Teaching English in Russia: Demand Far Exceeds Supply
By Robert Leitch
Still surrounded by a haze of myth and rumor from the days of the Iron Curtain and Ian Fleming, Russia remains high on the list of misunderstood countries.
Foreign news coverage of carnage in the Moscow metro, terrorist attacks, and political corruption all bolster the country’s reputation for lawlessness and violence. Perhaps this explains why the demand for native
EFL teachers so far exceeds supply.
For a growing number of young Russians, English is the key to a better job and a ticket to a new life abroad, hence the EFL boom. Oil, tourism, and services outsourcing are among the major industries where good English
Private English language schools abound, capitalizing on the inadequacies of the state education system. Most of the schools employ a mix of local and native-speaker teachers. Demand for the latter is so high that
even mediocre teachers are often overloaded with work.
Because of poor information, getting started in Russia can be a frustrating task. An Internet search using terms such as “teach English in Russia” and “English schools in Russia” will turn up
dozens of sites, like escapeartist.com and others, with outdated articles.
You’ll have to sift through a lot of commercial flotsam to get to the hard facts you are looking for. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the websites of some of the country’s biggest chain schools:
for example BKC International, and English First.
These schools provide an easy entry into Russia for teachers who are new to the country or even to teaching itself. They can provide visa support, accommodations, and sometimes even airfare reimbursement in return
for signing a fixed-term contract. Some provide training and internships for inexperienced teachers.
Few Qualifications Required
Most schools stipulate a minimum required teaching qualification on their websites, often a CELTA or similar entry-level certification. In fact, demand for teachers is so strong that most schools will hire native
speakers without any teaching qualifications. In most cases a university degree is more than adequate, especially if it is in a language- or business-related discipline.
The demand for English in business is particularly high. Private schools usually send teachers to the clients’ place of business. The ability to discuss business comfortably is essential.
On Your Own
Bypassing the schools and going straight to the businesses yourself can be very profitable, but finding your way in takes time and patience. Just turning up at an office uninvited and announcing that you are an English
teacher may not work. Consider working through a school at least to begin. Take time to impress your students before making an offer to cut out the middleman.
Good references are more important than qualifications. The best way into any job is a personal recommendation, so make sure to socialize with your students. You never know whose parents are major investment bankers
looking for a reliable English teacher for their staff.
On or Off Contract?
If you don’t need to rely on a school to provide visa and other support, you may prefer to work as a freelancer. This will give you more freedom to choose where you work and more money per hour, but without the
relative security of a contract. All schools can be approached with enquiries about freelancing, even the big ones. Native speakers are especially scarce in the cold winter months when the seasonal “tourist teachers” go home.
Small schools have been known to give unconditional offers of work over the phone, without even seeing the applicant.
Smaller schools rarely appear in English Internet searches. If you know Russian, the Rambler and Yandex search engines will turn up a seemingly endless number of small private institutions.
A number of small schools have no Internet presence.
The Russia job discussion forum on Dave Sperling’s famous site, Eslcafe.com is an excellent source of advice on all teaching-related matters. Forum members
are always willing to share their experience. The Eslcafe jobs board lists a number of teaching vacancies, mainly in larger schools.
One esl cafe forum member, Jon D. Ayres, has posted a number of articles on escapeartist.com about his experiences in Russia. He describes how as a new teacher he quickly and successfully established himself as a freelancer
with only an online TEFL qualification. Of all his advice, probably the most useful is not to put all your eggs in one basket.
Freelancing is akin to running a 1-man business. Relying on just one client puts excessive pressure on that relationship. Organizing your time effectively is essential, and maintaining a manageable client base will
help to insure you against the losses which occur when one school, business, or private student cancels a few lessons or decides that your services are no longer needed at all.
Keeping an eye out for opportunities will pay dividends. Employment possibilities for native English speakers are not just confined to teaching. proofreading and editing are not necessarily well paid jobs, but they
can usually be done from the comfort of home, provided you have a computer. Networking is important, and anything that expands your base of contacts is worth trying.
Russia is not the easiest place for foreigners to work, but with a taste for adventure and some ambition, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Robert Leitch comes from the Island of Mull on the west coast of Scotland. Since 2001 he has been living and working in Saint Petersburg, Russia.