What are the types of English teaching jobs in Korea?

Private Schools (Hakwons) From far back in Korean history, the best Korean universities have selected only those students who scored highest on entrance exams held at the same time every year. These students in turn would receive the best education, which enabled them to get the best jobs and government positions, while those students who scored less on their entrance exams were only admitted to lesser universities, thus limiting their future careers. Because of this, the sole goal of every Korean child’s secondary education is to do as well as possible on their university entrance exam. Towards this end, private schools, or “Hakwons,” were born in the 1970s offering accelerated education. Some hakwons specialized in only one subject, English or math for example, while others offered tutoring in a wide range of subjects that students could pick and choose from, depending on what subjects they needed to improve. After attending school during normal school hours during the day, students whose parents could afford it would attend hakwons in the evening and night time and learn more and learn faster than those who did not attend, thus giving them a distinct advantage when it came time to write their university entrance exams.

However, this idea backfired on Korean society as a whole. Koreans are extremely competitive and refuse to be outdone by anyone. Not willing to let their children’s future be put at stake because their child did not study as much as the next, parents and grandparents worked themselves to the bone to raise the money to send their children and grandchildren to hakwons. As a result, the hakwon industry flourished and the education level of Korean students greatly increased. Such a large percentage of students attended hakwons that middle schools and high schools, in an effort to keep the level of competition high, gradually increased the learning requirements of students to include education received at hakwons. These days, if a child is not attending several different hakwons and getting educated outside of normal school, that child will fall behind. Today, over 90% of children attend at least one hakwon, many three or four, and can study as much as 16 hours a day, six days a week.


Hakwon Structure: The greatest numbers of ESL teachers in Korea are employed at Hakwons. Hakwons are more often than not primarily a business as opposed to an institute of education, and as such can vary greatly in location and size, teaching approach and quality of education. Most often, hakwons are located near a concentration of apartment complexes and can range from a couple classrooms on a single floor to 12-15 classrooms taking up several floors. A small hakwon may have as few as two Korean teachers (one of them being the wife of the owner) and one foreign instructor, while larger ones may employ more than a hundred Korean and foreign instructors combined. The boss of the hakwon is known in Korean as the “Wonjang.” The Wonjang is usually primarily a businessperson and may or may not have any background at all in education. At the end of the day, how much money the school is making is the bottom-line, and many school bosses really have no concept of what education really is, how to best promote learning in students, or even how to teach a class. The biggest and best schools may be run by bosses that have no understanding of education theories, while the flipside of that is many hakwon bosses who are actually very good educators are more often than not terrible businesspeople, and their schools seldom do very financially well. While the boss handles the financial matters of the school, he hires head teachers to supervise the other teachers, devise curriculum, decide on textbooks and draw up class schedules. In a small school, the foreign teacher(s) will be under the control of a Korean supervisor, but in larger schools, the foreign teachers may be headed by a head teacher who is a foreigner as well.


Class Types: Kindergarten: Kindergarten classes almost always take place in the morning and vary from 30-50 minutes in length. Maximum class size usually is about 8 to 10 kids. Very few schools teach ONLY kindergarten, but rather usually combine them with elementary classes in the afternoon. As such, kindergarten positions usually entail split shifts, though they usually finish much earlier in the day, usually by 6pm or 7pm.

Elementary: Elementary classes take place right after the students finish public school, generally starting around 2:30 pm and finishing around 8 or 9 pm and run between 40 and 50 minutes in length. Classes usually range from ten to twelve students at most but can be as few as two or three.

Middle/High School: Middle and highschool students usually study longer at public school and so hakwon classes usually begin around 6pm and may go as late as 10:00pm. Class length is usually between 50 minutes and one hour. Maximum class size is usually between 8 and 10 students.

Adults: Because most adults have to work, adult classes generally take place early in the morning, between 6:00 and 9:00 am, at lunchtime, and later on in the evening between 7:00 and 11:00 pm. As such, split shifts are unavoidable. Maximum class size generally is between ten and twelve students, depending on signups, and classes last for between 50 minutes to one and a half hours. Hakwons rarely offer kindergarten, elementary, middle and highschool and adult classes together. The classes they offer vary according to their location, clientele and that private school’s particular specialty. If they do offer early kindergarten or adult classes, teachers are usually required to work split-shifts, teaching kindergarten or adult classes for a couple hours in the morning and then coming back in the afternoon for elementary, middle and/or high school classes. But regardless of when they teach during the day or evening, the maximum class hours remains the same at between 100 and 120 hours per month. Hakwons operate all year and do not take any time off during the public school summer and winter vacations. In fact, hakwons usually offer three or four-week intensive courses during summer and winter vacation times to help students work on their weak subjects. Teachers will usually find that their schedules change during vacations so that classes start and finish much earlier because students are not attending regular school. Usually, right before or right after the summer and winter intensive programs, the foreign teachers get one week of their standard two weeks of paid vacation per year, not including national holidays.


