How to Get the Best Contract

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You are trudging dutifully through the rigorous, middle-of-the-night phone interviews, hoping to find a job at the end of that phone line. Finally, it happens. You are emailed within an hour with a contract. What to do? You want a job in South Korea, but you are not sure if it is the right job. How can you know if it is going to be a good job? Ultimately, the key to a great job and, perhaps, a great experience in Korea is your contract. In spite of the persistent emails you receive from recruiters, you must take your time to make a good decision. Especially if you are toying between two (or sometimes even several) contracts, you need to carefully read each contract and ask as many questions as needed.

Airfare

First and foremost, how are you getting to Korea? Schools will either book your flight for you, or compensate the flight in your first paycheck. Either way, make sure that both flights (to and from South Korea) are taken care of. Also, see if there are any opportunities if you decide not to take the flight home. Some schools may offer the opportunity to fly you somewhere else, or a stipend in lieu of a flight.

Vacation/Sick Days

Vacation days entirely depend on the school. If you work at a hagwon, chances are that you will be given around 10 paid days of vacation, and some of them may be scheduled by your employer. If you work at a public school, however, you may have up to three weeks of paid vacation. When it comes to sick days, however, most schools do not give additional time off specifically for illness. Usually, those days will be taken out of your paid vacation days. Some schools also require a doctor’s note if you call in sick. Many schools will compensate you for each vacation day that you choose not to take. My school paid 80,000 won for each vacation day that I did not take.

Health Insurance/Dental Insurance

Most teaching jobs have health insurance. According to Korean law, all foreign workers, including teachers, must be covered by the National Health Insurance Corporation. Thankfully, the health insurance is the same for foreigners and Koreans. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. One example is if there are fewer than 5 foreign employees. If you are not covered by your employer, there is a self-insured mechanism for people to obtain a health insurance card through. For more information, click here. When it comes to dental insurance, however, it entirely depends on the employer. My school did not offer dental coverage, but I knew other foreign teachers at other schools who had dental insurance.

Teaching Hours

Most contracts will say that you will teach up to 30 hours a week. However, many teaching jobs will have you teaching at a lower amount of hours, and use the remainder of the 40 hour week as prep time for classes. Anything over 30 hours a week of teaching is questionable, and might lead to being burned out midway through the year.

Overtime

Some jobs, especially hagwons, will expect foreign teachers to be available on weekends. Clarify whether you will be expected to work some, or all, Saturdays. If you are expected to work weekends, ask for how long and whether it will be paid as overtime. I occasionally worked Saturdays afternoons for a few hours for placement tests. Thankfully, the weekend work was infrequent, and was paid as overtime.

Housing Stipend

Housing stipends are great if you are thinking of living with a roommate or with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Housing stipends also offer flexibility and a bigger choice when it comes to where you live. My housing stipend was 400,000 won per month, which is about normal. A few of my potential employers did not offer a housing stipend in lieu of not taking the housing. BUT, they are out there.

Pension

Make sure there is mention of a pension in your contract. The pension should be taken out of your paycheck every month. The pension contribution is calculated by multiplying the worker’s reported (by the employer) monthly income by the 9% rate (between minimum 220,000 won and maximum 3,600,000 won). Both the employer and the employee each pay an equal amount of the required 9% contribution. The employer deducts 4.5% from the employee’s wage and must make the matching 4.5% contribution payment at the same time. At the end of the year, you can cash in our pension when you are in finished with your job. For more information, click here.

Stipend

All contracts should include an end of the year stipend. Ask how much the end of the year stipend will be, and when will you receive it. Usually, an end of the year stipend is the equivalent of a month’s pay.

Talk to a Current Teacher

Along with asking your recruiter or school questions, it is a good idea to talk to another teacher who currently works in the office, especially a Western teacher. Ask your recruiter or contact person for the email address of a current employee. If they are hesistant to get you in touch with a current employee, you already know enough about that job to walk away. Of course, a phone–err, Skype–conversation is preferred form of communication, but if time zones and busy schedules make that impossible, an email or Facebook exchange will usually tell you what you need to know.
Here are a few good questions to ask:

  • How approachable is your boss? Thankfully, I had a boss that was easy to talk to, and answered lots of questions.
  • What is the dress code? I made the mistake of assuming it was formal, and  now wear jeans almost everyday.
  • How would you describe the overall atmosphere?
  • How much do you get to plan a lesson?Some schools give you pre-made syllabi, while others expect you to create an entire curriculum.
  • Would he/she sign another contract with the school?
  • Does the school use corporal punishment? As of right now, there is talk back and forth about outlawing corporal punishment. Even still, corporal punishment is still widely used as an acceptable form of discipline within schools, although rarely are foreign teachers allowed/expected to participate.

Overall, make sure that the contract you agree to has everything that you want and need. Ultimately, a great contract can make the difference as to whether you complete your contract, and possibly stay another year in Korea.


 

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