Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

F-Visa Millionaires!

Jake posted on a topic I haven't thought about in some time: the myth of the F-Visa Millionaire.

Back in the day, I ran my own business.  I got my study room license and went on my merry way, free to choose my clients and make my own hours.

I at first avoided teaching specifically for the various tests: SAT, AP, GMAT, IELTS, TOEFL. . . my philosophy is that you need a rounded education, and if you focus on critical reading and writing, the SAT, AP, IELTS and TOEFL test will be easier to deal with since the foundation will be there.  I'd offer month long intensives for those tests during vacation months, which were always rich months, but my main focus was on the former, of helping students build up basic skills in reading and writing.

I rarely took low level kids.  If they didn't have already basic English skills, what I could teach them was pointless.  I usually specialized in kids who had lived abroad for at least a year.

I nor my wife got much grief from parents.  In fact phone calls were pretty much limited to changing schedules for this that or the other reason.  I guess I was doing something right.  Occasionaly, there would be one who would complain about this or the other thing, usually demanding a discount.  I would stop teaching those kids.  My prices were fixed based on what I knew was being charged at the hogwons in town.  One hogwon was charging 350 a kid for their 'special advanced class' that was limited to 3-5 students per class.  I charged a bit more and wouldn't take more than 3 students, with at least two in each class, and taught at a higher level.  If they wanted one-on-one I explained that I would have to charge them the price of two kids.  I also had some corporate classes in the mornings and around lunch, and I farmed out 2 other teachers, one Chinese, one Japanese, taking a slice off the top.  I was always busy and I enjoyed my job immensely.

But then sometimes I would take those low levels.  A friend would ask me to take on a couple, and I would for our friendship.  Then I started getting a lot of offers for speech contests.  Whenever there was one coming up, I'd pick up five or six short term students who would prep for that.  Then the requests for the test prep started dominating, and instead of focusing on the core curriculum I had developed for critical reading and writing, I found myself teaching test prep all the time.  Then the copy editing or ghost writing gigs started becoming more and more frequent as well.  I technically have three PHDs.  You want one?  It'll take me 4-6 weeks and cost you 5 mil.  The money was good; I'd be bringing in 4-5 a month when it was slow, usually because I needed some downtime or during midterms, not so much near finals depending on the grades of the kids I was teaching.  But I wasn't doing what I really wanted to, which was to teach.

There is a difference between being a teacher and a test prep machine.  It's a completely different style and focus.  You don't have time for a discussion based class when you're trying to teach how to logically eliminate incorrect answers from a multiple choice section, or how to focus your writing to meet the restraints of the SAT or AP essay.  I love teaching.  Its a worthwhile job that makes you feel as if you are truly contributing in a positive way to society.  But I wasn't teaching towards the end, so when I got offered my current job, I decided to take the overall yearly pay cut for something that promised to be a better and more interesting gig.  And it is.

So millionaires?  Don't think so.  I know there are some guys out there who make 20-25 million a month teaching mostly test prep in top hogwons, those rock star teachers, but that isn't teaching as far as I'm concerned.  And trust me, most of the Korean Ivy Leaguers frown on that kind of job, seeing it as a waste of a good education and perpetuating a system that has ruined a lot of lives.

Take from that what you will.

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