The number one most important tip when applying to a school in Hagwon is to ask a lot of questions. Talk to more than one person, especially if that one person is the owner or director.
Just before we started looking in earnest, Rachel and I sat down in a pub and made a one page paper full of questions. Some of these can be found with some quick googling, others were products of our first year experiences. We condensed that list down to a top 10, because really who wants to answer a whole page worth of questions?
Among the 10 were some such as:
Will I ever have to work nights? (Because we are working at different schools, we really wanted to be able to meet any night we liked). My school assured me that I never would.
Would I ever have to call the students (one of the worst parts of Rachel’s job last year was calling her 5 year olds at home, or at least trying to). My school assured me that this never happened.
How big are the classes? (Anything over 12 or even ten becomes more about classroom management aka babysitting). My school assured me that there were always around ten kids a class.
This isn’t counting the stuff I compromised on–taking a room without a kitchen, taking less money than I made last year, and having a somewhat strict dress code. There are a lot of factors into taking a job, because so schools in Korea will hire you. Armed with the knowledge I had received, I decided to take the job at what became my school.
I have been teaching for a month exactly and guess what?
I have’t taught a class with less than 15 kids. I’ve had to sit kids on tables and the ground because there were too many for the classrooms. This is just the norm.
Today, I had to call kids for an hour and give them a level test. In truth, it wasn’t horrible and I had it instead of teaching for a period. Also, I think the decision to make these calls came from pretty high up. If I hadn’t been told this never happened, it wouldn’t have been at all bad. As part of a pattern, however, it’s a little worrying.
Finally, today I also found out that I will be on night duty for 4 weeks starting next week. That means not only do I get to work nights after all, but I also get to supervise a few hundred kids at a time. This one is kind of a double whammy.
They also had me train for 3 full days, including cleaning the classrooms at the end of the day, and then later told me it was unpaid. If they’d been upfront about it, it would have been no big deal, but they weren’t.
The job isn’t bad–it’s certainly an improvement from last year–but they were far from upfront about things that I asked about. The head teacher that hired me has already left, so there’s no accountability. It’s disappointing to have done my homework and then had the answers changed anyway. But it’s all part of the Korea experience.