How is everyone fine with this?

Recently I was discussing job ads for EFL jobs in South Korea with a friend (who also happens to be a former advisee and hopefully will be a future co-author).  After he’d  read a sampling of ads from a popular “ESL” jobs website he was struck by how few job ads professed any desire for teachers with experience, qualifications, or personal characteristics or anything except a heartbeat and an ability to acquire the appropriate visa. “How is everyone fine with this?” he wondered.

He said he couldn’t get his head around how these language schools seemed not to care at all about experience or anything related to the job itself. The idea of language schools in Korea (and indeed around the world) just looking for a young (White?) face with “the right” accent is nothing new but I thought his question was poignant.

He went on, “How can these school directors be happy with such high turnover? How can they be happy to get new teachers with no experience showing up every year? How can parents be happy with this situation? How is this better for the students? How is everyone fine with this?” As he asked these questions he was referring to the job ads not mentioning qualifications and also how some ads seemed to paint teaching in Korea as something of a vacation from life.

*Disclaimer break
This is as good a time as any for me to mention that I not talking about all language schools in Korea. I’m doing my best to base these thoughts on the handful of ads I saw on a popular site. And yea, just a handful or two so all thoughts can be taken with a healthy portion of salt. Perhaps there are hundreds or even thousands of schools interested in hiring the best teachers and providing the best possible education for their paying customers. I don’t want to besmirch the reputation of a whole industry and I apologize for any over generalizations here. I cannot claim to know the reasons schools would not mention qualifications in their ads. When I speculate wildly as I do below please keep in mind I am only speculating wildly about a few places and not every single hogwon in Korea. Again, I’m just sharing some thoughts based on what I saw on job ads and a discussion I had.

When my friend asked how everyone was fine with the situation I was feeling quite cynical and suggested maybe school directors and owners don’t want teachers with experience or strong beliefs because teachers without these are likely more pliable. While quite cynical I don’t think it’s an unreasonable explanation. I think in the private education business (both in and out of Korea) teachers are asked to do things for reasons other than maximizing students’ learning. Some typical examples of such reasons might be, “that is what the parents want,” “that is what our competitors are doing,” “that is what we have always done.” My idea was that teachers who know about the field might resist doing things like swamping students with word lists of over 30 words to memorize daily.

In the conversation with my friend I didn’t mention the desire of language schools to cut costs and the assumption that more experienced teachers would cost more money. I can see how hiring more expensive teachers would cut into the profits of a small business. I suppose part of the issue here is that from the view of many employers experience is not really worth paying for.

This leads me to darker and even more cynical points. Maybe the schools simply don’t care at all. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe knowledge, attitude, skills, and awareness are not important to the objective of getting students to pay for English lessons.


I have only mentioned three potential reasons here. I have a sense I might be missing some potential reasons for the dearth of requirements related to the job of teaching in the job ads we saw. Any additional theories are welcome. What am I missing?

Lingering over this whole discussion is the native speaker fallacy and the idea any “native speaker” will do. I think this pernicious belief influences students, parents, teachers, schools and the whole industry. I don’t even know who benefits from this situation (with the possible exception of recruiters). How is everyone fine with this?


  1. Marc

    Hiya Mike,

    Definitely a thing in Japan, too. I can’t complain too much as I came in as a green kid. My issue would be that experience and development are not rewarded (and possibly even penalized). Why? Not even just money but pliability and fetishization of youth. Not everywhere, not even in the most infamous sectors but definitely a big thing.

    What to do about it, though? Outreach? PR offensives by the organizations that have a lot of qualified, experienced teachers?Other than that, I’m stumped.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments and thoughts , Marc.
      One thing that was on my mind as I was writing was the idea that more experience does not always mean higher wages (or a better situation) in the field. I was talking to a student this term and she was pretty saying, “Ohh you have been teaching for 15 years that must be great for you in terms of salary.” I was brave enough to tell her that supply and demand might not be in my favor and that experience is not as valued in my industry as it might be in others. It was an interesting conversation from my view and I found it hard to explain that my industry is so different from other ones.

      It is also hard for to complain much because I started teaching with very limited experience.

      One thing that often comes to mind for me in terms of changing this situation is (somehow) proving that more experienced teachers are actually better on average in terms of outcomes and learning and all. I know it is insanely hard to “prove” but I suppose most customers or managers think experience matters at all. I will keep thinking about this. Please be ready for a flurry of blog posts on this.

      • Marc

        I eagerly look forward to said flurry of posts.

        I’d love to see either/both English as a School Subject and English as a Vocational or Voluntary Study paying more with experience. This is something I try to do in my freelance work but agencies tend to think, ‘More money? Shove your diploma and 13
        years experience up your bum!’

        The advertising machine (as seen in Mark Makino’s paper linked above) basically says “Young white men to help your English, ma’am?” with nary a thought to quality or anything but cash.

        You have me thinking about how to bring about change. Hmmmmm.

