Choosing an ESL Teaching Job Wisely
Jul 8, 2015 Career Development 6994 Views
It's Not Just About Salary
When you are looking to teach abroad, there are a variety of factors to consider beyond just the basic salary including legal overtime opportunities, whether or not you own your working visa, airfare, housing, taxes, healthcare, number of teaching hours, sick days, and vacation.
For example, Job A might have the highest salary of any other offers, but you could be stuck at school for 50 hours per week, with 30-35 teaching hours, which will leave you exhausted and burnt out in short order.
Job B might have one of the lowest salaries, but it has a low number of working hours as well as lots of vacation. If there are plenty of legal overtime opportunities, it could actually be a better deal than Job A.
Or, Job C might have a low salary and a high amount of teaching hours, but it could be an excellent move for your career and a company in which you can advance in, in which case you should consider turning down a higher salary or low teaching hours job that has no room for growth or advancement. The decision is a complicated one and is not something that should be taken lightly.
Money: It's all About Salary/Hour
Salary should be a major factor when deciding on a job offer, especially if you have significant amounts of debt to pay off. However, I would like to suggest a more helpful way of examining it than just simply going for the highest number possible. A better variable to consider is salary per hour worked. By having a job with the highest salary per hour worked possible, you will have one of two things: a lot of money coming in each month or plenty of free time on your hands to pursue other things such as overtime opportunities or advancing your career in some way.
I will give you three examples from South Korea, which is the context that I am most familiar with. As a quick reference, 1,000 South Korean Won is generally equivalent to around $1 USD, so 2.4 million Korean Won is around $2,400 USD.
The Average Hagwon (Private Institute) Job
Monthly salary: 2.4 million Korean Won
Weekly teaching hours: 30
Vacation: 2 weeks/year
Airfare: included (2 million Won)
Bonus money at end of contract: 2.4 million Won
Total yearly salary: 33.2 million Won
Total hours worked/year: 1500
Salary/hour = 22,000 Won
The Average University Job
Monthly salary: 2.2 million Korean Won
Weekly teaching hours: 15
Vacation: 20 weeks/year
Airfare: not included
Bonus money at end of contract: not included
Total yearly salary: 26.4 million Won
Total hours worked/ year: 480
Salary/hour = 55,000 Won
The Average Public School Job
Monthly salary: 2.0 million Korean won
Weekly teaching hours: 22
Vacation: 14 days (officially), but there are many “desk-warming” days where you have to be at school but have no classes or work that you need to do. I will include some of these, so vacation is around 6 weeks (unofficially), which is what I will use for my calculations.
Airfare: included (2 million Won)
Bonus money at end of contract: 2.0 million Won
Total yearly salary: 28 million Won
Total hours worked: 1012
Salary/hour = 28,000 Won
From Best to Worst
The hagwon job which at first glance seems like the best one due to the high monthly salary, free airfare and contract completion bonus is the worst one in terms of salary per hour due to the high number of teaching hours and low vacation time.
The public school job that initially seems to be the worst due to the low monthly salary turns out to be better than the hagwon job because it pays 6000 Won more per teaching hour.
And of course, the university job is by far the best, but these jobs are not that easy to come by in South Korea and require some serious qualifications and networking skills (for tips on how to get one of these coveted jobs, check out this book, available on Amazon: How to Get a University Job in South Korea).
Another closely related factor to consider when deciding on a job offer is the availability of legal overtime opportunities. There is always plenty of illegal work you could do on the side but I do not recommend this, especially if you are someone like me who likes to stay on the right side of the law.
The best way to do legal overtime work is through your main place of employment. For example, some universities in Korea have a low number of teaching hours per week and large amounts of vacation. If you can combine this with lots of opportunities for work during those off times, you can make a significant amount of money and in some cases even double your monthly salary. Another way to work legal overtime is by working at a place that gives you permission for outside work and will sign whatever paperwork necessary to make it possible for you to do this, assuming it is permissible with immigration. Overtime opportunities should be something that you inquire about during the interview process.
Remember to do your research when deciding on an ESL teaching job-there are far more factors to consider than the base salary. It's worth the time to calculate salary/hour for each job you consider to see whether or not it's as good (or bad) as it seems at first glance. For more information about personal finance for ESL teachers, check out The Wealthy English Teacher on Amazon.