How to Avoid Bad Schools While Teaching English

Bill Rhodes left the United States for South Korea in December. He's been an English teacher there since.

Bill Rhodes left the United States for South Korea in December. He’s been an English teacher there since.

Teaching English is one of the most popular ways to earn money while traveling, but how do people make sure they’re making the right decision before they sign a contract?

According to Bill Rhodes, a first-year English teacher in Seoul, South Korea, he advises to do research ahead of time.

“There are a lot of shady things that go with teaching and especially bringing in foreign teachers,” Bill said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people get into a situation where they’re not getting paid on time or they’re working hours they weren’t expected to.”

In full disclosure, Bill said his overall experience since moving to South Korea in December has been positive. He’s now married and said he’s had no problems at his school; however, he is aware of what’s called a “hogwon blacklist.”

Running a Google search produces dozens of Web sites that include negative teacher experiences at these schools in South Korea. While it is possible that Internet trolls are writing some of these negative reviews, it’s important to take careful consideration into what is being written to ascertain its truth. My belief is that if I read two or more plausible negative reviews about a school, I would not continue seeking employment with them.

But let’s say that you get an interview with a school. What should you do then?

Ask the right questions. Web sites like ESLBase.com and TEFL.net offer suggestions, including asking about turnover rate and contact information for previous teachers. Hesitation about the later should be a big clue not to take the job with the school.

Even with a good school, Bill said anyone who works in Korea should expect to work long hours. Bill said he works between five to 10 times outside his normal hours a month, but added that other schools are a lot worse.

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Bill says Korea can be an enjoyable experience, but before you accept a job, he advises to do research and learn some Korean.

ESLBase.com said teaching between 20 to 25 contract hours is normal. As for Bill, he said he typically teaches about six to seven classes a day starting at 2:50 p.m. He’s usually finished by 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.

Bill also said he’s expected to complete other obligations that are “above and beyond” normal duties. This includes weekly journals, grading essays online and sending out monthly report cards to parents.

But the same attitude that applies to teachers and other workers, also applies to students. Bill said that after attending public school, most Korean children attend private academies in the afternoon and evening.

“It’s a very competitive education environment,” Bill said. “Most kids, if their parents can afford it, go between one and sometimes six or seven private academies.”

South Korean officials enacted laws to ease the stress on students. A curfew was established at 10 p.m., and according to a September 2011 Time article, police officers are now raiding academies that teach past this curfew.

Even though it’s easy to focus on the horror stories, Bill said teaching English in Korea can be a good experience.

Bill said he enjoys seeing the progress his students have made over the last eight months.

“You have days when the kids are really into it, and you can see improvement in their English,” Bill said. “That is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.”

Overall, Bill cautioned for teachers to be careful. As long as they do that, Bill said they can enjoy themselves.

Are you teaching in Korea? What’s been your experience? Leave your comments below.

For teaching in China, please click here.

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One Response to “How to Avoid Bad Schools While Teaching English”

  1. Although I’m currently teaching in China, I came across your post and found it very interesting as South Korea was also one of my first choices and I still hope to go one day.
    So far there have been no problems with being required to fulfil duties outside of teaching hours or problems financially, but rather being accountable for the improvement of our students’ English despite teaching 21 different classes a week at four different kindergartens. Because we only see each class twice a week (which equates to only a maximum of one hour), we can’t be held fully accountable if our students are not improving at a fast pace when they are reviewed by the leaders, yet our Chinese teachers seem to think it is the foreign teacher’s fault. Miscommunication and everybody blaming each other is our only issue to date and I wonder if anyone else has experienced a similar situation??
    Great blog, hope you continue to update!