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Getting a University Teaching Position in Korea

Getting a University Teaching Position in Korea
Admin - Aug 25 2015

For this post because I regularly get asked this question and also because it’s around the time when universities will be hiring, I thought it would be helpful to offer some practical suggestions to those who were looking for a coveted university position in Korea.

I taught at a university in Seoul for 13 years. In that time, I worked on the hiring committee for hiring new teachers for five years and got to see a lot of great teachers get turned down. Applying for a university position is a lot more competitive than most academy or public school positions and to be successful in a university application, the teacher needs to be prepared and do their homework. There are a few sites out there which advertise packages on how to get a university position for a small price, but in my opinion, such packages are a waste of money, as with a little effort and common sense, you may be able to get a university position in Korea if you keep the following tips in mind.

Tip #1 – Be in Korea

You are more likely to be hired by a university if you are in Korea. This is because universities prefer to interview candidates face-to-face and have them do a demo-lesson. I have seen teachers get hired for universities without being in Korea (some had online interviews and submitted a demo video), but the majority of teachers were in Korea who got hired for universities. If you are in Korea and thinking of a university position, it pays to look before you head back home for vacation. If you are out of Korea and wish to apply, you could still submit your application and try to arrange interviews online, although I believe that those applicants will be at a disadvantage against the applicants going in person. If you believe you have a strong application, you could arrange to fly to Korea and arrange interviews in person.  I’ve known teachers who have done that and walked away with a great position. Many of them combined their job trip with a vacation later in the region to make the trip more worthwhile.

Tip #2 – Direct contact makes the difference

Probably the least useful way to get a university position is to request one on a job board. Writing a post entitled “looking for a university position” nowadays is unlikely to get much attention from well-established university programs, as they don’t often contact teachers directly nor do they advertise their positions on sites. Many of the best university positions go underadvertised or advertised on their university website and are missed by the majority of teachers.

Pretty much all of the university programs out there have websites and many of them have English websites. The contact information for the English Education and English Language and Literature programs are all listed on the sites, allowing applicants to contact the schools directly. In my recent research on these sites, I found three university positions that I did not see advertised anywhere else. These positions are often filled by applicants who take the time and make the effort to research about them. Waiting for someone to provide you with a position that offers long vacations and short hours is unlikely to happen. If you are serious about a university position, do the research and compile a list of the universities you are interested in and contact them directly.

Tip #3 – It’s who you know

You hear that a long in jobs, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. This is never more true when in comes to university positions. In many cases, the people that find out about the positions or get recommended for them are friends or colleagues of teachers who are already working in that program. Many of the teachers that I saw get hired already knew people working in the university program and as such they were recommended to the department.

You may be saying to yourself at the moment that you have no connections at any of the universities. If that is the case, then there are several things that you can do to work on that situation. First, it may be a good idea to join a professional teaching group and get to know some of the people that go there regularly. Not only will you get some great new ideas to use in your class, but you will also get the chance to meet some teachers working in different programs. Groups such as KoTESOL have meetings and workshops every month and have chapters in different cities, making it easy to attend the meetings. Another approach might be to contact a teacher or two who is currently working at the university and ask them about the program. As mentioned, all of the current staff information is on the website and by contacting them directly, you may get ignored but you may end up with some information about the program that improves your application.

Tip #4 – Put together a kick-ass demo lesson

Yes, I used the phrase “kick-ass” to describe a lesson because this is the one area where most applicants fall flat on their face. Many of the university programs are going to ask applicants to put together a short sample lesson to demonstrate at their interview. Universities do this quite frequently as the competition for these positions is quite tough. When I was on the hiring committee, it was in the demo lesson where I saw some truly excellent teachers get rejected.

When putting together your demo lesson, you need to understand first and foremost that it is NOT a complete lesson, nor should you treat it as one. Most demo lessons are much shorter than the average class length, many being 20-30 minutes, so if an applicants spends the entire time talking and setting up an activity (with the students doing no talking at all), your lesson will not have succeeded.

If you are asked to prepare a demo lesson, be sure to ask the hiring committee the following questions if you are not clear:

* How long is the demo lesson?

* What should the focus for the demo lesson be? (Usually the focus should be on what the program teaches)?

* How many students will be in the demo lesson?

* What is the level of the students?

Asking these questions may make the difference between having a successful demo lesson and a terrible one. I have seen teachers come in woefully unprepared to do a demo lesson or prepare a lesson that was miles above the ability of the students. If you get to the interview/demo lesson stage, I think the demo lesson will be one of the key factors in determining if you get hired or not. Some teachers look at the demo lesson as if it were a formality. It’s not. It’s a key stage in the hiring process and having a successful demo lesson greatly increases the likelihood of being selected.

Tip #5 – Your academic qualifications are important (but not as much as you might think)

Don’t get me wrong here. Academic qualifications matter. Most university programs in Korea nowadays are requesting a Masters degree. However, I have seen where they will take an application without one, if they have a strong background and I have seen Bachelor’s degree taken over Master’s degree applicants when it came to the demo lesson stage. I think the point to take here is that if you have a strong application but are short in one or two areas, it may be worth your while to apply for the position anyway.

The other point to make here is that your academic qualifications may get you the interview/demo lesson, but they won’t be enough to get you the job. I have seen more than a few academics, put together some awful demo lessons because they were more comfortable researching than teaching.

If you are interested in applying for a university position, it pays to keep in mind the tips mentioned above. If you have any other practical suggestions to offer those seeking a university position in Korea, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

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