There are plenty of professional recruiters out there who will find you
a great job. There are also plenty of sleazeballs just looking to get
warm bodies on the plane. Never lose site of the fact that recruiters
are paid to fill positions. A lot of them may advertise the fact
that they don't charge teachers - what they don't tell you is that the
schools pay them a bounty on each teacher provided. My first trip to Korea
netted my recruiter a million won, which was over $1200 B.C. (before the financial
crash of 1997).
It's nice to feel wanted but don't forget to make your recruiter earn
their money. Ask a lot of questions and don't give up until you're satisfied
with the answers. Don't focus so much on the pay and the benefits, all
that will be spelled out in the contract or in the ad that caught your
attention in the first place. For now just focus on getting a feel for
the school itself. Some example questions:
- How many teachers work at the school?
- How many of them stay until the end of the contract or sign up for
- What are the names and numbers (or e-mail addresses) of a couple of
teachers on staff that you can call and ask about teaching and living
- Is the boss Western or Korean?
- Who does level-testing for incoming students? (You'd be amazed at
how many schools just give this job to a secretary - who can't speak
- When is payday?
- Where do the teachers live?
Things to look (out) for in the answers:
- only one or two teachers at the school. It might be a great opportunity
to really get into the culture. It also might be a great opportunity
to get taken advantage of by a school that has too few students and
sees cutting your salary and benefits as the easiest way to reduce overhead.
- a lot of teachers leaving early. This is almost always a sure sign
of problems and a place to avoid. Most contracts are worded in such
a way that those who leave early forfeit their severance pay (technically
illegal), their airfare home as well as their original airfare, and
sometimes a monthly 'security fee'. Anyone willing to give up that much
money must really have a good reason for leaving. Conversely, a school
that has a lot of second- and third-year teachers is almost always a
safe bet. People wouldn't stay if they didn't like it.
- the recruiter being unwilling or unable to put you in touch with another
teacher at the school. The recruiter either doesn't know anything about
the school or knows enough to want to keep it a secret.
- there's a lot more upside to having a Western boss than a Korean one.
Of course there will probably be a Korean boss somewhere up the chain
of command but on a day-to-day basis it's much simpler dealing with
a boss who speaks your own language and is used to your culture. Generally
the 'academic director' is someone who's been around Korea for awhile
and can help you get adjusted and deal with any culture shock. Whereas
Korean bosses can be the ones giving you the culture shock! This
isn't to say all Korean bosses are bad (or all Western ones are good)
it's just that you'll have enough to deal with just getting adjusted
to your new job, culture and language. Why add one more challenge?
- classes with students of mixed levels are a nightmare. The advanced
ones are bored and the slower ones are intimidated. Schools that have
experienced teachers do the level-testing are much better at
getting the students in the appropriate class. Try and get familiar
with the program yourself before doing any level-testing, and even then
don't be afraid to ask someone for help.
- paydays (for the previous month) that are late in the month are another
bad sign (in Korea, most of Asia for that matter, you only get paid
once a month, for the previous month). The closer payday is to the previous
month the better. Schools usually push payday back because they've had
several teachers run out on them right after payday. To minimize this
risk they push the payday back further and further, figuring teachers
are less likely to leave if they have to give up two or three weeks'
salary. You should ask yourself what caused these teachers to leave
in the first-place. Maybe they're just unprofessional pricks ruining
it for the rest of us, or maybe the school sucks and that was their
way of getting even.
- contract clauses that take a little of your pay each month and set
it aside to give you when you leave. This isn't a bonus - they're taking
the money they owe you and holding it hostage. Once again the idea being
that teachers will be unlikely to leave if they have to give up a lot
of money. These clauses are almost always the sign of a school that
has had a lot of people break the contract and leave early. Don't trust
them any more than they trust you.
- ideally you want your own furnished place in a decent building close
to school. Sharing with one other teacher however, isn't that uncommon.
Getting stuck in a 'dormitory' (i.e. empty classroom) in the school
itself is usually a bad sign - a school unwilling, or unable, to support
I hope you have found these general guidelines useful. I have purposely
avoided talking about specific pay rates, benefits, etc. because they
change frequently (just ask those of us here during the Crash) and vary
widely depending on your qualifications, experience and what part of the
country you're headed to - just check around on Dave's ESL Cafe. If you're still
not sure you can always e-mail me
My goal here is to familiarize you with some of the things you need to
ask your recruiter (or potential boss if you're dealing directly with
the institute) when choosing a position. The best sounding contract in
the world isn't going to do you much good if the school won't, or can't,
keep its end of the bargain.