What It’s Really Like To Teach At A Hagwon In Korea
I work at a Hagon, or Academy, which is an after-school school designed to help students score better on English tests in Korea, and extremely competitive academic country. A Hagwon instructor’s job is less focused on actual teaching of the English language, and more focused on teaching students how to beat a test – but I try to put in as much side-knowledge as I’m permitted. Here are my thoughts on what it was like to teach at one of these unique schools.
A Regular Day
At a Korean academy, or Hagwon, you can be expected to work anywhere from 2PM until 10PM. At mine specifically, we regularly teach from 4PM until 10PM straight, with no breaks longer than a few minutes, and are required to be in about an hour and a half to two hours before to prepare all of our material.
Teachers are commonly paid for all of their “teaching” hours, which are all hours interacting with students, however many are not paid for hours preparing material, marking, or grading. Quite often academies require their teachers to physically be present at their desks hours before class, causing frustration with instructors for having to put in time they are not being paid for.
A Regular Schedule
My regular schedule looked a bit like this:
2:45-3:15 – Arrive at school, eat lunch at my desk and prepare for my classes.
- Some teachers needed a bit more time to prepare, so they arrived earlier
- Depending on your school, they might want you to come in up to 2 hours prior or more. I like winging things, but my school wasn’t the biggest fan of that, so we compromised.
4:00 – Start of class #1
- The class was 3 hours in total, with 5 minute breaks every hour, and the last hour finishing at 10 minutes to 7.
- The first 20 minutes of the class was spent administering a test (though to give the students a bit of a break from their hectic schedules, I often extended the “pre-test study period” from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, to give them time to study, and catch up with their friends
7:00 – Start of class #2
- This was basically the same as my first class, but I usually had older (12-14 year old) students, as opposed to my first (9-12) class.
10:00 – End of class #2
- At some schools, teachers would be required to stay almost an hour late to do marking. I was particularly lucky, as we were out the door almost a full minute after the students. We usually did most of our marking during actual class (there wasn’t that much to do).
As always, every school, even within chains will be different. Many of my friends who worked for the same Hagwon chain had it much better, but a few had it much worse. I was lucky to be somewhere in the middle.
In the spirit of the winter holidays, Korean academies band together to offer children the opportunity to spend their breaks from school, participating in even more school. Welcome to the ridiculously long working days for the months of January and July/August.
During the month of January, students have a winter holiday from their public school classes. Korean academies seize this opportunity by offering intensive language camps, and unbeknownst to me, require teachers to put in many extra hours. This is something that’s often not mentioned in interviews, orientations, or even until about a week before it happens. It is vaguely written into a teacher’s contract that they can be assigned extra teaching hours. Whether or not your contract states you will be paid for those extra hours is up to you. Mine was negotiated, so for my 9 teaching hours each day as opposed to my regular 6, I’m receiving about 50% more of my regular pay.
The Intensive Schedule
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, my schedule looks like this:
12:30 – Absolute latest time I can arrive at the school.
1:00 – Begin “Intensive” Winter Camp class
4:00 – End Winter Camp, immediately begin regular class #1
7:00 – End Regular Class #1, begin regular Class #2
and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my schedule is a little different:
9:30 – Absolute latest time I can arrive at the school.
10:00 – Begin “Intensive” Winter Camp class
1:00 – End “Intensive” class, break for a few hours
3:30 – Absolute latest time I can arrive back at the school (or be docked pay)
4:00 – Begin regular class #1
7:00 – Begin Regular class #2
10:00 – End Regular class #2
So as you can see, it’s a pretty stressful month of spending almost your entire days at school. Combined with the gym, and getting enough sleep, I almost don’t have enough time to write this blog. For any teachers thinking about making the trip to Korea, make sure you look into intensive classes beforehand, and whether you’ll be required to teach them. While it can be an easy source of income, it can be easy to burn out.
All in All
It’s not a bad job to have. You get paid a decent wage depending on how well you negotiate prior. I’d recommend it for anyone looking at exploring Korea. Have any questions? Post them in the comments!