Going On An Adventure: TEFL Contracts in South Korea
In another life where I felt the urge to give more of my hard-earned, yet non-existent, money to the American Education System, I would have gone to Law School and studied Entertainment and Contract Law. There are some doozies out there. If you want to see for yourself, just search "TEFL contract review" on Reddit! Some are insane, but there are some commonalities in all of them. The important thing to remember is that you are able to negotiate your contract. It's the one reason that you should use a recruiter as they would be able to negotiate on your behalf. If you have researched a school and really want to teach there you have the right and ability to fight for the terms that you want. Just be able to back it up and deliver.
I have gone over my contracts and picked out the most important parts and explained them also noting which terms are typically negotiable. Here are South Korean TEFL Contracts Explained.
Contract Term: Non-negotiable
The "term" of the contract is how long you are going to be employed by the school. Most contracts are 1 year in length, 365 calendar days. So if your contract starts on June 1st then the last day of your contract would be May 31st. There are a few 6-month contracts out there, but they are far and few between.
You may be able to negotiate your start date. For instance, I recently requested to start earlier than the contracted date so that I would have more time to train and observe. If the new semester starts on March 2nd, I would prefer to start a week earlier so that I can observe how they run their classes and what they want me to do. It doesn't hurt the school because, in the event that I choose to not re-sign my contract, the teacher that replaces me would have the same training opportunity or can start at the beginning of the Semester as I was requested to do.
Probation Period: Non-negotiable
This is another one of those sections that you should pay close attention to. I fell victim to this particular section in my first school. Most schools will give you a "probation period". During this period they will train you and make sure that you are as good a fit as they thought you were in the interview. If you don't fit, then they will let you go with little to no warning.
This is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because if you find, like I did, that you and the school are not a good fit, you don't have to suffer for the remaining 9 months of your contract. The downside is that A.) you now have to explain to your next school why you left, which in my case was a little difficult; and B.) you will have to pay back the cost of your flight over. It will be deducted from your last paycheck. You also will not receive severance as you worked for less than 6 months.
Hours fall under three different categories: Kindergarten, Public School, Private School aka Hagwon. Most Hagwons start later in the day around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and go until 9 or 10 in the evening. On the flip side of that coin, Public Schools and Kindergartens start around 9 in the morning. If you are someone who wakes up with the sun, having a late start might not make you happy. But if you enjoy the nightlife, getting off at 10 may not be for your either. That is something that you will have to decide before you start your search.
I thought that I wouldn't mind working the later shift, but my first school operated from 1-9 and I hated it. I tend to wake up every morning by 7:23 exactly. The sun wakes me up no matter how thick my curtains are, where my bed is positioned according to the window, or if I am wearing my Holly Golightly eye mask or not. I also try hard not to eat after 9 pm because I am in bed by 10. I attempted to change my pattern and to sleep at 11 so that I would sleep later. It didn't work. So I was wasting most of my day and was tired all the time! Now that I have had a taste of working 9-6 I will never go back!
There are very few instances, I have found, where your hours are negotiable. If you happen to find yourself in a school that has a double shift, you may be able to request that you work one, the other, or both. I have interviewed at a Poly School where there is a Kindergarten shift in the morning, and an Elementary shift in the afternoon; I was offered the choice of which shift I wanted or to work both and get paid more.
Most teaching jobs in Korea with no experience start around 2 million won, before taxes. This converts to about $1680 per month, and 20,000 a year. You do get more if you have the certification and a higher degree and even more if you have experience in teaching.
There will also be an article that pertains to overtime. There are some schools that will require you to do a Saturday program or extra classes outside of work hours. They would count as overtime.
The offered salary is going to reflect, what they think that you are worth. If they give you a number that you think is too low, let them know and fight for more. Typically in an interview, they will ask you how much you expect for the workload that they have put forth. I have been told that I always short change myself and request too low. So as a rule of thumb I try to ask for just above what their minimum offer is. But also be realistic. You are not going to go from waitressing to making 5 million won with no experience with children. Do all the math, factor in your living expenses, how much you plan to save *hint* and how much you plan to send back home for bills.
Lastly, check to see when you will be paid. When you get here they should help you set up a bank account and direct deposit. Your contract will tell you what day of the month you get paid on and how "Closed Bank Days" ie weekends and holidays are dealt with.
Vacation Time: Non-negotiable
Time off policy depends on the school. For most hagwons, vacation time is a predetermined 10 days of the year, 5 in the summer and 5 in the winter. This is because they operate year-round and have fewer teachers available. On the flip side, Public Schools have longer vacations that typically you get to decide for yourself.
This was not a big deal for me because I am a "Work-a-holic". I may plan a vacation, but I would rather work and make money. Even when I had a Management salary job, I still cashed it all out after I quit instead of using it. So it is better for me to have a contract that says, YOU WILL NOT COME TO WORK FOR 10 DAYS, versus me trying to convince myself to take off. As with everything there is a downside. If anything happens at home, I would pretty much have to quit my job in order to leave. Worth it, if it is a sick parent, not worth it for a wedding. This is why Bestie will just have to deal with a July or December wedding!
Housing: Negotiable (usually)
One of the perks of teaching English as a Second Language is the cost of living. Typically, housing is included in your contract. This can happen in one of three ways. The school will have a deal with a building and they will always put their teachers up in that building. If the apartment is not to your liking you have the option to find your own and they will give you a housing stipend, meaning they will pay you more in order to cover your rent. If the school does not have an agreement with a building, then you could have the option to find something that you like, they will front the "key money" or deposit and still give the stipend. Pay close attention to this section. My last school had an apartment building and if you didn't want the apartment, you did NOT get the stipend. So I was stuck in a shoebox of an apartment and miserable since I was coming from a two-bedroom apartment with my first school.
These are the most important parts. As I mentioned, if you are interested in having your FULL contract reviewed go ahead and check out Reddit. A word of warning, the Reddit Community can be VERY bitter and sometimes toxic. There are a lot of people who hate Korea or hate teaching but won't go home. Remember that your story is not the same as theirs. Take the advice that they provide with a grain of salt because a lot of times it is SALTY!
Is there another section of the contract that you think is really important? Let me know below!