Teaching in private schools (hagwons) is totally different from teaching at Public schools in Korea. You will be revered in both because you are the English expert but one is better than the other.
I have worked in both systems and I like the public school system by a long shot. Among others, here are my top seven reasons why teaching in public school in Korea is better than working in hagwons.
The hours in public schools are a lot better. Generally the working hours are 9AM to 5PM for the foreign Teacher. However I have also heard that some schools have hours from 8AM to 4PM. Hagwon hours are usually from 1 to 9PM. Some people get lucky with some hagwons with decent hours.
Lunch & lunch time
In public schools you have a 1 hour lunch break. In Private Academies you are lucky if you get 30 minutes. Some schools like the hagwon I worked at my first time in Korea had no lunch break. You had ten minutes between classes and if you didn’t bring something from home or bought something before you came in, you didn’t get to eat and only snacked.
Price of lunch
At most if not all public schools you get subsidized lunch. Which means, you pay nearly what the students pay for lunch. For instance, I pay 2 thousand 500 won which is about $2 for lunch everyday. And the great thing is that it’s taken out of my check automatically so I don’t even have to worry about it. I just grab my trey, dish what I want, sit down and eat.
That is very cheap in comparison to going out and buying something each day which costs a lot more. At some hagwons like I said, you are on your own. And the quality of the food is very good as well. You get your rice, soup, kimchi, meat, drink etc.
More in the loop
You are more involved with what is going on. Good luck getting information on time about changes at hagwons. Some hagwons are very good at passing on information to the English Teacher who doesn’t speak Korean but most of them are not.
At my current public school, whenever there is a meeting, they spare me the pain of attending since I won’t understand 90 percent of what they are going to talk about. But when they are finished, one of the Korean English teachers always fills me in especially when it has something to do with scheduling or changes that affect me.
A lot of hagwon Teachers have to fight to stay in the loop. Chris briefly talked about this in his interview: Chris at EIC Language Institute.
Paid on time
No one wants to work for free that’s a fact. And no one wants to work and not get paid on time. But a lot of Teachers that work in hagwons have said that they don’t always get paid on time. A few Korean Teachers at the hagwon (ECC Pyeongtaek) I worked at before taking a high school job were not paid at all for three months worth of work.
My advice is to be strong. If your hagwon boss does not want to pay you for work you have done stand up for yourself and demand that you get paid as it’s stipulated in your contract. It is unacceptable for them not to pay you or be late on paying you unless prior arrangements were made with your consent.
Time between classes & weekends
Public schools as well as hagwons give you about ten minutes between classes but with public schools since you teach less classes you have more time because there are gaps in the schedule and you don’t teach. And another downside to working in hagwons is that you may have to work on weekends when working for some of them.
They don’t own you as much
A friend of mine and a Teacher at a hagwon said that the first week she arrived in Korea her Director told he she had to attend a wedding on a Sunday when she was suppose to be off. In other words they own you. Hagwons, not all of them, act like they can tell you to do anything and you don’t have the right to say anything. Well, you do.
However, the more you do for your hagwon beyond your contract the more valuable you become. Relationships are very important in Korea so go the extra mile were needed but draw a line.
Although the Korean Teachers work on Saturdays in public schools, the foreign Teacher never does or at least that I know of.
Post update added this bonus 1-16-12.
Vacation time You get a lot more vacation time with public schools than with private. With public schools you get 25+ vacation days versus private academies 5+.
You will enjoy working in Korea but Korea is also not for everyone. You have to be patient yet strong. Because if you are not and you are working at a hagwon, you are more susceptible to be taken advantage of. But not all hagwons are bad you just have to be informed. That’s the reason we conduct Teacher interviews so that we can pass on information about schools to Teachers. The more inform you are the better decisions you will make. Good luck!