Welcome to Hagwon Hell | Teaching in a Hagwon

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Welcome to Hagwon Hell

Welcome to Hagwon Hell, Public School Teachers

I’ve been talking about how the Korean ESL industry is dying for the past few years now. One of my friends who was in Japan a decade ago just before and then when everything was crashing and burning, says that Korea these days is eerily similar.

Plenty of confident people, cruising around, not upgrading their teaching qualifications in any way, assuming that all will be well in K-land for years to come.

But Korea, like Japan will wake up and realize that not every single person in their country needs to speak English, nor is there any shortage of Koreans who can do our jobs just as effectively but far more cheaply and with considerably less hassle.

Goodbye GEPIK (and plenty of positions along with it)

“Welcome to Hagwon hell, all you public school teachers. The writing is on the wall regarding public schools.” The comment is from this thread over at Waygook.org and I really swear it isn’t me, even though it’s something that I would totally say.

As I was cruising around on the Internet, I ran across two interesting threads over on Waygook.org, the most popular forum for English teachers in Korea. The first one was the thread mentioned above about how GEPIK is shutting down and positions for Gyeonggi-Do will now be filled through EPIK (the national program).

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to whether government funding for 200 positions will be reduced by 50 to 150, or if the 200 will be reduced to 50. I’m more inclined to believe they’ll be reduced to 50. Schools can still choose to fund their own native English teacher, but I have a hard time seeing how they’d do this because not only do they have to pay us more but they have all the housing, immigration, flight and babysitting headaches that they simply don’t have if they were to hire a Korean to do the same job.

It wouldn’t be much, but it might put a slight dent in the 11.1% youth unemployment rate in Korea. I know that I certainly teach a good number of students at my university (I teach English majors) who speak freakishly good English. By freakishly good, I mean that I just talk normally with them and don’t grade my language at all. With a bit of training, wouldn’t they be able to teach elementary school children quite effectively?

Anyone with any official information about this? Please let me know and I’ll update this post.

And…welcome to hagwon hell!

What’s it Like Teaching in a Korean Public School? Find out Here!

SMOE: How does a $2000 Pay Cut Sound?

Then, another thread on Waygook.org about how the $2000 re-signing bonus is being cut for 2016 for public school teachers in Seoul working for SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education).

Unusually for Korea, the land of the bbali-bbbali, it seems that these teachers were warned about the change on their 2015 contract. So, they can’t really complain and if they don’t like it, they’re free to seek employment elsewhere. Apparently some of the teachers suggested an extra week of vacation time to make up for this lost pay but were basically scoffed at.

Strangely Optimistic-I’m not Sure Why

One person on this thread was strangely optimistic saying that things are rolling back over from an employer’s market to a teacher’s market. I think this is a case of wishful thinking because even a basic knowledge of Korean demographics makes it clear that there will be fewer and fewer positions in hagwons, public schools and universities as the years go by.

How can there not be when Korea has the fifth lowest birth rate in the entire world. Weak (lame-ass?) government interventions such as turning off the lights in the office one a month at 7:00 and calling it family night likely isn’t going to change this anytime soon.

And, how can job conditions in a place like Seoul public schools ever get better when there are so many people who are willing to take them, even with this reduced salary? Most foreigners in Korea would be willing to cut off their pinky toe to get a job in Seoul. I personally prefer Busan, but to each their own.

Anyone with a link to something other than a forum? I’d like to update this post if possible.

Worried about your Teaching Job in Korea?

You perhaps should be. Things are looking a wee bit grim for native English teachers in Korea these days. If you need some help figuring out what life after teaching in Korea is going to look like for you, check out Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning Home.

I interviewed 55 people in order to glean as much wisdom as possible from them as I prepare for my own return to Canada after 10 years in Korea and I think you’ll find it really, really useful if you’re in a similar situation.

What do you Think about Hagwon Hell?

Have public school teaching positions in South Korea declined? Or, are they still holding steady. Will there be a exoducs of public school teachers to hagwon hell? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.



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  1. Richard

    I think Hakwans are great. You seem to have a some kind of problem with people who wish to extend their time here. It is alright for you, as you are done here. I think you are wrong. And, so what, China, Vietnam and other places like Malaysia, Saudi or even Indonesia offer decent conditions. You seem so obsessed with dishing people who like Korea. Why wouldn’t a young’un want to stay here, after all you were here for 10 years earning a crust.

    1. admin

      10 years ago, things were great in Korea. Opportunities were plentiful (I applied for precisely 2 university jobs and got offers at both), and salaries were rising. Private teaching could be had in abundance for 40-50 an hour. These days, things are looking far less rosy.

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