The Boots-On-The-Ground Guide to Teaching English in Russia
It was always one of your biggest dreams. Finally, you’ve had the balls to pull the trigger and go ahead with it.
You've always dreamed about traveling and experiencing another culture. But not just any culture. Russia is your dream destination.
You just have one small problem.
How are you going to make money there?
Well, you did read somewhere that you can make good money with teaching English in Russia. But is that really true?
If that sounds familiar then I'm glad you found my guide.
Maybe you have a vague idea of what you want to do but you want to hear some first-hand experience first. Or maybe you’re already dead-set on this but don’t know where to start.
Introducing: The Boots-On-The-Ground Guide to Teaching English in Russia
In this guide, I break down all the necessary info that you need for teaching English (or any other language) in Russia. It’s the only comprehensive, no-BS guide on the internet that includes plenty of PERSONAL EXPERIENCE and ACTIONABLE ADVICE. No sugarcoating and no lame talk about improving the world this and becoming a better person that. 7,000+ words of cold, hard facts.
The requirements for teaching English in Russia
If you’ve never taught in your life, be it a language or something else, you’re probably wondering how you can get this whole thing started. I remember how clueless I was before I first got started. My thoughts were somewhere between “this can’t be so hard” and “holy shit, there’s so much to it, I’ll probably never figure it out”.
There are a lot of technicalities and bits and pieces that you should know and learn as you go. But to give you the big picture, you should have these five attributes to become a good teacher.
5 things you need to be good at to teach a language
(and the one thing you don't need to know!)
#1: Be a good communicator
Being a good communicator in the realm of teaching means connecting two things.
You need to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what the aim of this is.
When you know that, you need to be able to explain it to students.
In practical terms this means: you need to know what exercise you’re going to do, why you’re doing this specific (type of) exercise and what you plan to achieve with it. And you need to communicate this to your students. Not every single bit but they broadly need to know what they’re supposed to do and why.
This is exactly what you write down in your lesson plan when you start out teaching.
It’s the number one most important attribute that you need.
A person remembers only a fraction of what they read, hear and see. You’ll forget 90% of this article, even if you read all of it. But people remember 90% of what they do. Being a good teacher means making students do the right things. Books help you with picking out the right things. But to get them to do what you want them to do, you need to be a good communicator.
In plain English, that means:
Yes, you need to be able to explain stuff when students ask you. But much more important is being able to guide them towards finding the solution themselves.
Just like in the movie Inception, when you have an idea or find a solution yourself, you will remember it much, much easier.
#2: Be sociable
Extrovert or introvert, you cannot be a good teacher if you do not like to talk. After all, the whole point of learning a language is being able to communicate in that language. If you don’t enjoy the process, then how are you going to set a good example for your students?
In class, at almost all times someone is talking and the other person listening. To pass on this skill of interacting in this particular language you need to be good at it and you need to enjoy it because it’s the only thing you’ll be doing.
Of course, you can just let students do exercise after exercise but they will a) not learn anything that way, b) get bored very fast and c) you’ll get bored very fast as well.
A good way to think about this is to remember your own teachers. Did you enjoy the grumpy ones more or those that were happy to make conversation? Ask yourself if you would be happy if you were sitting at the other end and receiving what your students are receiving.
Being sociable will help you a great deal with finding a common language with your students. They’ll be more motivated and get better results if they like you. In turn, you’ll also enjoy working with them much more.
#3: Enjoy improving other people
Teaching is essentially the skill of building another person’s skill. It consists of four parts:
All of these factors play a part in teaching and improving someone else’s skill. If you think you’re not going to enjoy that, then teaching’s not for you.
#4: Be patient
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Your students are going to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. This will go on for months and years. They will know the rules and still make the mistakes. You’ll be banging your head against the wall and they’ll still do it. The worst part is how sometimes they won’t even give a damn about not making them.
Your task: keep calm and keep teaching.
Be patient with your students. Most of the time they’re not stupid but they can’t help themselves. Stay patient and correct them, a thousand times if need be. Lead by example. Reward good behavior and correct use of English and eventually you shall see results.
#5: Have experience with learning languages (not necessary but helps A LOT)
Now this one’s a bit debatable. Of course, you can be a great teacher without knowing other languages. And you can be a great (or shitty) teacher and know five more languages yourself.
