6 Reasons Why an English Teacher in Korea Fails

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ESL Tate
I have been an ESL Teacher for more than 15 years and a Teacher trainer for the last three. Now I help new teachers start their journey traveling and teaching English abroad.

There is a success in being an English teacher in Korea, it’s just that not all teachers did it.

Note to the reader I am not saying you are a bad Teacher and that there is no success in being an English teacher in Korea. You would be mistaken if you think that after reading this article. I am saying, examine yourself and see what you can do to better the English and life of your students under whatever circumstances you are in. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about you; it’s about them.

I know some schools make it damn near impossible for you to see the results and the progress your students are making. Just try your best and if you do that you will have no trouble reading the tough love found in the words below.

English Teacher in Korea: English school thief
School is my English thief

Teaching English is a multi-billion dollar business. And when you spend billions, you expect a return on your investment. I know this because I trade options and when I lose even a little bit I tend to want my next trade to bring in more profits. But can that be said about the investment Korea makes for the sake of improving the country’s role in the world? How profitable is this investment?

When the average foreigner comes to Korea and needs direction, they seek out someone to help them and in more cases than not the Korean they find to help them is useless. You try to explain your predicament in as simple English as possible to no avail. You are frustrated because the Korean does not understand. And because they do not understand, they send you to the wrong place. Although there are those, if you are lucky, that understand a little English and go out of their way to aid you, it’s rare.

But the good thing is Koreans are super nice and helpful. If they get your strife they will go the extra mile to help you as best they can. John was one of those people when he missed his flight, lost his luggage and did not know what to do or where to go. He writes,

…trying to find people to speak English was a total failure, so it involved me dancing around like a madman pretending to carry an imaginary backpack and then acting surprised followed by distressed. I think the distressed charades worked though.

Read his full article here about one of those moments that make you frustrated and you think that maybe being an English teacher in Korea is not the kind of gig that is working out in this country. Whether it’s the way it’s setup, the school’s curriculum, the management, and all the possible things you can think of why it’s just not working enough for people in Korea to start speaking English to the likes of Japan and China. Yes, Korea tests better in writing and or reading but understanding and speaking are very low. But some regions are doing better than others.
Korean English improving

At the end of the day, the Teacher also needs to take responsibility for this failure. This is particularly a problem because most foreign English Teachers in Korea come for the wrong reasons. Those reasons include but not limited to paying off student loans, taking a leap year before gradschool, to drink and party, to travel and see a different country, and whatever else reason. As you can see these are all very selfish.

They say nothing about being a good English teacher in Korea. Yes, there are a few Teachers that get here and their reasons change and really want to make a difference not just by merely teaching English in Korea, but in the lives of his or her students. Great, but that few is not enough. So why will the majority of English teachers in Korea fails.

6 Reasons why an English teacher in Korea often fails


Like I mentioned above the reasons a lot of Teachers come to Korea are wrong. They come for selfish intentions with little consideration about the impact they want to make. Their mindset is focused on themselves so they focus on the little things that interfere with what they are really here to do, teach. A lot of them think, I am only here for a year at most so let me see what I can get out of it rather than let me see what I can give back in getting this once in a lifetime experience.


Because the majority of Teachers that come to Korea are inexperienced, so is their method of teaching. Some have no method they just go with the flow and give only the bare minimum that allows them to collect a check. They have no goal or idea about what they want to accomplish as a Teacher.


They come for the money and nothing else. Sometimes the money is good and sometimes it’s not and as a result the performance is dependent on the money. But performance without a method is just waiting to get to the dead end. Even if you come for the money, earn the money.

No plan

They have no direction. Ask them where they want to take their class in terms of their English ability and you will get a canned answer or none at all. They have no plan, no ultimate plan that will help progress their students ability.


They blame the environment. They always find something they don’t like about their school, staff and Korea. Instead of being the change that the environment wants and may need, they become a part of it.


They are too proud. They are the almighty and think that being flexible and changing for the sake of their students progress and the school that hires them is not something they can do or willing to do.

Good To Read: Staying in Korea after your teaching contract is up, can you do it?


