- Hiring Process
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- Types of Teaching Positions in Korea
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- Phone Interview Tips(Sep.2012)
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- F A Q (Updated 2011.11)
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Q: What¡¯s the Dress Code ?
Though contracts may state otherwise, wearing a tie for men and a skirt for women is not usually required. For men, cotton pants, a shirt with a collar and leather shoes is usually sufficient. For women, cotton slacks or a skirt (to the knees or lower) along with a blouse is fine. Though no school will require women to wear make-up, tasteful use of cosmetics is looked upon favorably. Check with current teachers at the school about dress code to be sure.
First impressions are very important in Korea. You will be judged by your appearance and being sloppy about it, especially at the beginning of a contract, can have surprisingly negative consequences. I always advise people to overdress for the first few weeks. After that, make sure that you're one step ahead of your worst-dressed co-worker and you'll probably be fine.
None of the above should be taken as certain at any school. Rather, it is presented to give you a better idea of what's expected and to help you think of things to ask about when considering a job offer.
Q: How far in advance should I apply?
¡¤ Most schools in Korea do not know their precise teaching needs more than about 90 days in advance. Most contracts require that current teachers express their intent to renew or finish their current contracts 60 or 90 days before they expire. While I am happy to accept applications and answer questions at any time, a specific contract is usually not available more than 90 days before departure.
¡¤ Some big companies (Avalon/Plus, for example) offer contracts up to a year in advance. Taking a contract this far in advance is not advisable as conditions at a particular school, and in Korea in general, can change and you may find yourself underpaid or working at a school where teachers are unhappy.
Q: Where are the best places in Korea to live and work?
¡¤ It entirely depends on whom you ask. The majority of jobs I have available are in the greater Seoul area. We regularly receive applications from people who have never been to Korea but have strong impressions of which areas are "good" and which areas are "bad". South Korea is a small country and, with few exceptions, one city is much like another.
¡¤ Koreans are loyal to their home regions and hometowns. They will almost invariably talk about their hometowns as the best places in Korea to live. This rubs off on foreign teachers as well. I've heard almost every city and region in Korea described as better than all others.
¡¤ Take any advice about desirable locations with a grain of salt. Insisting on being placed in a particular city or town based on advice from others can limit the jobs available and you'll probably end up in an area that is not very different from anywhere else in Korea.
Q: Do I really need a degree?
¡¤ Yes! The Government of Korea requires a university/college degree (not a diploma or associate degree) in order to obtain an employment visa. Anyone telling you otherwise is either trying to convince you to take a fly-by-night ELT "certification", or to take an illegal job in Korea.
¡¤ Some schools in Korea are unable to legally employ non-Koreans because they cannot get authorization to offer employment visas. Working for this kind of school is extremely risky. If they don't pay you, you have absolutely no recourse as you are in an illegal working situation yourself. I never deal with "illegal" schools or "informal" employment situations as the risks are simply too great for all concerned.
Q: What about my family?
¡¤ Most Korean language schools simply don't have the budget to offer accommodation or benefits to non-employees. It is generally not possible to take your spouse unless s/he is employable at the same school. Private English-language schooling for children is very expensive and is not covered by employers. If you are looking at taking dependents to another country as an English teacher, the Middle East is really the only region that consistently offers benefit packages to families. Proper teaching qualifications will be necessary, as may a London interview with an agency specializing in Middle Eastern placements.
Q: Should I get a "TESOL" certificate before I apply?
¡¤ An English Teaching Certificate (TESOL, TEFL, CTEFL, TESL, etc & etc.) is not necessary for teaching children in Korea. Many short certificates offered in North America are not particularly useful and are generally geared towards teaching adults. Online certifications of any sort are generally of dubious quality. The only short English language teaching certificate that is globally recognized is called the CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults). It is offered by Cambridge University (U.K.). It can be taken at various locations all over the world. There is more information about this in the Qualifications section of the site.
