll-out-of-bed commute.

Take care,

Sorry, I had to post this in 2 parts as blogger refused to accept it with more than 4096 characters.

John from Daejeon said...


Yeah, month long vacations are definitely not the norm in the hagwon business, but after going through the death of a student and the insane aftermath that followed, I became quite close with the owners (I had numerous people telling me to cut and run back then, but I am glad I stuck it out).

I decided to leave after two years during all that Mad Cow, anti-American hysteria, but I went above and beyond trying to find a replacement. The first one neglected to mention his pot bust, and then the next couple tried extorting larger pay rates from the husband and wife owners once they had all the documents submitted and their visa number issued. Needless to say, my bosses figured they wouldn’t be much count as reliable teachers if they were already pulling this type of crap on them. In the interim, I had moved back to the states and weathered a hurricane (Ike) and taking care of my niece and nephew while their parents were at work while waiting for the schools to reopen. In this time, my old students were in contact with me and were begging me to come back (the franchise we were affiliated with at the time provided a poor substitute during these three months, but being a substitute for a major hagwon franchise pays big bucks and also gives nice long vacations). Eventually, the children of the owners asked if I had found employment yet, and I said I hadn’t really started to look, so they asked me to talk to their parents (the owners who put them up to contacting me). It was at this time that I agreed to come back on my terms—that I no longer had to use crappy, franchise texts—which they agreed to. Things worked out reasonably well last year using quality texts and I was given a much longer paid vacation, so I decided to renew my contract with the same stipulations. However, ever since the accidental death of our student and the subsequent payoff to her relatives to keep them from scaring the kids and teachers to death and continuing to trash the place, the school has been really struggling to stay afloat. So, in order to keep the doors open, the owners signed a deal with a new devil, SPWriting, but they neglected to tell me this until it was too late and I’d already returned and spent a pretty penny stocking up on supplies and a new, expensive bicycle for the year.

Kevin Kim said...

That 4096-character limit is a real pain in the ass, and I think it's a recent convention. They should at least provide you with a character counter so you don't go overboard. It's often hard to guess just where to truncate the comment.

Sounds as if things pretty well suck where you are. If you decide not to finish out your current contract, will you jump back into your old field in the States? If not, have you considered university work in a city like Busan or Seoul, or even Daegu?

I was down in Daejeon in 2004 or thereabouts-- or maybe it was early 2005-- to interview with Wooseong University. They liked me, and it turned out that one of the Korean managers had lived in northern Virginia, so he and I hit it off as we named places that we both knew. In the end, however, I couldn't sign on because they wanted me to teach a split shift, and also wanted me to teach children along with university students. Sorry, but no way. I respect people who teach kids well, but I'm not that sort of teacher.


John from Daejeon said...

No, I'm done with teaching, even though I like Daejeon, and there's no way I'd live in Seoul with the North so damn close and unpredictable. While I taught University students back in the U.S. at one time, my forte is the very young, but dealing with all the stuff above and beyond actual classroom learning has gotten way, way out of hand.

At one point, I actually thought about really getting serious and applying at Wooseong, but its reputation is not quite as good as some others in the area concerning the points you brought up. Anyway, I'm pretty good at dealing with youngsters and their ways, and I've really enjoyed seeing them progress over the years, especially the siblings.

I'm going to miss that part of it, but not having any real standing in this society has weighed heavily on my mind the last few years and this latest development with the substandard texts and extortion of the parents because of them tells me that it's time to move on.

I have a lot of opportunities available, so I'm not sweating it. The problem is that many of them wanted me to start yesterday.


John from Daejeon said...

Jason's latest posting is one of his best, especially for newbies in the South Korean public school system:

It is titled, "Cultural Taboos and Native English Teachers in South Korean Public Schools." With all of his detailed postings, I believe he is getting ready to put a book together about dealing with teaching here and how to adjust and deal with it.


Rajiv Omar said...

Korea is such a wonderful country, and moving their for an english teaching career may be very challenging. Thanks for sharing this post.