Differences between Private and Public Schools in South Korea

Teaching at private and public schools in South Korea is different in many ways. It’s beneficial for the candidates to know these differences while conducting their job research. Without a proper understanding, the candidates can be confused and end up feeling that they made a wrong decision. ESL Job Link wants to help all candidates understand the differences between working at private and public schools and make sure they apply to the school that best suits them.

Placement: If you want to apply for private schools, ESL Job Link will work with you throughout the entire hiring process. For public schools, applicants should apply directly without any help from recruiting agencies.

Class size: A private school’s class size is much smaller than a public school’s. A typical class size at a private school ranges between 10 to 12 students whereas there are 30 to 40 students in a public school class. At public schools, a foreign teacher co-teaches with a Korean English teacher. All issues related to classwork need to be consulted with the Korean co-teacher. In private schools, you are the lead teacher and make all your classroom decisions.

Coworkers: Typically, most private schools hire more than 1 foreign teacher. Public school’s policy is to hire 1 foreign teacher for each public school. If you find yourself to be more comfortable around other foreign teachers, then a private school might be better suited for you.

Teacher support: Most private schools have a better Korean teacher support system for foreign teachers compared with public schools. There are Korean staff at private schools who will be working with foreign teachers on issues ranging from classwork to everyday life. Public schools offer foreign teacher support as well, but the responsiveness and communication may vary from school to school.

Student age group: The majority of private schools teach kindergarten and elementary age students. There are also many private schools teaching elementary and middle school students. Public schools have a variety of student age groups, including elementary, middle school and high school students.

Location: Private schools are usually located in large cities and an urban setting. Teachers will know exactly what school they are going to and where it is located when they apply to private schools. In contrast, public schools have more positions available in small cities and rural area, so a teacher may have to go to 2 to 3 different public schools to teach. When applicants apply for jobs, they won’t know what city they’re going to until they receive a signed contract and notice of appointment about 2 months after they apply. They will find out what school they’re going to at the orientation venue in Korea.

Contract hours: Public school hours are shorter than most private schools’. Typical school hours at a public school are 8 to 4 or 8:30 to 4:30, while school hours at a private school are usually 9 to 5 or 9:30 to 6:30. Teaching hours are 22 hours per week at public schools, but 30 hours per week are common at most private schools. Therefore, the workload is generally heavier at private schools.

Starting salary: A teacher’s salary will vary depending on degrees, majors, certificates and full-time teaching experiences. Private schools normally pay a starting salary between 2.1 to 2.2 million Korean won to non-education majors holding a Bachelor’s degree. Education majors with 1 year of teaching experience normally earn 100,000 to 200,000 won more per month than non-education majors. Please note that some private schools offer a higher salary when you sign on for longer teaching hours. Public schools normally pay a starting salary between 2,0 to 2.1 million Korean won to first-time teachers.

Vacation: Private schools usually give foreign teachers 2 weeks of paid vacation a year: 1 week of summer vacation that starts at the end of July or early August and 1 week of winter vacation that begins at Christmas until January 1. Public schools give foreign teachers about 4 weeks of paid vacation, 2 weeks in the summer and 2 weeks in the winter.

Online TEFL certificate: Korean public and private schools hire many non-education majors who have no teaching credentials. Public schools do require non-education majors to get TEFL certified. For private schools, it’s not mandatory.

Airfare: Both public and private schools pay for the teacher’s one-way or round-trip airfare. Teachers going to public schools will pay for their arrival flight out of pocket and will be given 1.3 million won regardless of the airfare price upon arrival. When they finish their contracts, they are paid another 1.3 million won before their departure. Since one-way airfare to Korea usually costs less than 1.3 million won, going to a public school financially benefits you. Private schools handle the airfare costs up front. Some private schools pay for teachers’ one-way airfare only.

Income tax: The income tax rate for foreign teachers is between 3 and 5 % of their monthly salary at private schools. However, American teachers at public schools can get income tax exemption for the first two years. Teachers who want to get income tax exemption should submit a residency certificate after they arrive in Korea.

Positions for couples: Only married couples can be joint applicants and apply for couple housing to public schools. Public schools don’t guarantee placement in the same location for non-married applicants. Private schools have positions for non-married couples, but the number is limited.

Health insurance: Health insurance premium is relatively cheap in Korea. Public schools pay half of National Health Insurance premium and teachers pay the other half. Some private schools buy a private health insurance plan because it’s cheaper.

Pension plan: All public schools pay half of the national pension plan contribution (4.5% of teacher’s monthly salary). The teacher will pay the other half. When the teacher returns home, the Korean national pension plan committee will wire the whole sum of the pension plan to the teacher’s U.S. account. Some private schools do not pay the national pension plan for teachers, but might pay a higher salary to compensate for not providing the pension plan.

Renewal allowance: Public schools pay teachers a contract renewal bonus of 2 million won if they renew their contract at the same school district for another year. When renewing a contract with a private school, all is up for negotiation: salary, vacation between old and new contract, and flights.