¡¤ No kind of English Language Teaching certificate helps in any way if you do not have a university degree. The degree is essential for an employment visa. Certificate providers may tell you otherwise so that you pay them tuition and keep them in business.
Q: When does the school year start?
¡¤ It doesn't matter. We do not often hire teachers for jobs in the public school system. Most of the jobs we offer are in private language institutes, which operate year-round. Most schools operate monthly sessions and hire teachers throughout the year. In fact, placing applicants who want to start in September can be difficult as this the time when many applicants mistakenly believe there will be high demand. Because of this, most schools have more good applicants than positions available at this time of the year.
Q: I don't speak Korean. Do I need to?
¡¤ No. The reason Korean schools want to hire foreign teachers is to create a context for genuine communication in English. Speaking Korean with students defeats this purpose. Even if you do know some Korean, you are not supposed to indicate this to students.
Q: Do I have to pay taxes in my home country?
¡¤ Probably not. You should check with the appropriate government authorities in your home country. In Canada, it is possible to declare yourself a non-resident and thus avoid all obligation to pay taxes on your Korean income. Happily, in the U.S., the first US$75,000 of foreign-earned income each year is tax-exempt. Note that the Government of Korea does not automatically issue any documentation that shows you have been employed in Korea to foreign governments.
Q: What do I have to pay for during the placement process?
¡¤ The only costs to you are those you incur in gathering the required documents, the cost of sending documents to Korea, and the visa fee, which is currently C$65.00 / US$50.00. You don't pay anything directly to APC.
Q: Why is there so much negativity about teaching in Korea posted on the internet?
¡¤ There's no easy answer to this one. When I was in Korea in 1996-98, there were also a lot of negative postings about teaching in Korea. When I started this business in 1999-2000, I revisited the same discussion forums and some of the same people I had read postings by years before were still complaining on Dave's ESL Cafe and were still in Korea!
¡¤ Because of the high demand for foreign teachers and Koreans' relative lack of experience in dealing with foreigners, many people who really should not be teaching abroad end up with jobs in Korea. Yes, there are a lot of "bad schools" in Korea, but there are also a lot of bad teachers. The schools we work with are careful about whom they hire, which is one reason they use a reputable recruitment company.
¡¤ When someone is fired in Korea (usually for good reason) their first reaction is often to trash their former employer on the internet. Over the past six years, I have had serious problems with only two schools (out of about 50). These problems were solved and the teachers were successfully moved to new jobs and received their outstanding pay. On the other hand, we have had a couple of dozen teachers (out of 300-400) who have been astoundingly irresponsible, or have misrepresented their intentions, and have caused serious problems at good schools. I've seen some of these same teachers complaining about Korean employers on internet discussion sites devoted to teaching in Korea.
¡¤ In cases where a teacher is fired or leaves unexpectedly, I check with other current teachers to verify what happened. In all but a few of these cases, the problems were attributed to the teacher in question, not the school.
Q: I've seen ads for 2.3 million won per month and more. Why don't schools you work with offer more money?
¡¤ There's often a catch to unusually high salaries. Established, well-run schools in Korea that do not have chronic staffing problems pay 1.9-2.1 million won per month for children's English teachers based on 25-28 x 60 minutes per week. Schools that have just opened can offer more as they have no current employees, who are paid the usual salaries, to worry about offending.
¡¤ Higher salaries at newly-opened schools are usually not worth the trouble. Often these schools are disorganized and management has no experience at running a language institute or dealing with foreign staff. New schools often fail in their first few months of operation.
¡¤ Some schools simply increase the number of working hours required so that they can offer higher salaries than other schools. Also, schools that are poorly managed, and regularly lose foreign teachers, often ignore the underlying causes of their staffing problems and simply raise salaries in an attempt to attract and keep teachers. Established, well-run schools cannot offer new teachers more than they pay their current, more experienced teachers. Sacrificing a good working environment for 5-15% more money is not worth it.
Q: I am worried about sending my original degree. Will I get it back?
