This article may not apply to you. Teaching English in a public school in Korea or in Japan might be for you. But there are a few things you should know about them and decide whether they're for you or not.
Programs like EPIK or JET are popular government programs that place teachers in public schools in Japan or in Korea as assistant teachers. If you are planning on teaching English in Korea or in Japan in a public school then you are planning on being an ALT teacher. That means you are planning on being an assistant.
Is being an assistant English language teacher (ALT) for you?
These programs can be good for some people, but are they good for you? Well, first I would ask yourself if you want to be a leader or if you want to be an assistant? As an assistant you are more of a plug-in teacher that's used when they want and how they want. When you are the lead teacher you have more control, autonomy and sometimes responsibility.
If you don't want the responsibility or you're a beginner then being an assistant teacher might be for you. It can be an easier job and you may get along with your co-teacher, but you will have less control and less autonomy. Your title as a teacher will be an assistant. You will be an assistant to the Korean or Japanese lead teacher.
You have less control teaching English in a public school in Korea or Japan
Here's a few facts about teaching English in public school programs like EPIK, JET or Interac.
- You don't choose the school. If you go through a program like EPIK, Interac or JET they will choose your location and the school you will work at. You can voice your preference on where you want to be, but they choose.
- You don't choose your co-teacher or lead teacher rather. You will be assigned to work with another teacher. You will be spending a considerable amount of time with this person. You won't know who your co-teacher is until you arrive. Some people get along fine with their co-teachers and others do not.
- You often do not choose what, how and when you teach. As mentioned you will be an assistant language teacher. Your role is usually to do what the lead teacher says, how he/she says it and when he/she says it. I have heard of some teachers having more autonomy, but generally your role is the assistant.
If you are considering teaching for either JET or Interac in Japan you might find this post helpful.
My experience teaching in a public school in Korea
You don't necessarily have to go through EPIK to teach in a public school in Korea.
I have taught in both public schools and hagwons (private academies) as in English teacher in Korea, Taiwan and China and lived in Japan. When I started my job in a public school in Korea I did not get along with my co-teacher. She was a religious freak, spoke imperfect English and had less teaching experience than me.
I taught about a total of 22 or so hours a week which is normal for a public school job in Korea. I had about 11 classes where I was "her" assistant and about 11 where I chose the books and taught the classes how I wanted. Those classes were good and the books were better than the normal Korean public school books.
She would sometimes ask me to do stuff like: answer the phone, clean the floor, close windows and stuff like that. Stuff that didn't matter or seem appropriate to me. The problem was that since she was considered the "lead teacher" she had the authority (so they say) and that's a big part of Korean culture. You can read more about those problems here.
Conclusion - EPIK vs. JET
Think about where you want to be. Do research - a lot of it on each country. Aside from the salaries and country differences these teaching positions are not that different.
These positions are not open all the time. EPIK has 2 hiring periods a year and JET has only one. On the other hand private academies hire all year around.
You know some people get along fine in public schools and have good relations with their co-teachers. So it could work out for you just fine. This is not to discourage you, it's just something to consider.
Basically I learned that teaching English in a public school in Korea was not for me. It's just who I am. I want to do things my way and I don't want to be told what to do. You know autonomy is one of the ingredients of happiness.
I imagine there are other people out there who are like that too. So that's why I wrote this and that's why I would recommend working in a private school such as in a hagwon, eikaiwa, buxiban, training center or even a university.