With the school semester in Thailand coming to a close I’ve gained a decent understanding of what the public school system here is like compared to the public system in South Korea. I admit I have not taught in the public school school system in Korea but I do have a good understanding of it through my own research, talking to EPIK (English Program in Korea) teachers, and having taught in the private system which does have some similarities to the public sector. So let me break down some of the things I’ve observed when comparing them. This post will examine what it takes to teach in their system, salaries and benefits, what you teach, the students, expectations, and other criteria.
THAILAND: It used to be that just about anyone could get a job teaching in a public school here in Thailand but those days are rapidly fading and now due to a crackdown by the military junta on unqualified English teachers. Nowadays a degree and a positive attitude are the bare minimum requirements to get a job teaching at a public school though a preference and more money is given to teachers who have some kind of TEFL certificate.
KOREA: Qualifications required here are similar for the public system, until 2012 only a degree was required though candidates with a degree and a 100+hr TEFL certificate were preferred. Nowadays those are the bare minimum and I believe the TEFL certificate must include an in-class section to be considered. I should also add that the budget for the EPIK program has been repeatedly cut in recent years meaning fewer and fewer jobs so competition is fierce.
Teacher salary and benefits
THAILAND: 30,000 baht is pretty standard thought it fluctuates depending on the location and your qualifications and experience. In terms of benefits, as I mention in my guide to teaching in Thailand, it really depends. Quite a lot of teachers are placed in public schools by companies and these companies pay your salary and benefits could include accommodation allowance, health insurance, some paid vacation time, etc. If you are working directly for the school they may pay you a little more but offer no benefits.
KOREA: Salaries start at the low end of 1.8m KRW and max out at 2.5-2.7m KRW, good money. Then of course you have your flight to and from Korea paid for. An apartment is paid for. Severance pay and pension. About 4 weeks of paid vacation plus national holidays. A settlement stipend to help cover the cost of buying things for your apartment. Hands down the Korean public system has the best salary and benefits.
THAILAND: The school year is divided into two semesters. The school year starts in May and the first semester finishes at the end of August or mid September depending on the school. So what it equates to is that the bulk of your vacation time is in April and October. Depending on whether you work with a teacher placement company or directly for a school, you may or may not be paid for the time in between semesters which could mean anywhere from at least a month to almost 3 months without pay. This lengthy period of potentially unpaid vacation is what prevents a lot of teachers from staying in the public school for very long. Teachers do get national holidays off though….
KOREA: English teachers in the EPIK program get about 2 weeks off in the summer and 2 weeks off in the winter with quite a few paid public holidays.
THAILAND: You can expect the range; brand new in Bangkok to crumbling in some of the more rural areas. On average I’d say it is somewhere in between having been to a few different schools for English camps. The buildings are typically a bit worn down though it is not uncommon to see schools spend their money on new buildings rather than spruce up existing ones. The classrooms will be more like seminar sized rooms you were in during university and filled with old, graffiti covered desks and chairs with a number of fans dotted around the room. Don’t expect AC in the classroom or even in the teacher’s office. Assemblies will usually take place out on the sports field or under a big sheltered area used for school ceremonies and other events. The canteen will be open air but under a building.
KOREA: Schools facilities are much better in Korea but that is what you’d expect from a developed country. Most schools are fairly modern, classrooms will probably have AC, some have smart boards, there will be a sports field and an indoor hall used for sports and school events, etc. In short, public school facilities in Korea are typically not so different from back home.
Curriculum and lesson planning
THAILAND: If you work for a teacher placement company, they primarily deal with new and inexperienced teachers and typically will give the teacher a curriculum to teach but often it is just a guideline and teachers can teach what they like, for the most part, as long as the focus is on speaking and listening because foreign English teachers are responsible for conversational English for the most part in public schools in Thailand. When it comes to lesson planning, teachers submit their lesson plans to the company and the company may opt to accept it or suggest changes. If you work directly for the school they may have a curriculum they want their teachers to follow as it may supplement the work done by the Thai English teachers. In the case of working for a school directly your lesson plans may be submitted to the head of the English department or simply given free license to teach what you like within reason. You will also be responsible for making your own teaching materials as it is likely the students will not have textbooks to learn from.
KOREA: The curriculum and teaching materials will be given to you by the school and when you plan your lessons you will do it jointly with your Korean co-teacher. You may have more or less freedom to plan your lessons, it just depends on your co-teacher and school. Any additional teaching materials needed for lessons will be the teacher’s responsibility to make. It should also be noted that the curriculum is very test driven in order to give students the best chance to get into better universities.
THAILAND: There are three levels of public schools in Thailand; anuban, prathom, and mathayom (I teach mathayom which are the middle and high school grades). Class sizes range from about 30 up to 40….but can even be as big as 50+! With class sizes that big you can imagine how hard it can be to impose some level of order and discipline but you can get used to it pretty quickly like I did, but that is another blog post 😉 Not to worry though, depending on what level the students are half of them may not even show up to class. There is a big problem with students skipping classes in Thailand. For the most part students are very polite and respectful to teachers and wai them when you see them at school, greet you with smiles and ‘good morning teacher’ (regardless as to whether it is actually the afternoon!), will rush to make space for you if you are trying to get somewhere at school, and often they will kind of stoop/duck past you as another sign of respect. Don’t let big classes deter you!
KOREA: In Korea you have elementary, middle, and high schools. Class sizes are around 20-30 on average. But you will share the class with a Korean co-teacher who assists you in maintaining discipline. Behaviorally I have to say that Korean students are so very polite and respectful, at least that is my experience from teaching kindie and elementary students, it might change a little for middle and high school students. I’d also say that the standard of English is much higher in Korean classrooms and it is not hard to converse with most of your students.
THAILAND: A great place for people who want to earn some money for their travels and try their hand at teaching with a view to teaching for a longer period of time. You have a lot of freedom in the classroom to teach what you want and how you want. Contracts can be for just a semester so you are not required to make a long-term commitment. There is always a huge demand for teachers year round so it is not hard to find a job. The range of locations from the tropical south, big bad Bangkok, and vast beauty of the north means you are spoiled for choice.
KOREA: A good place to start an ESL career because it is a serious ESL teaching destination and you can save some serious money. The quality of living you can have in Korea is very high and you can live comfortably. Most students are a joy to teach. You will have less choice on where you want to teach because the EPIK program is so competitive but that is the price you pay to get a sweet job.
What do you think? Are there other categories you think I should add, what have I not considered? Leave a comment!