But it is definitely easier when you know both sides of the same coin.
You always have a point of reference that you can compare your current work with. You know how it is to be a student: what helped you, what you wanted from your classes and what frustrated you. You also know which teachers you liked and disliked and why. You can also recommend or advise against certain methods that you’ve tried yourself (or that have been tried on you).
I’d say if you’re a newbie and have never taught before, having solid language learning experience (no, not the two-week crash course in Spanish) is highly valuable. I’d say it puts you almost at the level of someone who did a course but has no experience either. I can speak from my own experience that my constant language learning helps me a lot with my methods and my credibility vis-à-vis my students.
The one thing that is totally overrated when it comes to teaching English
Yea, it’s the big boogeyman. Everyone thinks they need to have perfect command and knowledge of English (or any other) grammar. Total nonsense.
Let’s assume you’re a new racecar driver on the scene. You don’t know shit about how your racecar works but you’re fast as fuck. But before you can be promoted to race against the big boys, you need to know at least the nuts and bolts of it, right?
Guess what, the mechanics are going to explain it to you.
Now replace racing with teaching and the mechanics with teacher’s books and voila. All grammar you need to know is always explained in the teacher's books, with explanations how to explain it. It really doesn’t get easier than that.
Of course it helps if you know it because you won’t need to look stuff up and will find more effective ways of getting the main points across. But please don’t think you need a major in English Language Studies to be an effective teacher.
Do I need certificates to teach English?
Lots of you will ask yourself whether they need a certificate in order to start teaching. After all, if you have no experience and have never done this before, surely you must have something to show for yourself? I’ll be absolutely clear on this:
A teaching certificate is not necessary but indeed helpful.
Both, in terms of finding work and becoming a better teacher.
Plenty of schools and private students hire you even without a certificate. In fact, my personal experience was that most don't even ask for it. As always, personal fit beats any piece of paper claiming you have some sort of qualification.
However, having a certificate is definitely a plus. Especially if you want to teach at schools, or even universities, the recruiter might ask for it. Physical schools are going to be more interested and persistent about this compared to online language schools where you aren't actually employed but work as a freelancer.
Sometimes schools offer you a better rate if you have a certificate. The next-best thing you can have is a (postgraduate) degree from an English-speaking country. Ideally, this degree is in a linguistic field but that's not mandatory.
In terms of the actual teaching, it all depends on you. How many of the attributes mentioned above do you have? Are you able to plan and structure a lesson so that every part of your lesson fulfills a certain purpose?
Modern books are well-structured and give you a good framework to work with. But you still need to put in the work and actually prepare yourself. In addition, you can and should research additional methods of teaching.
My personal experience is that you do not need a certificate (I don’t have one and don’t plan on getting one) but in that case, you should be willing to teach yourself everything you need to know. If you don’t have either, you’re probably going to bomb and will notice pretty quickly that you have a lot to catch up on.
The best certificates are the TEFL and the CELTA. Especially if you're a rookie, unsure of how to teach or not a people person, they'll give you a good framework of how to plan a lesson and what to focus on when teaching. Take a physical course to get a certificate, even if it takes a few weeks, over an online course, which will be less valued and useful to you.
Do I need experience to teach English?
Let me put it like this:
When was it better to have less experience at something than a lot of it?
But everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Like with any other skill, having experience will make things much easier but it isn’t “necessary” per se. Those of you that maybe already have some teaching experience know that it helps you to identify your students’ needs quicker. You're much faster to figure out what does and doesn't work for you and your students. It also greatly reduces your preparation time. More often than not, you can use the same blueprints and lesson plans again and again and just tweak them slightly depending on the individual student.
If you plan to work on a contract, then most probably they’ll require you to have teaching experience. If you don't have that, you’re guaranteed to get a shitty rate. Either way, feel free to bend the truth and put a little bit (1-2 years) of experience on your resumé. No one can or will check it but you need to have a good background story like being able to tell them about the methodology you are using. This is of course, surprise surprise, easier to fake if you know what to talk about, i.e. if you’ve taught before.
Students in my experience almost never ask. You want to make it about them anyway. Their problems, their goals and their experience with other teachers. More tangible benefits are having good reviews and being able to refer to past success stories from other students. Students are always curious to find out how they’re doing in comparison to others. If you have a couple of points for comparison that always helps.