¡¤ You will not be asked to send your original degree until you have signed a contract, and you will get it back before you leave for Korea, or it will be waiting for you when you arrive. You must have your original degree with you in Korea the entire time you are there. Immigration and Ministry of Education officials can ask to see it at any time.
¡¤ Most universities charge $25-$60 to re-issue a degree if, by chance, yours is lost. This has not happened with any of my placements.
Q: What about Japan or Taiwan?
¡¤ In both Japan and Taiwan, the salaries offered, the benefits provided, and the higher cost of living result in considerably lower savings than in Korea. Most jobs in both Japan and Taiwan do not offer accommodation with employment, or if they do they deduct your rent from your salary. Housing costs, as well as the cost of furnishing living space, can be very expensive and can leave you with little extra cash each month for savings. In Korea, most people are able to save at least half their salaries and still live comfortably.
¡¤ Taiwanese schools are unable to process employment visas before you leave North America. Many people end up working illegally for several months only to discover that their school doesn't have the ability to offer them an employment visa. When this happens, you either have to find a new job or return home at your own expense. During this "illegal" period, you have to fly to Hong Kong every 30 or 60 days to get a new tourist visa. This is usually at your own expense. Without the visa, Taiwanese schools have made no legal commitment to hire you and many schools view the visa waiting period as probation and will not hesitate to fire you if they are unhappy with you in any way or if their teaching needs change during the first few months of your employment.
¡¤ Schools in Taiwan almost never offer air up front. Furthermore, your income is taxed at 20% in Taiwan for the first six months. Theoretically, it is possible to get some of this back; however many people never do. Classes in Taiwan are larger, often reaching 20 students. In Korea, class sizes rarely exceed 12. Taiwan has been in recession since mid-2000 and many schools are on shaky financial ground.
¡¤ Most salaries offered for teaching English in Japan are about equal to those earned by entry-level office workers, who live with their parents. Many teachers in Japan quickly forget about saving money and have to worry about whether they can cover their rent and living expenses. This is especially true in larger cities. Salaries in Japan have not significantly increased since 1985, as there has been little economic growth and several years of deflation in Japan over the past two decades.
¡¤ All this said, there are lots of decent jobs in both countries; however, Korea offers a lot more up front, especially for those who have little or no experience teaching abroad. Having a used refrigerator delivered, or arguing with your landlady about getting your apartment deposit back, are both unpleasant experiences you need not worry about in Korea.
¡¤ Overall, Japan and Taiwan become more realistic options if you plan to spend at least two or three years teaching abroad, as it takes a while to get established. If you decide to teach in either country, you'll need at least C$5000/U.S.$4500 at the ready, before you leave. For Korea, your first month's living expenses (C$1000/US$900) is enough.
Q: What are the Required Teaching and Preparation Time?
Most hakwons require between twenty-five and thirty hours of contact teaching per week. This is most often in the form of thirty-something lessons of forty or fifty minutes each This may seem like a lot of lessons to prepare for; however, it's likely that, during any given week, several lessons will repeat, or be the same and thus only need to be prepared for once. At all of the schools we deal with, you are paid your full monthly salary even if there are not enough classes to assign you a full teaching load. You'll be asked to make up the difference by spending time working on materials for general use.
As there are not extra foreign teachers waiting at home to be called in for substitution, you will be required to substitute for teachers who are sick or who run off unexpectedly. In a well-managed school, overtime teaching is usually less common than at badly-managed schools. Teachers who want overtime should make this clear to the Academic Supervisor. August and January are months when you can be almost certain of some overtime teaching. During these two months, the public schools are closed and, rather than taking a break, children attend the private language institutes more frequently.
As a rule of thumb, I calculate the time needed for preparation and administrative duties at about half of the classroom teaching time. So, a 25-hour teaching week becomes at 37.5 hour working week. You may find yourself spending considerably more time preparing for lessons during the first few months of your contract. As you become more familiar with the system used by the school and develop a larger bank of pre-prepared materials, necessary preparation time will decrease significantly.