If you really want to make a change and improve the life of your students as an English teacher in Korea, you may want to reflect on this list. Make a change that will benefit not just your students but you yourself in the long run. You have made the choice to come to Korea whether by choice or as a result of circumstances such as paying off loans but don’t let that impede what gift you can leave behind. Be a Teacher. That’s what you are in Korea to do and everything else is secondary.

Any thoughts on this topic? I love comments. Use the form below and don’t forget to subscribe for updates.

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  1. I love this article!! Thanks so much for stressing the point that you are here to teach English so work towards being a good teacher! We are all very selfish, even if you say otherwise. We all have some sort of objective whether it is to make money to pay off debt or whatever else. I by no means think it is wrong to come wanting to pay off debt, its certainly the appeal of getting into this type of job, something that I am working to do myself. But its important to seek balance…enjoy your time here, but really work to invest into these kids lives! Nothing has been more rewarding than seeking the progress my kids continue to make! I love being here learning so much about the culture and such! I plan to pay off all my debt in the next 2 years but I also am really trying to see out ways to be a better English teacher! Don’t ever think that you know everything there is to teach English just because you have a degree and can speak English…have fun and always opportunities to learn more!! You will love it here if you work to give 100% in everything you do!

    • Excellent points Kayla. Balance is very important. It’s not so much that a lot of Teachers come to pay off loans but also keeping in mind what the ‘real’ reason you we are in Korea for. The priorities should be along the lines of:
      1. Strive to be a great Teacher and make sure the kids learn something
      2. Enjoy your time here
      3. Pay off debts or whatever else reason you came to Korea for.
      Putting the kids first is important and I love the fact that you enjoy watching your kids progress because at the end of the day, that’s were a lot of our motivation comes from.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. I disagree with most of this article.

    We do come here for personal reasons, not to teach. We should respect our jobs and do the best we can at it and strive to be better, but if they wanted teachers they would hire teachers!

    The system is just not conducive for turning a random major into a good teacher. Orientation and Karl Kwon does not count as training. Neither does an online 100 hour TESOL course. We just aren’t teachers (most of us).

    Then if you teach high school, you’re not even given a text book. You’re not given a list of things to teach them. You’re not given a copy of the text book with a suggestion to teach complimentary lessons. You’re not even told what they’ve learnt so far. Now here you could say “then ask for them!”. But you won’t be given anything. Maybe the text book. But we all know how useful those are.

    We can’t grade our students, so we can’t motivate a lot of them to learn. Our classes constantly get cancelled so they can be taught more important things. I’m encouraged to give my students study time before exams. I was told at my first school that the provincial school board’s motto for us was just to be ‘more fun’ not better teachers. I personally teacher every single class in the school, meaning I see most of my students once every two weeks, unless classes get cancelled then I see them every month or month and half.

    Despite this, I try to be a better teacher. I’ve been told that I am a good teacher. But the system is designed to make us into entertainment monkeys, NOT teachers.

    • Correct Annie, the system does work against the Teacher and sometimes there is only so much a Teacher can do. I am currently going through that with the text books issue.None exist. I teach about 24 + classes a week and although I can repeat lessons because some grades are the same, it is tedious trying to create lessons for all the classes.

      “Entertainment monkeys” lol, that’s unfortunately true too both in hagwons and public schools. For instance, today, the first day of school, I was told to just talk to the students. The problem is they don’t understand and hardly any of them speak English.

      It sucks that not enough training is offered and the fact that a lot of teachers come with selfish intentions adds fuel to the fire and kind of forces a lot of these Teachers into not caring. And understandably so in a lot of cases. I guess the true message of the article is to try and put those reasons aside and do your best like you and other teachers I know such as Kayla in such circumstances.

      At the end of the day, we can only try our best to be “Teachers” even though I would guess more than 95 percent of the Teachers that come to Korea are not real teachers. The next article will be on being the best entertainment monkey we possibly can!:)

      Thanks for the great points. You shed a light on the side of the business that definitely needs revamping to give the “Teacher” something to work with.

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