By the way, you can never have “enough” experience but in case a school or a student asks and you need a plan B, the 1-2 years I mentioned above will do the trick. 80% of what there is to know, you learn during the first two years.
How to get a job teaching English in Russia
Enough with the preparing, it is time to find actual work. I’m going to list the four main options that you have if you want to teach English in Russia. They all come with their own pluses and minuses. I'm going to break down all of that for you below.
Teaching English at schools and kindergartens
How it works
A lot of schools and kindergartens in Moscow are constantly looking for new teachers. Merely finding a job as English teacher is a piece of cake since demand is very high.
Mail the school your CV and you’ll get called up for an interview very fast. Make sure it’s a “teacher’s CV”, i.e. highlight relevant skills and experience. They’re not strict about it at all but they want to check whether you have the skills that a teacher needs.
During the interview you can expect the following questions:
- Why do you want to be a teacher?
- Do you have experience? Where have you taught and whom?
- What’s your methodology? What kind of books do you use?
- Can you give us a small trial lesson?
That’s about all I can remember. As I said, these interviews are very easy and you’ll pass more than 50% of the time. If you do, you’ll get a fixed schedule with 30 hours of work per week, give or take a few hours. Prep time is not included, that’s only the time you actually stand in front of a class and teach.
Work hours are during the day when the kids go to school or kindergarten. You work on a contract that is usually for 9 or 12 months.
How much money can you make
In Moscow you'll get about 70,000 - 150,000 Rubles per month (after tax) depending on the school and the workload. Sometimes they support you with finding a visa and accommodation, sometimes not, each school handles that differently. I haven't taught at schools so I can only tell you what I know from interviews and what I've heard from other teachers.
If you’re really dead-set on becoming a teacher and want to gain some experience, or if you don’t give a damn about being well-paid and just want to do it for the hell of it, then this option is for you. I would recommend against it.
(I'll talk about teaching children vs adults a bit later.)
Teaching English to corporate clients
How it works
Getting into teaching corporate clients is pretty similar to teaching for schools because, well, you teach for a school. Only are these language schools that focus on adult students.
The process is pretty much the same: send in CV – pass the interview – sign the contract – teach. From what I know, you have to travel to the students’ workplaces to teach but some schools also have their own facilities. I remember interviewing at one that had their office in the skyscrapers in Moscow City and students would come to them.
Usually, you work on a contract as well although there seem to be exceptions. You teach either in the mornings or in the evenings to accommodate the work schedules of your students.
How much money can you make
I’ve seen salaries from 70,000 to 200,000 Rubles per month depending again on the school and the workload. For visa and accommodation, the same as for schools applies. Some help and others don’t. Overall you can probably make a bit more here but that comes with its own disadvantages as well.
This is a good option for those who don’t feel completely at ease with children, don’t mind the odd hours but want some sort of stability. Again, you’re not going to make it rain by teaching adult students English but it’ll be enough to survive and you’ll learn a thing or two in the process.
Teaching English as a freelancer
How it works
Most people’s idea of being a teacher probably looks something like this:
Get ready for the day, meet your student, chit-chat a little bit with him, maybe meet another student and around noon you have the day off to go to the beach/meet girls/[insert your favorite activity here].
Essentially they dream about being a private tutor that has very little work with lots of free time and lots of money as well.
Not quite as easy as that.
Finding work as a freelancer takes a lot of effort and time. Your best bets are sites and local language schools where you can offer your services. At language schools, you pass a small interview and sometimes they record a video of you for their website so potential students can get to know you. For websites, you fill out your profile and send in scans of any kind of relevant documents that you might have, such as university diplomas, certificates and the sorts.
At schools, the student pays the school a cut (usually 50% of your rate) and you get paid in cash directly by the student. The student signs a contract with the school, so you are “guaranteed” work. Schools often have fixed rates. You can request a higher rate but keep in mind that students pay another 50% on top of that. Being more expensive than everyone else means shooting yourself in the foot. The schools throw students your way. Every time they have a potential student, all teachers get notified and the student can pick from the available ones.
Online you set your rates yourself and pay the sites a “finder’s fee” depending on the expected value of the order. Often that’s give or take two lessons worth of fees. From there, the student is your own responsibility. You get students that you work with for months and others that you only see once. Screening for good and reliable people is on you but you can do that (on most sites) before actually paying for the student.