Some contracts explicitly state an amount of time teachers are required to spend at work preparing for lessons. My experience has been that these stipulations are only enforced when there is a problem with an individual teacher who does not prepare adequately for class.
Q: How¡¯s Teaching Schedule works?
In Korea, most people work six days a week (Monday - Saturday). The schools we hire for hold classes and expect teachers to be at work five days a week. We only hire for six-day per week schools if there is something outstanding in the contract that makes up for the six-day week. Normally, you teach between five and eight classes per day (depending on how long each class is). You may have more classes on some days and fewer classes on others. Often Monday, Wednesday and Friday are longer teaching days than Tuesday and Thursday. In general, kindergarten programs run from around 10am to 1pm, Elementary programs are from around 3:00pm to 6:00pm and middle school/high school from around 6:00pm to 9:30pm.. Here are some examples of typical schedules:
Kindergarten / Elementary Clientele
(MWF = Monday, Wednesday and Friday / TTh = Tuesday and Thursday)
Elementary / Middle School / Adult Clientele
(MWF = Monday, Wednesday and Friday / TTh = Tuesday and Thursday)
For Korea, the above examples are neither great nor terrible schedules. At most schools there is an informal seniority system in place whereby teachers who have been there the longest get the "tightest" schedules (spare classes at the beginning and end of the day, thereby shortening the time spent at work). It doesn't take long to gain seniority when most people are on one-year contracts!
Most schools run on monthly sessions, though some run on sessions as long as three months. Your schedule can and will change each session. In the case of monthly sessions, the changes are usually minor and involve one or two classes; with longer sessions, the changes can be significant. For this reason, it is not a good idea to make commitments to any kind of regular activities during the times you could be scheduled to teach.
If you've been looking into teaching in Korea, you've probably heard a lot of complaining about "split shifts." A lot of these complaints come from people who have never taught anywhere but Korea and are unaware of what a typical teaching load in most countries involves. The public systems in Canada and the U.S. require around 25 hours per week of classroom teaching, but the marking can be very onerous, especially for subjects like English. When I was teaching English in the public system in Canada, I had about 160 different students, each of whom handed in one or two pieces of writing every week. I spent two or three hours a day marking. In Korea, small class sizes and the nature of the learning materials result in almost no marking at all. I consider a "split shift" any schedule whereby the start of the first class and the end of the last class spans more than ten hours. Having to teach in both the morning and the afternoon is NOT a split shift.
What are the Non-Teaching Duties ?
Most schools hold weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly meetings. These meetings are scheduled at a time when there are no classes and usually last less than an hour. Attendance is always mandatory and unpaid. You can also expect three or four activities on weekends that you'll be expected to participate in over the course of a year. These may be pedagogical development days or pre-scheduled activities with students. These are also normally unpaid. Once again, those who have taught in other countries will not find this unusual.
Other non-teaching duties include filling out report cards for students either once a month or once every two months. These might take anywhere from two to six hours to complete. Some schools ask teachers to telephone students at home once a month or once every two months. You schedule a two - five minute call with students in advance and then call them at home in the evening. Usually, the student knows what kind of questions you'll be asking and has practiced beforehand. This is a very clever marketing strategy as parents and family can see the student speaking English with a native speaker without traveling to the school. When I had to do this, I scheduled my calls between 7 and 8 on Wednesday evenings so that they didn't take up a lot of my time. This kind of duty shouldn't require more than 1-2 hours per week. If this seems like a lot, remember that you are not likely to have to do much marking.
You may also be asked to do things like go hiking with school staff and the director on a Sunday. Although this is voluntary, it is in your interests to go, at least sometimes. In Northeast Asia, non-workplace activities with co-workers are seen as part of working life. It is during these activities that the people who have the power to make your life easy or difficult get to know you. In addition, you'll get to see parts of the country and do things you might otherwise not do or see.
Q: What student age group will I be teaching?
* But it might take up to 3 months to get your FBI record.
2. Apostilled original Bachelor¡¯s degree
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Q: Is there any emergency call like 911?
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