Published On: Thu, Jan 5th, 2012

7 Reasons Public Schools are better than Private Academies

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.

public school korea

    1. The hours

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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

bonus

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+.

Conclusion

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!

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Displaying 26 Comments
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  1. jenna1129 says:

    This article is very informative and does a good job of comparing and contrasting some of the main differences between hagwons and public school. I lucked out with a pretty good hagwon and have not had a lot of trouble with some of the points mentioned above. But of course not all hagwons are the same. I agree with you though…DO YOUR RESEARCH!!

    • Tate says:

      Absolutely Jenna, doing your research about the school is the first step. The other is doing your best to speak with current foreign Teachers there if possible. Your hagwon is a reputable one right? If so, does it make you feel less worried about some of the things I mentioned above?

    • kelson says:

      Reason why private schools are better than public school

  2. Christa says:

    I work at a hagwon and I think I have it better than a public school teacher.
    1. The hours.I have only 7 classes and 4 of them I only see 3 times a week. None of them are longer than 50 mins.
    2. We all have 1 hour long lunches and the school provides a FREE lunch if you don’t want to go out and pay for food.
    3. We get paid the same day every month.
    4. There was also a wedding the first week I arrived and I did not have to go even though they were kind enough to invite me.
    5. I get paid more than a public school teachers.

    and I’ll end with saying that while I haven’t worked for a public school, I can say that the only truth you wrote is about public schools employees staying in the loop. However, I believe not only do I have the better position but I also taste a little bias in your article. ;]

    • Tate says:

      That’s great to hear Christa. I have worked at a hagwon and now at a public school and enjoy it more being in the public school. You are lucky to have landed such a nice schedule, pay, free food, etc at your hagwon. Although hagwons are improving, the majority of them are not up to par with public schools yet however.

      Yes you are more in the loop with public schools but hopefully the hagwons will catch up on this part as well. Definitely like your list however, do you care to name your hagwon so that people are aware of the name since it sounds like a great school? :)

  3. Tessa says:

    I agree with Christa, not all hagwons are terrible. I love my hagwon and would never change to a public school. Of course there have been a few small things that irritate me every now and again, but what job doesn’t have that? I would say that it is probably more of a gamble to accept a job with a hagwon, but if you’re lucky like me, you get a pretty sweet gig! Like you said, just make sure to talk to the teacher you’re replacing and ask them for an honest opinion.

    Here are some reasons my hagwon is amazing:
    1. I work 4-5 hours a day.
    2. I’ve never been required to do any planning, though I always do for my own sake.
    3. My class sizes are very small, my largest class ever was 12 students.
    4. I get paid more than public school teachers, always on time & sometimes early (without me asking) if they know I’m leaving town for the weekend/vacation.
    5. My apartment is huge.
    6. I got six weeks vacation this past year.

    Also, I think it totally depends on the person. Public schools and private schools are very different. For example, I would go crazy desk warming while some people really enjoy that time. I like that I show up to work, teach my 4-5 classes and go home. There is no sitting around waiting for the minutes to pass. You just have to decide what is right for you.

    • Tate says:

      That is indeed a great gig you got Tessa; in fact, it’s fantastic. That’s one thing I wish I could change about my public school. Although the vacation and a lot of other things are great, I wish the idle sitting around for ‘show’ or desk warming as you put it could be minimized. I teach only 4 classes some days and be actually finished at 2 or so but I have to stay until 5 for reasons I know not. I thought 6 weeks vacation was only a university thing. Do you also get paid during that time?

  4. Andrew says:

    Every job has good things and bad things. All of these points are not true of every public school. I consider my hagwon job to be vastly greater than a public school job in every way, except vacation. That is the ONLY thing that is consistently better with public schools. Other than that, it will depend on each individual school.

    • Tate says:

      Indeed Andrew as Christa also mentioned that her hagwon is great in a lot of ways. And vacation is a great one to add because whereas in my hagwon I got 7 days of vacation, at my current public school I get 32 days vacation not including national holidays and the many days I get to go home early. Great point!

  5. kevin says:

    May I ask how much the hagwon teachers are getting paid? Are you getting more than level 3 public school teachers or level 1 as well? I’m getting 2.5 million. And extra classes are 25,000/hr if I decide to do them. And I’m pretty sure most public school teachers get upwards for 32 vacation days not including national holidays.

    The only perk I see are smaller class sizes and less hours at work but not fewer classes to teach. But I only teach 3-4 classes a day. And each class is only 45 minutes.

  6. kayla says:

    I too work at Hagwon school and have to say that I love it! I teach 5 to 6 classes a day (every second day changes). We get lunch and supper provided for everyday so I don’t need to worry about buying much food! I have got paid on time and they have been so quick about getting my insurance coverage for me once I got my alien card. I don’t have to really prep for my classes just have to come in an hour before to review and bring in flashcards or whatever else I want. They are so understanding and have really helped me in understanding my kids (the difficult ones you struggle to relate with!) I would definitely do your research before hand. I knew I was coming to a private school before I came but read something about how bad hagwons are a few weeks before I left. You can only imagine what I was thinking! Well I decided it can’t really be that terrible unless the foreign teacher and everyone else was lying to me! Everything was true!! We get free pizza on test days, hangout together, they provided me with a room on a three bedroom flat (balcony is huge!), and my boss is always going out of her way to help me with anything! Please don’t brush off hagwons because of what you read but do your research, talk with a foreign English teacher at the school, and have a backup plan!

