Teacher’s pay

One of my aunts has long been a critic of teacher’s pay.  Well, we haven’t discussed the subject in years, so let’s say she was a critic.  She felt that Canadian school teachers only work a few hours a day and have all summer off plus large breaks during the year.

There are rebuttals, chiefly that school teachers often have homework to mark through their evenings and professional development during their summers.  There are many extra tasks that come with teaching that add to the total workload, so their salaries amy not be so high per hour as my aunt suggests.

This does not apply to me so much.  I work a university professor’s schedule but am not threatened by ‘publish-or-perish’ or research expectations that teachers with many initials after their names are.

I think I can admit my pay per hour is relatively high but that I don’t work enough hours and the university contract makes it difficult for me to work more hours off-campus.  One problem at Korean universities for ESL instructors (in English, they call me “professor” but the Korean word is closer to ‘instructor’) is that the university wants F- visa holders (married to a Korean citizen) because we are more likely to be here for the long-term.  On the other hand, a large number of F- visas holders have families and are looking for a higher salary to support a family.

I have been investigating giving private lessons and have acquaintances who have quoted fantastic pay per hour.  It’s work I would like to do but honestly don’t feel I am worth the money they are getting per hour.  I don’t know these people, or their teaching habits and abilities, very well, so let me careful to say I am not sure that any teacher is worth 50,000 won per hour, a sum they they regularly exceed.  They might be that skilled and capable, but I am not sure how.  I am uncertain of their abilities but figure that mine are comparable.  I would love to be paid that much but is it reasonable?

Alabama State Senator Shadrack McGill (via Friendly Atheist) would say no. He starts the quote below by discussing why legislators deserve more pay but why teachers don’t:

McGill said that by paying legislators more, they’re less susceptible to taking bribes.

“He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation. … Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you’re paying education, you know what’s going to happen? I’ve heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education’s going to go up.’ That’s never proven to happen, guys.

“It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.

“To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK?

“And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ‘em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.

Giving a teacher more money would attract lazy teachers, ones who are only in it for the money.  Giving a senator more money reduces the danger of corruption and acceptance of bribes.

Now, there have been reports of school teachers accepting bribes in Korea so maybe that is an argument for their receiving better pay.

One argument for fighting for higher pay is the uncertain nature of work in Korea for Native Speaker English Teachers.

The Seoul Ministry Of Education is thinking about getting rid of all it’s NSETs.  It wasn’t that long ago that they were hiring native-speakers-with-heartbeats.

A Geek in Korea made public a remark from John in Daejeon about Teaching ESL in that city.  Here is an excerpt:

I hope you have some backup plans just in case something happens that affects your position.

I bring this up because, over the holiday, my old boss informed me that 20% of the hagwons in the his association here in Daejeon are close to shutting their doors due to low enrollment, and that this was the first year in his 10 years of being a member that no new directors joined the group. So there happens to be quite a bit of nervousness even among those members whose academies are still doing well as to the “up in the air” future of education in South Korea. Some directors have even started using part-time native speakers who are married to Koreans to save money on E-2 visa processing, airfare, housing, and whatever other benefits that they can get away with not paying them to help save money.

At least at the university level, foreign (Chinese) students can be enrolled in greater numbers to justify keeping teachers. However, if there are fewer and fewer students enrolling in elementary schools due to the low birth rate here, what justification is there in keeping the current levels of public school teachers and hagwon teachers? [...]

Seeing as I am morally troubled by asking for a high salary, perhaps I need to change my teaching strategy.

Yoo Soo-youn earns a billion won a year (about a million Canadian dollars) teaching TOEIC

…TOEIC English  proficiency test, which is still widely taken in Korea. “I leave home around six-thirty in the morning and give TOEIC lectures from 7 a.m to 2 p.m. I teach about 1,000 people, 200 in each of the five classes,” she says. “After the lectures, I head over to the Yoo soo-youn English Center, which I established, around 2.30 p.m. When I’m done there, I head back to my classes and lecture from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. I usually handle three classes of 200 people. My day officially ends when I get home around 11 p.m. I usually go to sleep at 1.30 a.m. in the morning after I check online posts and comments related to my lectures. I haven’t slept for more than five hours a day since I became an adult.”

