Teaching in Korea can sometimes feel like playing games at a casino. Sometimes you get lucky and win big, while other times you can't seem to get anything going right. Such is the case when considering which school to work for in Korea.
Hagwons, as well as public school, can be a crap shoot at times. The key is to do research before accepting a job; this means Googling your school name to see what pops up online or contacting previous teachers to get their opinions. It's usually better to talk to a teacher who has finished his or her contract, as there won't be a boss or principal standing over a shoulder making sure that every word is positive.
One thing about public schools that happens more than in hagwons is a change in staff. Korean teachers transfer to other schools after a year and the principal/vice principal can move on to other positions, leading to a completely different school environment from one year to the next.
From all of my different experiences teaching in Korea, I've noticed that there are 3 things that affect how well or badly a contract will go:
1. Your director/principal/vice principal. If the head of the school is easy to work with, understands how to run a school, and respects and follows the contract, this is a good sign. A difficult boss makes things like pay, vacation, sick days, and problems with accommodation harder to resolve--and in some cases, unable to resolve at all. I've had both kinds of bosses while in Korea, and I much preferred the ones who respected the contract that we both had signed.
2. Co-teachers/co-workers. Teaching English to students who don't speak it as a first language is difficult. Good co-teachers work with you to explain the lesson, provide help with discipline, and give feedback on lessons/teaching style. The best co-teachers I ever had were the ones who I could go to with concerns and questions about my classes and lessons, and not feel like I was being undermined or brushed off lightly. These co-teachers were stars in their own right, dealing with difficult students or making sure that any translation issues were quickly resolved. (Sometimes even with the best of intentions, there is no easy way to explain some concepts in the most basic of English!)
3. Students. It goes without saying that if students are engaged in learning and want to be learning, then they are generally better behaved and easier to teach than those who don't give a flip about English. I've encountered both in the past 5 years, and experienced both the excitement and frustration that comes with each group. Sometimes a lesson works really well, while others it falls flat. It depends on how the students are that particular class on that particular day. Just like teachers, students have good and bad days.
At my current school, my first two main co-teachers were difficult to work with, and I felt that I couldn't approach them about any concerns with classes or lessons. As a result, I felt lost, isolated, and bored to tears. My current co-teacher has lived in both the States and Canada, and understands how Western students differ from Korean students. She too shares my frustration with the education system here, which makes talking about classes and lessons a lot easier. As a result, there is less isolation and boredom in the office. Even if a class is difficult that day, I know that I can come back to the office afterwards and have a chat with my co-teacher about something completely unrelated to school--and it will cheer both of us up greatly. I will sad to leave her in March.
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