Public vs. Private Schools

When applying for a position in a Russian school, it is important to pay attention to whether the post is at a public or a private school. The distinction between the two will determine a lot about your working environment! Below we have outlined some of the key differences between public and private schools. Use the information to consider which type of teaching environment would be a better fit for your teaching style and preferences!

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1. “Prestige.”

One somewhat surprising difference between public and private schools in Russia is that top tier public schools are considered more prestigious than their private counterparts. These schools feed directly into Russia’s top universities and are difficult to get into. Students must pass grueling tests to vie for an entry spot. While top tier private schools can also be difficult to get into, if parents are willing to pay top dollar, they can send their children there regardless of academic ability. Because of this, experience and qualifications will be greatly important for public school positions, with very little “wiggle room” available for clients who do not exactly meet the job requirements. Private schools, on the other hand, may show more interest in a potential applicant’s real-world experiences outside the classroom and give preference to applicants who have worked in scientific or artistic fields prior to entering the education sector.

2. Class Size.

Understandably, public schools in Russia are much larger and service a greater number of students. In a Russian state school, the typical classroom size can be anywhere from 25-35 students at a time. While classes tend to be smaller than in China, they can still be quite large!

By contrast, private schools tend to keep their classroom numbers much lower. Some classes have as few as 10 students in them at a time, while the average number of students per class will be around 15. Teachers hoping to work in public schools will need to be prepared to control their classroom environments through peer work and clever arrangement of classroom furniture. Teachers in private schools will be able to give more one-on-one attention to their students.


3. School Environment

Just as the number of students per class is much greater in public schools, the scale of the buildings is greater as well! Russian state schools are HUGE, with hundreds and hundreds of classrooms arranged in buildings sometimes up to seven stories high! Buildings can be in classic constructivist style or modern and very new. In the city center, a lot of public schools have undergone renovations and received funding to update facilities. Most classrooms in well-funded state schools will have smart boards and IT staff on hand. In public schools outside of the city center, adequate funding may be sparser, so expect “soviet style” buildings (and color schemes) along with classrooms often still equipped with blackboards and projectors from the 90’s. Private schools are often much smaller than state schools and can be quite architecturally diverse. Some private schools are housed in former mansions, while others may have been small factories in the past. Some private schools may also be recently built and very modern. Classrooms tend to be quite small in private schools, in keeping with the number of students. Amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts may also be available. As with state schools, there may classrooms with smart boards and all the latest educational tech, or classrooms with blackboards and wooden chairs.  Some private schools may be against using technology in lessons for methodological reasons, whereas others may consider it a basic course prerequisite. When interviewing for a position at a state school or a private school, it is worth asking what to expect in terms of amenities. Planning lessons that would require access to WIFI, or the ability to hook your computer up to a monitor, may be quite difficult in certain settings.


4. Security

To enter any Russian school, you will need to have proper visa paperwork and a medical check. The medical check will be arranged for you by your employer. It is quite comprehensive in scope. Security at Russian public schools is taken very seriously, and to enter a school you will need to be issued a special identity card. You will scan this card and be verified by a security guard prior to entering. At a private school, you will need to be vetted at the front gate and also at the front desk by security.


5. Availability of Resources

Public schools receive budgets from the state. As such, there is very little “wiggle room” when it comes to classroom resources. Going to visit the art room to ask for supplies may result in massive offense and infighting between teachers! If your students will need things like scissors, glue, markers, etc. for a lesson, it is important to communicate this WELL IN ADVANCE, so that the school may make arrangements. If you bring in your own materials, you may find it very difficult to get refunded for the purchases, as they may not be approved by the government. Private schools, on the other hand, will have much more flexibility regarding budgeting and resources. Parents can also be asked to supply specific resources for more creative projects. Just as with public schools, the more notice you can give about the materials you will need for your lesson, the better. It is easier to get refunded for materials purchased on your own at a private school, simply because the bureaucratic processes will be smaller and less stringent.


6. Curriculum and Methodology

All schools in Russia are beholden to certain curriculum standards set by the state. Public schools receive more scrutiny than private schools, and thus are more beholden to follow the specific guidelines set by the state. Private schools have more flexibility and may include a wide array of subjects outside the scope of official state policy. Private schools also tend to have more club activities after school.  The differences here in curriculum and methodology can make a big difference for potential foreign teachers. Naturally, working in a private school will mean having more freedom for creativity in lesson planning. It may also mean teaching and organizing more after school extra-curricular courses and clubs. Working in a state school will require you to follow a set curriculum with assessment tools and learning outcomes predetermined by the State.


7. Coworkers

Naturally, a Public school is a large place with many employees. It will be harder to make acquaintances with your coworkers in this setting. You should also prepare for a certain level of initial mistrust, especially from “English” teachers at the school. They sometimes mistakenly see your presence as a direct threat to their profession and can take some time to readjust their attitudes. The best way to handle this is to be supportive of their teaching efforts and communicate that you are happy to review material or assist them in any way. Remember also to follow etiquette rules like opening doors and to be polite and charming whenever you meet a Russian English Teacher! Small gifts like chocolate candies can also help break the ice!  In a private school, you will have access to a teacher’s room and have closer working relationships with your coworkers. It is also more likely that your coworkers will feel comfortable speaking English in a private school setting and see you more as an asset than a threat.


8. Role of Parents

Parents will have more say and take a more active part in the running of private schools. Public schools are largely controlled by the state, and parents follow what teachers say. This goes back to the issue of prestige again. There are pros and cons to this situation. Getting parents involved in a public school will be more difficult, but you will receive more support from teachers. In a private school, parents may regularly observe and sometimes even take part in your lessons. They will have more sway over how certain situations are handled, but they will also play a more direct role in helping your students with their studies.


As you can see, school environments in Russian public and private schools are quite different. Finding the right school for your teaching style and working preferences is important, so please bear these distinctions in mind when making your final choices for employment in the Russian education sector!