How much money can you make
The good news:
You can make up to 500,000 Rubles per month if you work a lot, have experience and have good profiles with a lot of positive reviews that bring in new students on a regular basis.
The bad news:
That’s not going to happen for a long time because you need to build up a portfolio of students, a good reputation and the experience to get the former two. Moreover, you have to adapt to your students’ timetables, which again means working odd hours and effectively caps your ceiling if you don’t want to work with everyone. Realistically you’re looking at making 100,000 – 200,000 Rubles a month. Those are good months and by no means stable.
This can be a decent way to make and build up some transferable skills that you can make good use of later. If you’re brave, ready to sacrifice stability for freedom and a self-starter, this is the way to go.
Teaching English as a governor
How it works
You might know who the Gouvernator is but a governor?
That is just another word for a nanny. Being a governor means you’re babysitting rich people’s kids and do so in a foreign language. This is how it works.
You find a suitable position on Facebook or one of the sites, send in your CV and pass an interview with the company, pass an interview with the family and the fun can begin. You’ll be expected to babysit or teach kids from 2-16 years and communicate with them only in English (or in another language). Often that’s a full-time job. When the kids get off school is when your day begins, so you’ll work something like 1PM to 7PM every day plus often a day on the weekend as well. There are also governor jobs where you become a part of the family and live for them for the duration of your contract.
The activities you do depend on the family and on how old the children are. That can range from actual babysitting (but only in English), to playing with them to helping them with homework and really teaching them. Some families want someone just for a few hours a week, while others get a governor that lives with them for a few years.
How much money can you make
These jobs are well-paid since you work for the elite families in Moscow (don’t know if they even exist in other cities). 50-60$/hour is the lowest I have seen if you work on an hourly basis. Others pay you per month and that can go as high as 5,000GBP/month including visa and accommodation (usually living with them). That also includes vacations to wherever the family might go.
If you’re young and you don’t mind slaving away for a while to save some money, then this might just be for you. This isn’t so much teaching English as it is educating and spending time with children. Proceed with caution because a governor you can only be for so long before it becomes a pain.
My personal experience of teaching in Russia
Many of you probably skipped to this part right away in order to hear what my own impressions and experiences are.
I've been teaching English and German for over a year now. As I've mentioned many times in this guide, it's not easy by any means but you can make it work if you're smart about it. Instead of boring you with a long monologue, I'll answer FAQ a lot of you might have. I remember I had a lot of these questions before I started and I would have been very thankful for some answers back then.
Is teaching English difficult?
Teaching is a bit like chess, easy to learn but hard to master. You learn the basics of it very fast but you're never fully done with learning and improving. After a while, you feel like you've hit a wall. But there are always new and unfamiliar situations and problems that your students face, which force you to come up with new solutions. Every student is different and as they improve, so do you.
Overall, I'd rate teaching English as not very hard. If you bring the 5 most important things I described, then you have a good chance of being a successful teacher.
Do I need to know Russian to teach?
I've only ever taught in Russia and I can tell you from experience that it's not mandatory but it helps a lot. Especially with adult students, it is very helpful for two reasons.
First, they will ask you for a lot of translations. Of course, you speak as much English as possible but students still want translations and that's ok. Most don't have a dictionary and it's also faster if you can give them a quick translation.
Second, and that's actually more important, it's (literally) much easier to find a common language with your students if you speak their language. Even if they specifically want a native speaker, they'll feel more comfortable with you if you speak Russian. Occasionally students also need further grammar explanations, which is easier to do in Russian as well. Especially if the student's level of English is very low or zero, it's very useful and much easier to switch to Russian for organizational questions.
When working with children, knowing Russian is actually not important and sometimes even counterproductive. Children don't organize lessons and learn a language in a different way. You simply speak English with them even if they talk back in Russian. If you do know Russian, it's best to not let them know about that. If they find out, they'll never speak to you in English again.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching English in Russia?
I already talked about pros and cons of the different options that you have if you want to teach English in Russia. But what about general advantages and disadvantages? I'm not talking about wishy washy advantages like "I get to learn Russian" or "I live in a foreign country, that's so cool!!".
Here are my three personal biggest advantages and disadvantages of teaching:
Is it better to teach adults or children?
That totally depends on your personality and whether you get along with children or not. I personally teach only adults and can't work with children. Other people actually prefer the playful way that children learn in.