She lectures to 1600 people a day.  That’s a lot but it could be more.

Sebastian Thrun taught an Artificial Intelligence course online for Stanford and had an enrollment between 60,000 and 160,000.  He is now trying to run a course for 500,000 students at a time.  I’m straying off topic here because I have no information on Thrun’s salary.

“Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again…It’s impossible…there’s a red pill and a blue pill and you can take the blue pill and go back your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill and seen Wonderland.”

Now teaching isn’t the same as learning.  I happily accept that these two teachers, with their huge numbers of students, work hard to offer as much help to their students as possible.    Still, working with a thousand or more students a day seems too impersonal to me.

So I will finish this post as I started: wondering if I should be working at a high per-student rate for a small number of students or a small per-student rate for many.

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5 Responses to “Teacher’s pay”

  1. Kevin Kim Says:

    You’re right: whenever Koreans or foreigners talk about making “big money” teaching English, they’re almost always referring to those sardine-packed classes where nobody’s really learning all that much, and teaching is little more than lecturing. It’s a racket, and not only in Korea.

    As for your sense of modesty when it comes to charging private rates: I’d say that you should go for whatever the market will bear, and W50,000 per hour isn’t a bad place to start. If you sell yourself short in Korean society, people will — as you know — assume you’re not worth their while. For private tutoring, of course, the big markets are kids and test prep (SAT, TOEFL, TOEIC, etc. — maybe even GRE).

    Speaking of modesty: why the hell do people name shit after themselves? Yoo Soo-youn teaches at the Yoo Soo-youn English Center?? Gimme a break. (And how am I supposed to pronounce “youn”? My French-language bias makes the word sound like “yoon.” Maybe she meant to romanize it as “Yeon,” but instead she’s taken the “ou” from “young.” I’ve seen other Koreans do that. it’s confusing as fuck.)

  2. surprisesaplenty Says:

    You really are a night person, Kevin. This seems to be terribly late – for me- in your time zone.

    “Sense of modesty” – yeah, thats is exactly the phrase I wanted and struggled with circumlocutions around.

    Finally, i can’t believe you are criticizing a person who makes a million a year teaching english. What do you make? She is obviously right in how the proper spelling and pronunciation should be! …Ah, whatever that is.

    More seriously, she makes the money by being famous and having a center with her name on it makes her more well-known… I was joking in my attack comparing (y)our yearly take(s) to hers but as you say, she shouldn’t sell herself short.

  3. Kevin Kim Says:

    A creature of the night, indeed! My work hours are, roughly, from 3PM to 9:30PM, so I’m up very late on weeknights.

    For what it’s worth, I see the difference between Ms. Yoo and people like us as a difference in kind, not degree: I have a hard time convincing myself that she’s really teaching. At some point, the business model becomes a positive feedback loop, so her earnings spiral ever upward; she stops being a teacher and becomes a minor celebrity. I grant that Ms. Yoo is an extremely hard worker, but I also completely agree with your remarks about the impersonal nature of what she’s doing.

    As for “What do you make?” — you may have heard the Taylor Mali poem: here.

  4. surprisesaplenty Says:

    The Mali poem is quite touching.

    On a different subject, our friendship is a strange thing. I think I visited SMoo while you were there – for a KOTESOL conference – but we have never met. I was a little worried that you would take the “What do you make?” as an attack, rather than just an ironic one… Glad you didn’t.

  5. Kevin Kim Says:

    I make so little money doing what I currently do that the whole money thing is a joke right now. As a result, it’s very likely that I’ll find myself back in Korea, possibly as early as November or December of this year. Someone with my weird skill set needs to be in an environment where he can use it and be appreciated for it. If/when I’m back in Seoul, we should meet up.

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