Are public or private schools better for teaching English in South Korea?

Most foreign ESL teachers working in South Korea are employed by government run public schools or private language academies known as hagwons. Both of these employers typically offer a good salary and a range of extra benefits, but there are some differences between the two that might lead you to choose one over the other.

What are the differences in the hiring process?

Both types of employers hire the majority of their teachers in advance from within their own country. Public school recruitment follows a set timetable that has two start dates each year. Applications for the start date in August/September need to be filed online beginning in April. The application process for the February/March start date begins in October. A large percentage of teachers who work in public schools are recruited via a government program known as EPIK (English Program in Korea). This is a well respected and popular program and numbers are limited, so you need to get your application in as early as possible. In contrast, private language centers do not follow a set academic calendar so jobs can be found at anytime of the year. However, as the process of applying, interviewing, and arranging a work visa can be a lengthy process of up to four months, you do need to plan ahead.

What are the differences in salary?

Whichever route you take into teaching English in South Korea you are likely to earn a very good salary, however, private language schools generally pay a little more than the public school system. The average monthly salary in public schools is 1.8 to 2.0 million KRW ($1,600 to $1,800 USD) for first time teachers and 2.0 to 2.7 million KRW ($1,800 to $2,400 USD) for teachers with experience. In private schools first time teachers can expect to earn around 2.0 to 2.1 million KRW ($1,800 to $1,900 USD), while those with experience can earn 2.1 to 3.0 million KRW ($1,900 to $2,700 USD).

What extra benefits should I receive?

In both types of school, if you are hired in advance from within your home country you can expect to receive a generous benefits package. This will normally include paid flights in and out of the country, free housing, and an extra month's pay at the end of the contract.

What are the differences in working hours?

On average, private schools require slightly longer working hours than public schools. Public schools operate a normal style timetable from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. During the week you will spend around 24 hours actually in the classroom. Classes in private language schools can be scheduled for anytime of day so working hours can vary considerably. Some teachers might find their timetable is from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., while for others it might be from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Weekend work is also common in private schools.

What are the differences in vacation time?

In general, teachers who work in public schools will receive more paid vacation time than private school teachers. Everyone is entitled to have national holidays off and these number between 13 and 15 each year. Public school teachers are also allowed 18 days of extra paid holiday, while this figure is around 7 to 10 days for private school teachers.

What other differences should I expect?

The size of classes is another area where you might find some differences. The average class in a public school is between 20 and 30 students, while private schools tend to limit numbers to no more than 15 students. The identity of your colleagues is also likely to be different depending on which type of school you are working in. In a public school, you are likely to be the only foreign teacher on the staff. In contrast, private schools can have anything up to 50 foreign teachers at any one time.