Teaching in Russian Kindergartens
If you are considering taking a job with a Russian kindergarten, the first thing you should keep in mind is that “kindergarten” in Russia is very different from in Western countries. What Russians call kindergarten is normally referred to as pre-school in the US, or nursery in other countries. It is NOT simply a class for five to six-year-old students before they move on to first grade. Kindergarten begins around 18 months in Russia, and continues until the age of six or seven, when young learners enter primary school as first graders. There are lots of other key differences between Russian kindergartens and nursery/pre-schools in North America, Europe, or in Asia. We’ve developed the following FAQ guide to help our potential teachers prepare for their next kindergarten job in Russia!
What are Russian Kindergartens Like?
As with Russian schools and life in general, there is a lot of variation between Russian kindergartens. In the city center or in elite suburbs, kindergartens tend to be expensive and selective. They can be located in refurbished 18th century mansions or large modern architectural marvels. Other kindergartens are humbler, often located in middle- or lower-class suburbs, in typical two- or three-story buildings that blend in with the surroundings.
There are many constants when it comes to Russian kindergartens. Almost every neighborhood will have a local kindergarten close by, where working parents can drop off their children before work, around 8 AM, and pick them up afterwards, sometimes as late as 7 or 8 PM. Children at Russian kindergartens often eat all their meals on campus, and take a long nap in the middle of the day. Any Russian kindergarten will have multiple security guards, high fences, CCTV, and plenty of measure to ensure security and safety are in place. There will always be outdoor areas designed for children to play in, and opportunities for outdoor play will be built into the entire day. If the weather is extremely cold, children may need to have play time inside, but in general snow or rain will not stop play time, and children will have all the appropriate clothing they need to enjoy their time outdoors in any weather.
In terms of methodology, there is also a lot of variation. Some kindergartens create immersive English environments where foreign teachers stay all day and take part in daily life activities like washing hands and changing clothes, eating meals, and engaging in outdoor activities. Others prefer their very young learners to have shorter 30-45-minute lessons throughout the week. All kindergartens will have learners divided into multi-aged groups.
While some kindergartens adopt a particular methodological approach, for example Montessori or Regio Emilia, it is far more common for kindergartens to borrow ideas from multiple disciplines and create learning environments that blend together different educational approaches. Almost all kindergartens encourage their young learners to try to take responsibility for life skills like dressing and feeding themselves with minimal interference from adults, and many kindergartens provide practical life materials to help young learners achieve these goals. There is often very little focus on academics in the earlier years of kindergarten; instead, emphasis is placed on young learners being able to describe the world around them and their routines and responsibilities. In the last year of kindergarten, children begin “school preparedness” courses that get them ready for first grade!
English teachers should bear in mind that a MAJOR difference between Russian and Asian kindergarten has to do with the approach to teaching young learners how to read. Because Russians see their alphabet and language as being “very difficult” to learn, almost all kindergartens will prefer that you not “confuse” young learners by attempting to teach the English alphabet in kindergarten. As such, kindergarten curriculums are highly visual and hands-on, focused on speaking/listening activities rather than reading or writing practice.
What are Russian Kindergartners Like?
Russian kindergartens are like most children in their age-group; curious, energetic, and easily distracted! They will be more willing to take risks and make mistakes than Asian children in the same age group, and they are generally allowed more freedom of choice in their personal daily play times. As with any young children, it is important to watch them closely! They will test boundaries and defy expectations on the regular.
Kindergarten teachers need a lot of energy and a wide repertoire of songs, games, and activities to keep Russian kindergartens entertained and focused on classroom activities. It’s also important to discuss classroom rules daily, and a have clear boundaries in place.
What are Common Expectations for Kindergarten Teachers in Russia?
English teachers in Russian kindergartens should be happy and energetic, and naturally love to spend time around young children. Running, jumping, playing, and having a good time are basic job requirements. Kindergartens will NOT be impressed with lethargic teachers who like to sit during play time rather than engage with the children.
As mentioned above, English teachers are expected to design energetic and engaging lessons with a focus on speaking and listening activities. Classes should be communicative, and as much as possible, based around daily routines and everyday knowledge, rather than more academic subjects. There is no need to “teach grammar” formally to kindergarteners! Instead teachers should design role-plays and activities that are interesting and engaging, to show grammar concepts in use every day.
Kindergarten teachers are expected to be kind and patient, to never yell or lose their temper around children, and to show compassion and understanding in their disciplinary approach.
Preparing stories, craft activities, science experiments, and outdoor games are regular job requirements for English teachers in Russian kindergartens.
What are some ‘quirks’ of Russian Kindergartens that new teachers should be prepared for?
1. As in ANY Russian school environment, you will need to change your shoes. Designate a clean pair of shoes as your “inside” shoes and either bring them with you or store them in the cloakroom at your kindergarten. Change into them in the communal wardrobe area at the front of the building, before stepping into the school. Inside shoes should always be comfortable- no high heels or shiny loafers. It’s a good idea to opt for light canvas shoes that are easy to clean, or for women, ballet flats. Also like in any Russian school environment, wearing outerwear like coats, hats, or scarves inside is inappropriate. Leave these items in the cloakroom.
2. Dressing for work in a Russian kindergarten can be a little tricky. You need to look professional and put together, but you also need to be comfortable and able to move around a lot. Unlike in Asian kindergartens, there will almost never be a “uniform” that you will be asked to wear, however, each kindergarten may have its own dress code rules they would like you to follow. In general, avoid revealing clothing, jeans with rips in them, and clothing that is ill-fitting (too loose or too tight). Women should avoid wearing skirts or dresses as they may find themselves sitting on the floor, squatting, or running after children. Whereas it would be inappropriate to wear jeans to a Russian school, they are often an good choice for kindergartens, as long as they do not have holes in them. Think smart and casual wear that is durable and will not stain easily. Sturdy natural fabrics will always be a good choice.
3. If you are visibly ill, you should NOT come to work. Unlike in Asian countries, having a cough or a runny nose means you should not risk infecting your students. This is especially the case when working in kindergartens. Young children get sick more frequently and have less developed immune systems than older children or adults. They are also less adept at handling their own germs responsibly. Working in a kindergarten almost guarantees you are going to be ill at some point. You’ll have sick leave in your contract, and you are meant to use it!
4. If you are male, you NEED to hold open doors for your female colleagues and let them enter/exit first. Not doing so will cause you to make enemies quite quickly. There are also certain holidays in Russia where men buy flowers, chocolates, or small gifts for women, regardless of romantic or filial connection. Just as you will quickly make enemies by forgetting proper etiquette, you will quickly win over your female colleagues by following this custom!
5. Make sure you know the kindergarten’s policy on discipline and follow it. Corporal punishment of any kind is not allowed and will result in your immediate termination. Even if you see a nanny do it, do NOT follow suit.
6. Remember that Russian culture and educational environments, while sometimes informed by progressive pedagogical theories, are still very traditional. Don’t assume that because you work in a Montessori kindergarten that gender roles will be fluid. Boys will be encouraged to play with “boy’s toys” and girls will be encouraged to play with “girl’s toys.” It’s best to keep your opinions about these things to yourself and not interfere too much in the pedagogical decisions of the school. Presume that the people you work with are better educated than yourself and a have a clearer handle on cultural and parental expectations than you do, and show deference!