    • marekkiczkowiak

      I don’t think it’s surprising sts and parents found being a NS the most important factor if for decades this is exactly what schools and ELT ads have told them. Having said that, there’s also evidence from different countries that once you start digging a bit deeper under the surface, it turns out sts value many other traits and skills more highly than being a NS.

      • mikecorea

        Hello Marek,
        Marc and I were discussing how to change this above. Do you think schools are the biggest source of misconceptions?
        If so, is it because it is in their economic interest (meaning those schools that hire “NS”?
        I really have no idea but I think it is more just about general ignorance of teaching rather than schools tricking people. I might be naive on this though. I wonder what you think.

      • marekkiczkowiak

        I think it’s a chicken and egg question whether demand for NS was first, or the advertising policies created it (or at least significantly contributed to its rise). I think schools and their advertising, recruitment and staffing policies are a big source of misconceptions. They create a vicious circle, further validating sts belief that NEST = best. While sts and their parents are often badly informed or unaware of how lgs are learnt, as well as the fact that your L1 doesn’t make you a better or worse teacher; schools consciously and knowingly propagate the native speaker fallacy.
        I’m not an expert on marketing, but there’s no doubt to me that decades of promoting the NES brand have influenced clients’ perceptions. It’ll take a while to undo this.
        What’s your take on this?

    • mikecorea

      Hello Mark! Thanks for sharing this. I think disappointing but not really surprising is about the best way I can characterize this. The sad thought that comes to mind is that perhaps the parents wouldn’t have cared either way if you’d completed or even started you MA since you were already NS.

  2. EriC

    Hi Mike, I wanted to comment on what you said here.

    “In the conversation with my friend I didn’t mention the desire of language schools to cut costs and the assumption that more experienced teachers would cost more money. I can see how hiring more expensive teachers would cut into the profits of a small business. I suppose part of the issue here is that from the view of many employers experience is not really worth paying for.”
    It actually seems as though they want to reward inexperienced teachers by providing largely unnecessary incentives of flight/housing that is very attractive to young inexperienced people. Doesn’t it cost them more in the long run to pay for that stuff, along with flying new employees over yearly, paying recruiters and dealing with bad employees who do things like “runners” when they aren’t happy? Couldn’t they instead offer a very competitive wage and require normal hiring practices that you see in other industries?

    • mikecorea

      Hello Eric,

      Thanks for the comments. I think you are absolutely right about inexperience being rewarded. I can only think this points to the pliability factor i mentioned. I cannot think of any other reason (other than Marc’s suggested reason of “fetishization of youth” above.

      I have to think providing housing and airfare is more expensive in the long run than hiring experienced people. I actually don’t get the logic when we factor in the cost of teachers doing runners and all that. A while back a (Canadian) friend of mine was in charge of hiring for a school district and he required as a staring point at least 1 year working in Korea. I think that was a great start.

      You wrote, “Couldn’t they instead offer a very competitive wage and require normal hiring practices that you see in other industries?” and my cynical side comes up again and says that it doesn’t matter at all to schools, parents and recruiters. I really don’t have any explanation why schools would choose not to value experience or paper qualifications. Perhaps this is something that could be researched. 😉

  3. Clare

    Really interesting discussion here! I note, though, that not many of the comments seem to be from people who would be interested in these kinds of jobs you describe… I do have the impression that a lot of people taking these jobs are rather looking for a way to spend some time abroad after studying, and think that because they can speak English they can teach it. I wonder if they realise any different once they get there??

    • Marc

      Interesting point, Clare, but I would also say it leads to a logic of ‘You want ₩40,000,000 per month but this person will work for half that, doesn’t know about working conditions elsewhere so won’t complain, and will also see working in schools or colleges as prestigious even when we take a massive proportion of the client’s money and throw this inexperienced person in there.’

      Nobody is looking for entry-level jobs but somehow entry-level jobs and the people who advertise them come to us. If the entry level keeps sinking, our working conditions keep subsiding, too.

  4. timothyhampson

    Thanks for this Mike.

    A few other factors:
    1. Maybe some schools can’t be as picky as others. Righly or wrongly most teachers want a job in Seoul or Busan at one of the more ‘prestigious’ types of school. After a year teaching in tiny Hyangnam, I was more than ready to move to somewhere more exciting.
    2. Lots of (especially chain) hagwons are set up so that an inexperienced teacher can come and do a good job. The class sizes are tiny, the syllabi are already written and you’re teaching to a textbook most of the time. When I was completely inexperienced, it wasn’t a very deep deep end to be thrown in at.

    I did write out a much longer version of this comment but it got deleted so you get the speedy version instead.

  5. Ted O'Neill (DB-竜牛) (@gotanda)

    Slightly different from the language school or hagwon situation, but in some cases employers may have learned to not even bother putting in certain desired qualifications because they know its a waste of effort. Many applicants do not even read them. I’ve waded through stacks of applications for posts where something such as “minimum three years teaching experience” and “MA in applied linguistics or field related to language education” were specified but you get people with one year experience and a PhD in the history of sports applying. It’s relatively simple to just discard completely off-base applications and specifying too much could give less scrupulous applicants hints as to how to “tailor” their applications.

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