The term hagwon is used in South Korea to describe a particular type of school. The South Korean education system has two major components, the public school system and the private school system. Many South Koreans make use of both these systems, attending the government-run public schools as normal in any country and then taking additional lessons in a private school, particularly for additional learning in subjects such as English. A hagwon is therefore a private educational institution in South Korea where students can gain additional teaching in subjects which are seen as important for their education.
It is estimated that during their education, 95% of South Korean students will make use of a hagwon. As such these private institutions and academies make up the largest part of the teaching jobs available to teachers of English as a second or foreign language in South Korea.
What is the hiring process for hagwons in South Korea?
As there are so many hagwons offering positions for English teachers there is no particular hiring season as there is with public schools. This year-round hiring means you will usually be able to start a teaching position at any time throughout the year. The requirements for teachers wanting to work in the private sector in Korea include:
- TEFL or TESOL certificate (typically 120-hours or more)
- You must be a citizen from a native English speaking country
- You must have a BA degree or equivalent (in any subject)
- You will need a current criminal record background check
Most companies will conduct online interviews with candidates who are shortlisted for positions using Skype or other similar platforms, so a job can often be secured before you leave your home country.
What kind of contract will I get working for a hagwon in South Korea?
The process of applying for a job and then signing a contract for working in a hagwon typically takes between two and four months to complete. A typical contract will outline your working hours, which will depend on the type of school and who you teach. Kindergartens for example typically work between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., whereas for older students and adults working hours are usually afternoons until evening and may include weekends.
A typical salary would be between US$1,800 and US$2,800 per month, depending on your experience. Hagwons typically have many foreign teachers working for them and classes tend to have less than 15 students. Many companies will provide extra benefits such as free accommodation for their teachers and also provide arrival and departure flights free at the start and end of your contract.
So, is a hagwon a good place to work?
As with any private enterprise, in any industry worldwide, there are good and bad practitioners and hagwons are no exception. One of your main resources available to you when researching a potential job will be social media. Teachers who have had poor experiences will often post about them on various websites dedicated to reviewing the working conditions at these private schools.
One thing you should do before signing any contract is to ask the institution to provide you with a contact of a current teacher that you are able to talk to. If the school is unwilling or unable to do this it should ring alarm bells.
Many hagwons are run by large teaching companies and they generally can’t afford bad publicity from their teachers. Large organizations typically have back-up procedures in place in terms of accommodations for teachers, ease of obtaining work permits and so on. That is not to say you should avoid small family-owned hagwons, as there are some excellent ones out there and your experience can often be enhanced by being part of a small rather than a large team.