teach English in korea

Teaching English in South Korea: Adult Academies

Do you want to teach English in Korea? Working abroad is a great way to gain international experience and make money at the same time. This post covers the most important aspects related to teaching English in Korea at an adult academy. I hope this information illuminates your understanding of employment conditions and helps you better assess pay packages when comparing job opportunities in the Korean workforce. 

Requirements & Documents

Generally, native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree in any subject are eligible. For more information regarding the requirements to teach English in Korea, please see Teach English in South Korea: Private Academies for Kids

The Work

Teaching English to adults is a different universe compared to teaching kids. Both are equally rewarding, but the challenges and demands are disparate. Adult academies are normally located in popular districts and other busy areas with heavy foot traffic. The students can range from ages 18 to 75+. But it really depends on the location, though. In business districts like Yeouido and Gangnam, for example, most of the students are working professionals between 28 to 50 years old. In contrast, academies in areas near universities—such as Sinchon and Hongdae—will have mostly college-aged students or young professionals. The two most common types of adult lessons are group and one-to-one. Academies usually focus on one or the other, although some do both. Moreover, companies employ two types of English teachers: Korean nationals and foreign native English speakers. 

Class Types: Group & One-to-one

Group lessons

For the group lessons, native teachers lead classes independently, without the assistance of local Korean staff. However, in some cases, native English teachers alternate with a Korean (national) English teacher, each focused on different areas of the same lesson. For example, students might focus on English speaking during a class session with a native teacher, but focus on grammar with the Korean English teacher on a different day. Group classes normally run in monthly cycles: classes start at the beginning of the month, and finish at the end of the month. Academies ordinarily require teachers to follow a prescribed curriculum, minimizing the preparation time. However, teachers are often given the chance to create supplementary materials for special classes. 

Depending on the location of the company, group classes can have anywhere from about three to 10 people. This provides instructors with the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Students come from many different backgrounds, so it’s not uncommon to have classes full of artists, retirees, housewives, engineers, small business owners, and the like. This makes the classes very interesting, and moreover teaches the teacher about Korean society in general. All of the interactions and classroom discussions make it interesting to teach English in Korea.

And it’s a lot of fun as well because most academies allow teachers to go out with their students to have coffee, lunch, or dinner on the last day of class. Also, many students return month after month, or year after year, to the same academies. Therefore, teachers really do get to know a lot of the “regulars” very well. In fact, it’s not uncommon for teachers to become good friends with some students.    

One-to-one lessons

One-to-one classes take place in classrooms at an academy or at another location, such as a student’s office at their company. For instance, companies such as LG Electronics or SK Telecom may request on-site lessons for employees a few days per week. This gives English teachers a unique opportunity to experience a side of Korea that very few people, especially foreigners, have access to. Additionally, many of the individuals who receive private lessons are high-ranking executives. Therefore, the English teachers providing these lessons have the chance to visit the headquarters of some of the largest companies in the country, and interact with the individuals in charge of operations. Over time, teachers can build up a vast network of professional contacts by teaching so many executives, which may even lead to other professional employment opportunities outside of education. 

Teachers commonly use subject specific books for one-to-one classes. However, students may request something totally different like reading and discussing news articles, writing reports, or practicing presentations in English. Classes are usually one to two hours long and sometimes take place on the weekend as well. 

Be Aware

Companies sometimes monitor classes either in person or with surveillance cameras. Therefore, it’s common for supervisors to sit in on a class for an “observation”, or review video footage of a recorded class. This is done so that the management can critique and assess a teacher’s compliance with the curriculum, and rate his or her performance. Teacher’s receive feedback from these exercises and are normally given a document with comments and recommendations. 

Also, students regularly rate teachers and classes. Every month students are asked about their experience with their teacher and provide written feedback to the academy. Companies compile feedback ratings and assign teachers a score, for example, from one to one hundred. 

Total Compensation for English Teachers

As stated in the other post regarding pay in Korea, it’s best to consider pay in terms of total compensation. That’s because there are certain elements of compensation that can materially impact one’s income. For example, getting a rent-free apartment isn’t a raise, but it totally eliminates the single largest cost of living expense, which means more cash in an employee’s pocket. 

Compensation

Pay

Salary: Most adult academies offer a base monthly salary of about 2.1 million won to +3.3 million won. Additionally, teachers receive an hourly wage for overtime work. 

Salaries are sometimes hard to predict because schedules are not always fixed, which can lead to wild swings in income. For example, some months are very busy, and teachers can earn more money during this time. In contrast, when teachers work fewer hours at other times of the year, they earn less money. 

