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SM English Academy, Jung-gu, Ulsan

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Joined: 19 Apr 2012

PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2013 7:32 am    Post subject: SM English Academy, Jung-gu, Ulsan Reply with quote

I recently finished at this academy and wanted to post a review and summary of my experiences for anyone wanting to take a job there in the future. As before, I'll try to give as objective a review as possible, split into the good, the bad and the ok.

The good:

1) First and foremost, pay is always on-time and in full. On one occasion I was paid a day late, but the director came to me the day before payday and, apologising profusely, asked if it was ok to pay me a day late.

2) The kids are absolutely excellent. There are a number of factors for this, one being the fact that teachers (and especially the boss) are not afraid to discipline kids who step out of line. For me, the main reason was that the kids came to the school every day and had a number of lessons. They hung out with us teachers in the teachers room to eat ramen, do homework or just have a joke with us, and this gave the school a good vibe, like we were a family or club. We all knew all the kids well and they all knew us well, and as a result, they were fun, well-behaved and as keen to work as could be expected. Don't get me wrong there were moments when I had to raise my voice, and had to send students out once or twice, and they would always pester me for free time in that annoying voice, but compared to my last school where these things were a daily occurrence, this was nothing. I don't even like teaching that much but there were a lot of days that I genuinely enjoyed it thanks to the kids.

3) The atmosphere at the school is very relaxed. Want to have a pizza party? Go ahead. Watch a movie and talk about the plot and suchlike? No problem. Have the kids worked hard for the first 30 minutes of the class? Let them play on their phones for 10 minutes. Obviously this stuff is a treat for special occasions (although I frequently let my older classes have 10 minutes free time at the end rather than play a game), but it's nice to be able to do.

4) The other staff (all Korean) are great - supportive, speak decent English and friendly. You can tell they love the kids and have a great relationship with them - they throw pizza/movie parties, always bring in candy and doughnuts and juice and watermelon and you-name-it. It all helps the atmosphere of the school.

5) I was given a Friday off every month while the kids did their monthly tests. However I understand this is no longer a part of the contract (and even in my case I perhaps got 4 Fridays off in the 7 months I worked there) but it was a nice perk.

6) The boss is most definitely one of the good ones. Oh he's a bit of a tightarse and if he had his way you'd be teaching 60 classes a week, but he's a genuinely nice guy who does his best to make sure you're happy. I left the school due to my girlfriend becoming seriously ill and having to go home, and was a little nervous about quitting. The first question the boss asked was, "Oh my god, is your girlfriend going to be ok? What will you guys do for money? What are you going to do?" and only when I assured him that we had everything worked out did we start to talk about the business and replacements.

He made quitting no trouble at all (so long as I found him a replacement in time) and was very good about the whole thing, even giving me a paid day off the day my girlfriend went into hospital. Speaking of which, he also paid me for the week I had to go to Japan for a visa, as well as paying half the flight and hotel costs. So a pretty decent bloke. He scares the bejesus out of the kids (and not necessarily the ones that deserve it) but he was always civil and professional with me, even when we had problems.

The ok:

1) The apartment is standard hagwon stuff. In a 30-odd-year-old building on the 4th floor and with small cracks in the walls. It's a good size but in need of refreshing. It is, however, a 2-minute walk from the school and the giant Home Plus, so an excellent location and not too bad overall.

2) The schedule is a little exhausting. Classes start at 3.25 and finish at 9.05. At first my schedule involved teaching about 23 40-minute classes during this gap, which was pretty much perfect. Gradually though more and more were added until, during my final month, I was on the limit of my 34 contracted classes per week and working until 9.50 3 nights a week and 10.30 one night. Fortunately my last class were the Special Class - by far the best at English and a joy to teach, so I didn't mind that much. However 34 classes a week and finishing well after 9pm was pretty tiring.

3) My final pay wasn't as smooth as I'd hoped. On my last day I was paid in 3 instalments over the course of the day, and the second two times I had to pester the boss to give me the rest of my money (which he did without any argument). Long story short, I got my 2.2m I was owed, but the boss had me worried for a while since I flew home the next day. He blamed my fragmented pay on the school being short of money, and said was having a bit of a shakedown of tuition fees that afternoon. At first I was skeptical but when he gave me the final 200,000 that evening he had to give me it in traveller's cheque-like bank vouchers, so maybe he really was struggling.

The school is pretty big (7 teaching staff) and is on a good-sized site, and only has around 100 students (although almost all of them are there 5 days a week and have at least 10 classes, and the special group have 15 a week including 5 with the foreign teacher). I really hope the school is not in trouble financially, but they should be fine - enrolment hasn't really changed in the last year or so.

The bad:

1) To be honest, it's difficult to think of anything especially negative about the school that you wouldn't get at any Korean business. Organisation and communication is practically zero, and if it affects you it'll almost certainly be detrimental (for example, after promising for weeks that they'd do tests on a certain Friday, the night before, as I was leaving, they told me (because I asked them) that the plans had changed and tomorrow was a regular day. Fortunately the boss overturned the schedule since I'd made plans, but still not fun), but I've never known anyone be at a school where these things are good.

I suppose the intensives are pretty bad - working until 10.30 most nights for a month in the summer and winter when the kids are doing school tests, but the boss is careful never to let you work more than the 34 classes so he doesn't have to pay overtime. This can mean having a day of class, break, class, break etc which really sucks since there's not really the time to go home and do anything between classes, so you're there for 8 hours and doing nothing for about 5 of those.

Overall though, it's an excellent school, and was very sorry to leave. There were times when it sucked and I couldn't be bothered, but I also genuinely enjoyed it at times (something I never thought I'd say about teaching English in Korea!). As with any job it's got its downsides, and you've got to stand your ground and be a bit of an arsehole to not be taken advantage of sometimes, but it was a wonderful 7 months and if we were going back to Korea, I'd take a job here again in a shot.
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