Public Schools Recent changes to the Korean education system has resulted in a flurry of public schools positions becoming available. Public school class hours normally run between 9am and 5pm and are between 40 and 50 minutes in length. Class sizes are quite large, usually between thirty and forty students. The school year begins at the beginning of March and ends about the end of December. In between each school year is the winter vacation which runs about 45 days. Summer vacation takes place July/August and generally is about 40 days. Most public schools run intensive classes during vacation times, so the exact length of time-off teachers get will vary with each school, but is generally the same as private schools. Compared to private language schools, there are many pros and cons to teaching at a public school, though the salaries are about the same.

The Pros: Shorter teaching hours: Total teaching hours at public schools are usually about 20 per week, compared to at least 25 to 30 at private schools.

Earlier work days: Public school hours usually run between 9am and 5pm with no split shifts, as opposed to private schools that usually finish between 7pm and 9pm and may have split shifts starting early in the morning.

Greater job security: Because public schools set their budgets at the beginning of the school year, teachers can be sure that they will get their pay on time throughout their contract as in most cases their total yearly salary has already been set aside. Because private language schools operate on a month-to-month basis, they can occasionally run into financial difficulties that can result in lost or lowered wages or premature dismissal of employees.

Resume benefits: For teachers who plan to pursue a career in teaching when they return home, public school experience in Korea is recognized by public school boards in most western countries, whereas private school experience generally is not.

The Cons:Larger classes: Private language schools generally cap their classes at a maximum of 12 students. However public school classes often have between 30 to 40 students in one class. Classes can be all boys, all girls, or mixed depending on the school. Because of this, the traditional conversation-class style cannot effectively be utilized, for instructors are not able to spend as much time with students individually as they are able to in a private school setting. There are just too many students to give each one time to speak, and so the majority of classes must be taught in a lecture style.

Level mismatching: Students with similar English level ability are NOT grouped together in separate classes as they are in private schools. Every class will contain a varying number of students who speak well, whose ability is average and those that have absolutely no English ability whatsoever. This creates some difficulty for teachers because if they teach to the higher level students, those with average or much lower ability will not be able to follow. If the teacher simplifies the teaching content so that those lower level students are able to follow, the higher level students will quickly become bored and disenchanted with the class. Experienced instructors may be able to utilize students in their classes whose English levels are markedly higher than the class average by splitting the class into groups and assigning one of these advanced-English-students to each group. Each advanced-student is then designated the group leader, in effect turning a class with only one English teacher into a class with seven or eight English teachers. Korean students take their responsibilities very seriously, and public school teachers may find this method a very effective tool for addressing this problem.

Limited contract start dates: Public school hiring generally occurs twice a year, the fall before the spring semester starts in March, and in the spring before the fall semester starts in September. Hirings do occur during the year, but when the end of the school year roles around, teachers may find themselves pressured by their school to extend their contract until the end of the next semester or asked to leave so that they can bring in a teacher who will be with them the whole school year.

Underdeveloped Curriculum: Public school English language programs are much newer than most private school programs and as such teachers are usually expected to help with the curriculum development, or in many cases, are expected to develop the curriculum from scratch and select the textbooks entirely on their own. For teachers who have an education degree or have a substantial amount of practical teaching experience this is not too difficult, but for new teachers who have little or no real teaching experience or training, this can be overwhelming.

After school programs: Many schools that cannot afford to run an English program during regular school hours because of budget or class schedule contraints instead are setting up after school programs which students who wish to study English can attend once regular school hours are finished. Students have to pay for these additional classes, and because because the teacher’s salary is dependant on how many students signup for their classes, teachers can find their classes cancelled and their salary reduced or unavailable at any time. We advise teachers to stay away from these programs unless they have other full or part time work as they are extremely unreliable and usually contain clauses in their contract for class cancellations and pay reductions without notice. Lastly, foreign teachers need to be aware that the public school system in Korea still advocates the use of corporal punishment by teachers. School children from elementary, all the way through middle school and even to the end of high school can expect to get punished for things like being late, talking too much in class or smoking cigarettes by receiving a lashing with a ruler or stick on the hands, calves or buttocks. Though the frequency and severity has dropped in recent years, the practice is still widespread. Foreigners who are uncomfortable with this approach should be sure to enquire about a school’s disciplinary policy before accepting an offer of employment from that school.


Universities: University positions are very sought after by experienced ESL instructors. Though university instructors can often have split shifts and also be required to put in office hours and greater preparation time as well as administer and mark exams, university instructors usually benefit from less class hours and greater vacation time, depending on the university. The majority of universities in Korea do their own recruiting of experienced instructors from within the country, and as such PlanetESL does not normally carry such positions.


Companies: A large number of companies, corporations and government offices hire foreigners for a number of purposes:

– Providing their staff with English instruction for business purposes – Testing/evaluating the English proficiency of staff or applicants – Editing published materials, internet content or legal documents – Writing, editing or producing publishable materials – Creating/managing educational programs and curriculums

Foreigners who fill these positions usually become full company employees. They are expected to work 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and sometimes even on Saturday. Benefits, such as pay, vacation time and bonuses are usually higher than normal teaching positions, and can even include sick days and holiday bonuses. The hours are longer and the work usually more in depth than public or private schools. But these kinds of jobs usually entail little or no teaching and are very stable, making these jobs highly sought out by people who are in Korea long-term. Jobs such as these are not the norm, but PlanetESL does carry them from time to time, and when we do they will be posted in our Job Center.