Benefits

Food: Adult teaching positions generally don’t provide free meals or food stipends. 

Housing: Employers usually provide employees with some form of housing assistance. At some companies teachers receive a monthly housing stipend between roughly 200,000 to 500,000 won, plus key money (a housing deposit paid to the landlord). Other companies provide fully furnished housing. It really depends on the company, though. And, unless it’s explicitly stated in the contract, apartments do not include an Internet connection. 

Insurance: Employers pay for half of your health insurance costs.

Pension: Your company will match your contributions to the National Pension Service.

For more information about insurance and the national pension, check out Teach English in South Korea: Private Academies for kids

Airfare: In some cases, companies directly purchase roundtrip tickets for employees. Otherwise, they reimburse employees for airfare. 

Severance pay: After successfully completing your employment contract, you will receive the equivalent of one month’s pay for every year of employment. It’s basically like working for 12 months, but getting 13 paychecks. 

Vacation: Vacation times can range from 10 days to one month on average, depending on the company. 

Be Aware

Unless it’s explicitly stated, the term “vacation” is not equivalent to paid vacation. Also, the term “week” does not always equal seven days (from the employers’ perspective). For instance, an employer might offer “two weeks vacation”, meaning two work/business weeks (10 days), without pay. Therefore, if you take vacation time off under these conditions, you will receive a notably smaller check for that pay period.

Additionally, if you re-sign your employment contract and receive additional unpaid vacation, it’s possible that you could end up making less money overall during your second year, even if you do get a slight raise, simply because you had more vacation time. More vacation = fewer hours worked = less overall pay.

Oh, and one more thing: Sometimes employers choose when employees can take vacation days. For instance, your employer might designate certain days throughout the year as off days—when the school is closed—and that is your vacation. 

The Schedule

Depending on the company, teachers are required to work split shifts or block shifts. However, most teachers, especially new hires, work split shifts. That’s because the demand for classes peaks in the morning and the evening, not in the middle of the day. 

For example

Split schedule:

7 a.m. – 10 a.m. + 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. MWF

8 a.m. – 11 p.m. + 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. T-Th

10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sat (overtime)

Block shift:

2 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Some people can adjust to the early mornings and late nights very well, while others struggle to handle it day in and day out. It is possible, though, to have a mix of block shift days and split shift days at some companies. And, in some cases, teachers may work only mornings on some days, and then work on Saturdays to fulfill their minimum required teaching hours. Overall, there is some flexibility with the scheduling. 

The fact that many adult academies are open on Saturdays means that there are typically plenty of opportunities for teachers to work overtime and make more money. In some cases, English teachers can double their salaries some months if they do a substantial amount of overtime. Applicants should ask about this during the hiring process if they have any questions in this area. 

Location

Salaries for English teachers at adult academies are not necessarily higher based on the location of a specific company or job position. But job applicants should be aware that living costs can vary widely depending on the location.

Workers living outside of Seoul will generally enjoy a lower cost of living. And even within Seoul, housing prices differ greatly in different areas. The Itaewon and Ganganam areas, for instance, are much more expensive on average compared to the Guro area. Therefore, choosing which district to live in is just as important as choosing where to work, since it can have a material impact on one’s financial situation. 

Sweet Spot

Teaching adults can be a lot of fun, and it allows teachers to grow their personal and professional networks. The opportunity to meet professionals from a panoply of industries allows teachers to learn more deeply about Korean society, culture, and business. Furthermore, in some extremely unique cases, these connections can lead to phenomenal job opportunities at Korean startups, or Korean companies trying to expand into foreign markets. On top of that, the ability to work overtime allows some teachers to maximize their earning potential if they are willing to put in the extra time. 

In sum

  • Working abroad can be a fun way to experience life in another country while earning a decent living.
  • Teaching adults is a great way to meet and interact with a wide range of individuals across the spectrum of Korean society. 
  • It’s wise to consider the total compensation packages of jobs in Korea, not only the salary. 
  • Teachers will not likely be provided with meals at companies offering classes to adults. 
  • While it depends on the company, most teachers will probably be given a decent housing subsidy, but not rent-free housing. 
  • Split shifts are the norm, but there is usually some flexibility with work schedules. Plus, there are numerous opportunities to work overtime.  
  • Housing location can greatly impact the cost of living because apartment prices can vary widely from city to city, district to district. And people can’t always live close to their company if they aren’t provided with company housing.
  • In some cases, teaching can open up other job opportunities in Korea outside of the education industry.