Here's a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of teaching adults and children:
Working with adults
Working with children
Is it better to teach groups or individuals?
Pretty much the same applies here. Some prefer the former, others the latter. Both have different dynamics and you learn useful transferable skills at both. I personally prefer individuals because I like to fully focus my attention on one person. Teaching groups can be more lucrative, especially if you manage to put together a small group by yourself. It's not so different from teaching one person but for the students it's cheaper and you get more, so it's a win-win.
Here are my observations on group teaching vs private tutoring:
What are students in Russia like?
Since I can't really compare I can only tell you the impression that I have of Russian students. Like probably anywhere else, it is hard to generalize. Some are diligent, some are lazy. Some are talented, others need three times as long for the same lesson. Some do their homework, a lot of them don't.
In general, Russian students are pleasant to work with. They're eager to learn, friendly, talkative and easy to find common ground with. For a Westerner, their culture is similar enough to not get a cultural shock but different enough to leave room for lots of funny and interesting talking points. They're always very involved and curious to find out more about "how do you say this in English" or "why/how do people in the UK/US/Germany do...?". These types of topics are always a winner with Russian students.
Overall, I'd say in terms of students Russia is definitely a good country to teach in.
How do you structure a lesson?
The books that you should work with give you a leg-up on that. It always tells you what the wider goal of the lesson is and what the students are going to learn. My advice is to stick to the lesson plans the books give you. As a beginner, you don't really know yet what you're doing. Luckily, the book walks you through it from A to Z.
Your only job is to find a good balance of productive and receptive skills and to monitor how students react to the material. You need to know when you want to do which exercise and why. Sometimes things move quicker than you expected, other times slower. That's where you need to be able to adapt. It is always good to have a few extra exercises and explanations up your sleeve.
Over time, as you gain experience, you'll be able to react on the fly and incorporate different types of material and work with extracurricular stuff. Still, you should mentally go through every lesson before you start teaching. The difference whether you come prepared or unprepared is like night and day and both you and your students will notice.
Can I teach other languages too?
Absolutely possible, yes.
English is the most demanded language by far. About 80% of the "teaching foreign languages" market in Moscow is for English. German is second with maybe 10%, French is third with about 5%. Then all the rest like Spanish, Italian, Chinese etc.
I would say if you're not a native speaker of one of the former three, don't even think about it. Unless you have serious established contacts that will guarantee you a constant stream of clients, you won't be able to live off teaching another language.
Do I have to be a native speaker to teach English?
Like with so many things, it's not mandatory but very useful.
First, rates are obviously much better for native speakers. There are also Russians teaching English but their rates are lower to the extent that you can't live off that.
Second, the clients that can pay higher rates look specifically for native speakers. Even if you're a shitty teacher with a passport from an English-speaking country, you're already two steps ahead of anyone else. Plenty of students in Moscow are in love with the UK accent and want specifically teachers from the UK to teach them the correct pronunciation. Your reputation as a native speaker is way better.
If you are not a native speaker, you need to have bulletproof credentials of speaking top-notch English to command anything close to a respectable rate. That means having university degrees from English-speaking countries, very high test scores and ideally teaching certificates. Especially schools are often strict with that. If you're not a native speaker you're either out or you're getting paid less.
I can tell from experience that it isn't easy to compete with the competent native speakers out there, no matter how good your English might be. If English isn't your first language and you don't have a second language that is high in demand, don't come to Russia to teach.
How about the legal situation if I teach English in Russia?
If you work for a school, kindergarten, university or wherever you get a contract, then you're legally employed and they'll take care of your visa, your work permit and your taxes. Salary in Russia is always indicated after tax, so no need to worry about that. Also, students can work some hours legally as far as I know.
Anything else is illegal. That is the theory at least. Unless you set up your own LLC in Russia to be self-employed, you can't officially work. The situation on the ground though is that lots of people...find a solution. Let's be crystal clear here: I'm not advocating tax evasion in Russia. But facts are facts, it is sort of a national sport.
In practice, that means that you get paid in cash and no one bats an eyelid. That can work for a long time but tax authorities in Russia are getting stricter, so you should gamble at your own risk. As long as you're a small fish you'll go unnoticed but if you have the means to register your business legally, you should save yourself a headache and do it.