They earn millions of dollars a year with online tuition, repetitions in private centers and

The Wall Street Journal called him “the teaching rock star”: it’s Kim Ki-hoon, a South Korean English professor who earns 4 million dollars a year. And the special thing is that his income comes entirely from teaching. Kim has turned the traditional paradigm upside down and has chosen to be a freelancer, something that in Italy you do not even dream of.

To do so, he took advantage of the possibilities offered by the internet, making lessons that he puts online: those who want to see them, pay 4 dollars an hour. In addition, the rock-teacher has been working in private academies for 20 years and offers repetitions and tutoring services to the children of wealthy families.

Still, Kim Ki-hoon makes, always for a fee, personalized study plans to help students in need, as well as preparing handouts and educational materials that are highly sought after (and purchased) by her students and other teens and adults.

When appearance points to the substance

“The more work, the more I earn,” Kim Ki-hoon says. His American colleague Robyn Laursen, for years behind the chair in South Korea, is critical: “He was very good at thinking of himself as a brand.”

In fact, Kim Ki-hoon has built a winning image, expendable in the very competitive market of Korean education, where 93% of the population has a higher education degree and many families are willing to pay a lot to ensure their children specialisations that will allow them to stand out. However, it should be acknowledged that Kim Ki-hoon’s successful experience stemmed from the question that all teachers should ask themselves: “What more can I do for my students?” In this way, the teaching rock star has been able to recognize the value of his skills and has started a perhaps unique business model. In this sense, Laursen admits that ‘Kim Ki-hoon is certainly an exception’, but also says t
hat in South Korea, as in the US and other parts of the world, ‘you look at appearances: you evaluate the prestige of schools and universities according to the professors who work there’.

Teaching entertainers

What seems like an accusation turns into a real thing a praise. Kim Ki-hoon also appears on television shows and when she organizes lessons, many young people also attend them on Saturday afternoons or Sundays. “His way of teaching is very engaging and direct,” the boys
say. Their parents get to invest 14% of the family budget in their education, resources spent mostly in hagwon, private institutions that offer after-school lessons, even in evening hours.

So Kim Ki-hoon’s is not an isolated case: his colleague ChaKil-yong gets to earn 8 million dollars a year teaching mathematics online, or by taking his electric guitar during explanations when he is in front of dozens of boys. After all, it takes a good shake to keep the attention of students who have been on the desks for more than eight hours.

He and the other freelance tutors, who work on the web or in a hagwon’s class, become real entertainers, singers or mimes. The objective, in any case, remains teaching because, compared to their public school colleagues, these professors are paid according to the results: the higher the student grades, the more their interventions will be required and their earnings will increase.


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