Question from a reader: teaching at university?

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I love questions from readers! Search my blog to see if your question has already been answered – if it hasn’t, e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.

A reader writes in asking about university jobs:

I just found your blog…thanks for a great resource! I’ve lived in Korea for a little over a year, just to the east of Seoul at first and now near Itaewon. I’m on my second Hagwon job, and while I enjoy it (unless you’re very very cynical, it’s hard to find fault with the life of an English teacher here), I’d really like to get a University job next year.
I’ve read a lot about it on ESL cafe and I realize it’s quite competitive, particularly if you want to live in Seoul – and even more so because I only have a Bachelor’s degree/CELTA.

I love questions from readers! Search my blog to see if your question has already been answered – if it hasn’t, e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.

A reader writes in asking about university jobs:

I just found your blog…thanks for a great resource! I’ve lived in Korea for a little over a year, just to the east of Seoul at first and now near Itaewon. I’m on my second Hagwon job, and while I enjoy it (unless you’re very very cynical, it’s hard to find fault with the life of an English teacher here), I’d really like to get a University job next year.
I’ve read a lot about it on ESL cafe and I realize it’s quite competitive, particularly if you want to live in Seoul – and even more so because I only have a Bachelor’s degree/CELTA.
What do you know about this? Have you heard of any tips to get your foot in the door at a Uni? Thanks! And thanks for blogging! [D.D]

Hi D.D.

Thanks for reading! I’ve actually answered a similar question in the past, but it’s about time to revisit the topic. Seeing as how I have no first-hand experience in working at a university (yet!), I won’t claim to have any 🙂 Another blogger has already written about his first-hand experiences; although the first post is a little old, I’ll defer to Joe Seoulman #1 and Joe Seoulman #2. Read those before venturing ahead.

Working at a good university of Seoul is one of those wonderful dreams some expats get after some time in Korea. They’re still pretty cushy jobs (from most accounts, at least), and offer a working environment where you’re still respected. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the best job available in Korea, it’s almost certainly better than 98% of the hagwon jobs out there.

With that said, yes – competition is intense, just as it would be for any job truly worth getting. There are plenty of university offerings on Dave’s ESL Cafe – just search for ‘university’ to find all the respective jobs. Remember that universities will do their hiring further in advance – March and April for jobs starting in August wouldn’t be unusual, although some university postings were still on Dave’s as of this (early June) post.

Assuming you find the jobs, the odds are still stacked against you. While applicants may have a Bachelor’s degree in some cases, you’re expected to bring some significant experience to the table. What counts as significant? That depends on each individual school – but verifiable time teaching for-credit classes at another Korean university would seem to be the gold standard. Time spent teaching kids or simply ‘in Korea’ won’t be as valuable, from a university’s perspective. After all, would you rather hire the person who can produce a published paper in a journal and has built lesson plans from scratch, or the person who has spent three years teaching kids how to write the alphabet?

From anecdotal evidence and my readings across the web, working at a university requires a much different skill set than working with kids. Where working with kids requires a bit more patience and willingness to work around fussy parents, a university atmosphere is expected to be far more academic. Even a introductory freshman class will be a very different setup than an elementary school. More lesson plans to make, more homework to grade, more organization required, etc. etc.

I don’t want to discourage you from applying – or from making yourself a better person in the process. The bar is set pretty high, which is understandable considering the trust that’s being instilled. English teachers already in Korea have some options for improving their career prospects:

1: Join KOTESOL. The per capita rate of people working in universities or academia seems far higher in that group than elsewhere in Korea. Make friends, and have an interesting / different perspective to offer. People don’t get university jobs just because they’re ‘available’ – the person really needs to know their stuff.

2: Consider teaching adults for a time. That’ll be a chance to see what it’s like to work with motivated students that can sit still and be quiet without being told. You might decide to go back to kids.

3: Consider getting a Master’s Degree – whether your degree is in English, Applied Linguistics, or something else, the Master’s degree does put you ahead of the curve for the time being.

4: If teaching university is more important than staying in Korea, consider looking to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or another country. There’s no guarantees there (as anywhere else), but there’s often just as many jobs there as well.

5: Learn Korean – being a native-English teacher AND having some Korean language skills may make all the difference. This culture places a high degree on certificates – if you complete a Korean-language program, send in a copy of that certificate with the rest of your paperwork.

For more about teaching university in Korea, A Geek in Korea blogs frequently about his academic adventures, along with the aforementioned Joe Seoulman.

Readers: do you teach at a university? What do you think of the environment there as compared to a more typical expat job?

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