Should I teach in a public school or in a hagwon? If you're not sure which one then this is for you. In Korea you can teach in a public school, a private school (hagwon) or possibly in a university if you are experienced. This post will focus on public schools and private schools. You will also find a video which may cover a few things that are not here in text.

"What about the horror stories that I have read? I heard hagwons are horrible." Both of them have some ups and downs and we shouldn't generalize and say one is better than the other.

The working hours

In a public school you'll work from around 8:30-4:30. A public after school position (not common) is around 12-5 pm. In a private school you could work from 9-6 (kindergarten & elementary), 2-9, 2-10 or maybe 3-10 teaching elementary, middle or high school students. Work hours are often less in a private school. I worked in one that had a lighter schedule that was about 2:45-8:30 or so.

The teaching hours

Public school is usually around 22 hours a week and private schools are around 30 hours a week. In most situations you will be teaching more in a hagwon.

The environment

Public school is similar in appearance to a public school in your own country. Private schools can be quite nice and have very modern facilities. You can see some pictures of each in The Starter's Guide.

Class size

Public schools tend to have larger classes that are above 30 students. Private schools tend to have much smaller classes. Some may only have a few students per class and go up to 20 or more.


You'll have a co-teacher in a public school and you most likely will not have one in a private school. There will be other teachers around though, Korean and possibly other foreigner teachers, and they may teach some of the same classes as you at a different time.


In a public school you will share work with your co-teacher, but your co-teacher is usually the lead teacher. You are just an assistant. Your work may be less here. In a private school you will usually be responsible for planning lessons by yourself.


You'll usually have more autonomy and independence in how you teach in a private school. As mentioned before in a public school you'll work with a co-teacher. Work is shared. Read why you shouldn't teach in a public school.


You may make a higher salary teaching in a hagwon than you would in a public school. Often more, but not much more. Public schools typically have a set pay scale that's based on experience and other qualifications. In a hagwon you may be able to negotiate a higher pay.


In a public school you will use the public school books which are used all over Korea. From my point of view these books are not very good. I heard that they were going to change, so they may have improved since then. Each private school will have different books. Some of the large chains may have their own books and others will use commercially available ESL books.


Most people would say that public schools are considered more stable. Since they are government operated there is not much of a chance that they will shut down. However, in Korea many public school jobs will be cut by 2014. Private schools are privately operated so that there is some chance that they could close down if business is unsuccessful.

I personally never had a problem with receiving money from a private school in Korea, Taiwan or China. I have worked at quite a few too. I did however have problems with money and a recruiter who worked together with my public school in Korea.

In my experience neither one is perfect. I had more problems with the public school position and my co-teacher than I did at private schools. I prefer the autonomy which usually comes with working in a private school. Both will require you to prepare paperwork before teaching in Korea.

You may also be interested in How to find a good ESL job and in reading this interview with a hagwon owner in Korea.

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