  7. kevin says:

    oops, accidentally posted twice.

  8. agree with your seven insights, thanks for sharing as they are useful for people who don’t know which way to go. but there are some down-sides to public schools for sure too. the amount of students in the classroom (40 in a public classroom vs. 6 at a private place) for one. best working in a casual atmosphere such as in well-run community centre, after-school program, or (one of the few) decent private gigs which take the best of both worlds (not driven by profit hence crazy private hagwon dehumanizing machine; yet while having small classes).

    • Tate says:

      Right Johnny decent private schools are coming along and the hagwon nightmares seem to be less; (I hope that continues unless they still are and we just don’t know about them since no one really speaks up. But that’s about to change hopefully with out site being the place we can gather information about schools and experiences) however, we are not in the clear yet. Some are great some are awful. At the end of the day as many have said, do your research.

  9. Brant says:

    Public schools have alot of benefits as Tate mentioned but for first time teachers a private school is usually a better option.
    1. Smaller class sizes: most private schools cap at 10 or 12 students while public schools can go as high as 50. For a first time teacher it can be difficult to manage.
    2. More foreign teachers. For a newcomer to the country it’s nice having other foreign teachers around to show you the ropes. Knowing where to eat, shop and socialize is definitely a plus.
    3. Higher salary: Most private schools pay more for starting teachers than public schools.
    4. More support: In most cases public school teachers don’t really care what you’re doing since they don’t have any interaction with you. The English department might but the Math and Science department aren’t going to be too helpful in general. For a private school the entire staff is focused on the same thing and in most cases other teachers and staff members can know your students better than you and can help out if need be.
    5. At a private school you’re going to have more in common with your coworkers than at a public school. Even for Korean teachers they are going to be closer to your age and lifestyle than the average public school teacher.

    Overall most of the benefits of a private school are for social reasons but for someone just coming to the country it’s a bit benefit. For teachers who’ve already have a social network a public school is a good option but for beginners I still think the private route is better.

    • Tate says:

      Great points Brant. It is essential for a Teacher to have some experience before going into the public school system because like you mentioned the support is limited. And although you generally don’t get that much more support with hagwons as far as the Korean staff, in most cases you have other foreign teachers to help you. At my current public school I am the only foreign teacher and although my staff is very helpful when I need, it is daunting to introduce new ideas and teaching methods because of the language barrier.

      To present both sides of the argument, I am working on reason private schools are better for some teachers as well.

  10. Tefl Jobs says:

    Hi Tate. Some good tips here. What is the best way to get work in public schools in Korea? Can you find them after arrival in Korea, or do you need to apply in your own country?

    Thanks, Jon.

    • Tate says:

      Hi Jon,
      Schools are always hiring in Korea. Some teachers who have taught in Korea before come first and look for work and others are hired first. I don’t recommend coming and then looking for work but it is possible. If you have all your documents ready and on hand as I describe here: http://www.eslchronicle.com/do-you-want-to-teach-english-in-korea-read-this-first/ then you can come and then look for work here in Korea because the school will just send you to Japan to get your visa. The best way to get a job is to visit websites like eslcafe.com, hiteacher.com and looking for public school openings. Another way is to contact a recruiter directly and have them do all the looking for you. See my list of top recruiters: http://www.eslchronicle.com/10-recruiters-every-esl-teacher-should-know-about/

      I hope that helps. If you need further assistance you can always contact me and I will link you to the right people such as the recruiter I used and other helpful resources. Cheers & good luck looking!

  11. Zandi says:

    Hi Guys!!

    I am so confused!! This will be my first time in SK and I really don’t want to get screwed over the first time round.
    I keep on applying for jobs, both public and private but when I do a search for that school, the reviews are either terrible or there just aren’t any.
    I just don’t know what to believe any more!!
    Does anybody know of a agency I can use that will place me in a good hogwan or school, or even know of a school that needs more teachers??

    Thanks,
    Zandi

    • Tate says:

      Hi Zandi, there are good things with both public and private schools. It just depends on what you are looking for. I recommend you read the posts highlighting both their strengths and weaknesses. But I want to know what you are interested in so I can link you up with the right people. Are you interested in public or private?

      • stephaniek says:

        Great and informative article. I do have a question for you, do you know of any reputable recruiting agencies for public school jobs? And a TEFL course to make you more competitive? I’m actually looking at the CELTA instead… good idea or bad?

        • Tate says:

          Hi Stephanie,

          The Recruiters that I have heard good things about that recruit both for private and public are here. The Celta is better for teaching adults I have heard and the TEFL is more for younger students. Since more schools are looking for qualified teachers and jobs are becoming more competitive I would go for it, either with TEFL, TESOL or CELTA depending on your goals.

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