With a new wave of English teachers landing in Korea, I feel like it only further necessitates the importance of this blog. After having been in Korea for 9 months, and on my second contract here I can honestly say that at times I have felt like I fell victim to a bad, late night infomercial:
“Do you love traveling?
Are you sick of your job that, somehow doesn’t make you any money?
Does your boss make you want to rip your hair out?
Are you tired of the mundane routine that is your life now, and has created a deep, black void you just can’t seem to fill?
Do your friends bore you now?
THEN COME TEACH IN KOREA!!!!!
You’re going to make $$$$ LOTS OF MONEY $$$ Actually, you’ll make ALL THE MONEY!
Don’t wait! Call now, and we’ll throw in: free housing AND health insurance! BUT WAIT! There’s more!
Call within the next 2 seconds and you’ll receive **MONTHLY BONUSES** Paid vacation time AND if you act *right*now* you’ll even get one free plane ticket ABSO-LUTELY free!
That’s right, 1 plane ticket ABSOLUTELY FREE!
So what are you waiting for? Get your TEFL certificate today!”
…I feel like there are other, more important things you need to know before you come teach here. As someone who has been through the ringer, I can say first hand how vitally important the following questions are in an interview for a teaching job in Korea.
You might not even think to ask them because, coming from a place like the United States, Canada et al. they are just a given. I cannot stress how very much the opposite is the case here, and you should know what you’re getting into. Whether it be a public school (lucky) or hagwon- but mostly, for a hagwon job, I have compiled a list of:
10 Vitally Important Interview Questions:
1. How do you define an hour?
A lot of hagwons get out of paying employees what they are due by re-defining what an hour actually is.
For instance: Sally’s hagwon might pay her X for each 60 minute interval she is at work. Brian’s hagwon might pay him the same salary, but only for classroom hours. This means, if each of Brian’s classes are 45 minutes he is getting significantly less than Sally- even though they are receiving the same salary.
**Make sure you get a clear understanding of what they consider a payable hour. Is it just classroom time, or classroom time + prep?
2. Do you have sick days? -> Yes! -> How would you react if I actually had to use a sick day?
One of my coworkers got really sick one night and ended up fainting multiple times. Someone she was with had to call our boss when she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The next day, my boss was *freaking out* and the girl had to pay a substitute teacher our of her own salary. Sick days are not a thing Koreans typically offer/use frequently.
3. What is your policy on overtime?
With my old job I was contractually obligated to work 10:30am-9:30pm but I would often have to come in early, or stay late. Not to mention the countless hours I put in during report card time, where I was taking work home, working on the weekends and not getting paid for it.
4. *Is this a curriculum school?!*
I highlight this question, because if there is only one question you actually ask, I sure hope you pick this one. Basically:
curriculum = all or the majority of materials and books you need are planned out for you.
non curriculum = you will spend endless hours creating word lists, tests, worksheets, homework assignments, posters, materials et al.
5. How is your relationship with the person whom I am replacing?
There are a lot of shady things that happen in hagwons. For whatever reason, teachers are frequently and unceremoniously fired, or kicked out of their positions.
*This is especially worthy of note if you are looking to start a job outside of the normal times which are in December, March and July (private) September and March (public).
6. What are your expectations for teachers?
*As a general rule of thumb, there are really only 2 kinds of hagwons: really fun ones, and really serious ones.
In addition to “teaching” something, my first job required me to plan a new game and song for every kindergarten class (45 mins). Some teachers were even required to wear costumes on any given day to support their “theme.”
My current job has strictly forbidden me to play any sort of game…The kids begged me to play a game, so I created a game called “who wants to be a millionaire” where literally all I do is turn off the lights and ask a question. It boosts reading comprehension and forces them to think. One kid complained one time, and now the lights must remain on at all times.
7. Am I required to work Saturdays?
Some schools have it spelled out from the get go that you must work X Saturday/s per month which is not considered overtime. If this is the case, you can sometimes decide which Saturdays you work- usually, you are just told and you have to deal with it.
Others will just spring it on you out of nowhere, and then before you know it you’re working 3 Saturdays/month. Since it isn’t in your contract, it might bring up an awkward conversation about whether or not it constitutes overtime because they’re trying to be sneaky about it.
*Be aware that working Saturdays are a very common thing in Korea- most people work 8-10 hours/day, 6 days a week.
8. When it comes time to write report cards, how do you delegate the responsibility?
Do they tell you on Monday that they need 10 classes report cards by the end of the week? Do they say you have to write report cards for 9 classes (10 kids in each) and have them peer edited …all by the end of the month?
9. How are the relationships between the foreign teachers and the Korean teachers?
Do the Korean teachers talk to the foreign teachers in and outside of work? Do they have purely a coworker relationship, or do the Korean teachers ignore you unless they have something to yell at you for/complain about?
*Basically- feel the scene here. How are they describing the relationships between their workers? This will give you insight on your future working environment.
10. Do you provide health insurance?
A lot of hagwons will say they do, but then never put it in the contract and the responsibility in on you. If the Labor Board finds out you don’t have health insurance YOU will be fined even if your boss lied to you.
*Many hagwons have found a loophole in that they are not required to provide it if they have under 4 full-time employees.
11. Can I speak with (person mentioned below) // another employee?
If you feel as though your interviewer/boss (most often it will the foreign teacher you are replacing who interviews you) mentions too often an employee, about whom they describe a poor relationship with- tread carefully! This occurred in both of my interviews (though very unprofessional) you owe it to yourself to ask what the situation is there.
The bottom line: Korea is not the United States. Foreign teachers are a dime-a-dozen and frequently get taken advantage of. Don’t let this scare you off- your work life is not your life. You are coming to a vibrant and amazing country with a wealth of opportunities and amazing people from all walks of life! This should be celebrated! However, if you find yourself comparing hagwon jobs, please learn from my mistakes and ask these seemingly insignificant, but vitally important questions before you accept a contract.
Are you a current teacher in Korea? What are some things you wish you had asked in your interview? Let me know in the comments!