Thursday, March 13, 2014

From a Hagwon to a Private School ... A New School Year with a New Job!

Recently, I finished my contract with a language academy in Gyeonggi-do. My next stop is to make my move to Seoul for a new position in a private elementary school! I only applied to three positions, without needing to use any recruiter. I'm pretty excited about it. 

A new school year came in March!

So what is this new job about? It's definitely different from what I'm used to. First, it's a private school, and not a public school or a hagwon (academy/cram-school). I'll be a 2nd grade homeroom teacher. Instead of strictly teaching the English language, I'll be responsible for teaching the school subjects too, aside from Korean and specials (such as art, music or gym).

This school is a bilingual, and my 2nd grade class will have about 30 students in it. At almost any given time, half the students will be with me and the other half will be with the Korean homeroom teacher.

I have my own classroom
I'm psyched for a few reasons. This seems like a great school, and I got really good vibes from all of the teachers and supervisors I met there while interviewing. I haven't met everyone though, since the school has quite a few native teachers working there. I also like the idea of finally getting my own class of students. That way, I can concentrate on the same group of kids. At a hagwon, for example, it's difficult to address learning or behavioral issues with individual students because I'm teaching so many different ones who are coming and going. Finally, this is what I've been studying and it's great to be at a school where I can utilize my new skills.

Adding to that, it'll be nice to be living in Seoul for the first time. While most of my social life takes place in Seoul, I've spent an unreal amount of time and energy traveling back and forth. It sucks having to decline invitations when places are too far, or traveling for about 2+ hours in general to meet up with buddies. It looks like those days will be coming to an end!

I'll also have more paid vacation time than I've ever had before, leaving time for me to accomplish other things outside of work. When I was working at the last academy, most teachers (public and hagwon) had more vacation than I did, and it's always funny explaining to friends that while they were on vacation, I was working extra! I'll have about 8 weeks of paid vacation, which is much different from what I had before.

My second grade class!

I found this job by chance. Their requirements seemed pretty stiff, but I applied thinking I had fit them just enough. When they got back to me, I was excited about having the chance to interview. One Monday in December, I was off at 5:30am to the first interview. That's when they showed me around and how everything worked, and finally they interviewed me. I was invited back for a teaching demo. One of the interviewers sent me some information about the lesson I needed to teach. I prepared for it and practiced. The following Wednesday, I was back out there early in the morning. I was able to do well during the demo lesson and was offered a contract right away!

Once I secured the position, I had to go through the visa transfer process and be prepared to move to another apartment. Luckily enough, I was able to have some time to book a moving van and get settled into the new apartment before starting at the new job. At immigration, I made the mistake of not booking an appointment ahead of time, causing me to wait over two hours! Then, they asked me for an extra form! So, I had to return the next day after all that waiting. I certainly wasn't going to wait again, and I let my feelings known to the workers there. My visa transfer was sorted out quickly after that.

At my new position, there will be some challenges. First, I'll be teaching subjects other than English conversation and grammar. While I don't have tons of experience doing so, it'll be interesting to teach subjects like social studies and science to second graders. Also, I'll be dealing with the students' parents directly for the first time. Due to this, I'll need to make sure I have a good plan put into place for relationship building.

We have our own webpage that I update

I finished my first week at the job, and it was truly fun getting to meet the children I'll be teaching for the next school year. They're very adorable, although I do have one student that had a reputation for terrible behavior last year. That'll be a workout! Aside from that, everything is going pretty smoothly so far and I'm still learning how things work. It seems like I have the support of my coworkers though, so hopefully things turn out alright.

The final, and perhaps most important, challenge is a rather political one. When I was hired, I was notified that during the last year, the school was inspected by the Korean government. This private school has an English immersion model, and politicians believe that it isn't fair for better-off children to get access to more English. As a result, the government has been trying to limit and place restrictions on English being taught to young learners. They've tried to ban textbooks that were published in foreign countries and limit the hours in which English can be used at school. Basically, the current Korean president's goal is to eliminate bilingual/immersion programs altogether among other things. Last year, the students' parents were able to get a sort of injunction on that in order to keep the school open as is. I can only hope for the best.

In any case, I'm very happy and looking forward to what's coming next!


  1. I found your blog during an INTENSE search for Black Americans in Korea that didn't go through the EPIK program. I'm moving back to the States from Europe in the next few weeks and I'm nervous about how realistic finding a hagwon job in/around a Seoul would be. Any further opinions/advice?

    1. Hello,
      I'm not sure of your teaching background, but I'll do my best. You're right in that I've never gone through EPIK and I've never taught in a public school. I first came to Korea in 2010, and I've taught only in Gyeonggi-do (in satellite cities near Seoul) and Seoul itself. It has always been easy for me to get a job near Seoul, but it had been difficult to get a job in Seoul.

      These days, I hear complaints that the job hunt for first-timers is much more competitive than it was when I started. I think that if you're inexperienced, you can get a hagwon job near Seoul if you're persistent, but it can take some time.

      Beyond that, what would help the hiring process is what you look like. A good photo helps a lot. Being an attractive white woman gets you the most attractive hagwon job offers, no matter the resume. So, that's the "standard" so to speak.

      I hope this helps.

    2. My best advice is to try applying directly to the big chain academies operating in the area that are hiring for lots of positions at once. They tend to be more "fair" than pop-and-pop hagwons.