Teaching in Russian Schools
If you are considering taking a job with a Russian school, it’s a great idea to do some research on what you will be getting yourself into! It goes without saying that working in a Russian school will be different from working in a school at home, in Europe, or in Asia. We’ve developed the following FAQ guide to help our potential teachers prepare for their next job in Russia!
What are Russian Schools Like?
Just like in any country, there is a lot of diversity when it comes to the kinds of schools available for Russian children. There are well-funded and under-funded state schools, traditional and modern private schools, proper international schools teaching the IB curriculum, and some fairly wild variants in between!
We can place teachers in all kinds of school environments, from highly funded state schools that feed directly into MGU, to more typical ones; from state-of-the-art private schools using IB curriculums, to those with more traditionally Russian curriculums. We even have a school that aims to teach learners 19th century Russian etiquette, like you’d find in a Tolstoy novel! Fancy teaching “Duels 101?” This would be the place for you! Of course, if you’d rather teach debate club or drama, we’ve got you covered too.
All this variation in methodology and resources means the classroom environments in Russian schools are equally diverse. Some schools have smartboards in every classroom, some proudly use a traditional blackboard and chalk! In your initial interview with a school, it’s a great idea to ask directly about their methodology and resources. It will make you look prepared and professional, as well as allow you to actually BE those things once you arrive!
Some aspects of Russian schools are fairly consistent. For one, there is all the Pushkin. Pushkin paintings, Pushkin busts, Pushkin recitation. It starts early and continues well into University! But there are other uniting factors, as well. There will always be a strong focus on pedagogy. Local teachers will always be very well educated, and experts in their fields. Teaching is a noble and respected profession in Russia, akin to doctors and lawyers. What this means for foreign teachers is that it is a BAD idea to presume you are the most well-educated person on your campus, and a GREAT idea to take the chance to participate in training/observation opportunities offered to you by your colleagues!
Russian school curriculums are always designed to reflect the developmental needs to children, so it is also worthwhile to bush up on your Piaget, and of course, Vygotsky, before entering the school environment. Some study of the thinkers involved in the “New Education Movement,” like Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner will also help enlighten you on many of your campus’ pedagogical practices.
What are Russian Students Like?
Russian students are rambunctious, there is no way around it! They like to test limits and need firm classroom management strategies in place in order to have a peaceful and successful learning environment. They are also curious, creative, and appreciative of intellectual challenges. The like to be “clever” in all the connotations of the word, so it’s important to have a good set of “teacher’s eyes” in place when you step into a Russian classroom!
If you get the chance to observe your local colleagues, you will perceive them as quite strict teachers. There is a reason for this! Russian students respond to firm boundaries. While some teachers have a reputation for using corporal punishment, this is an outdated practice and should NEVER be used by a foreign teacher.
The best way to manage Russian students is to CHALLENGE them both critically and creatively! They respond well to tasks that stretch their abilities. Another great way to manage a class of Russian children will be to let your students be in charge of “running the classroom.” Have them determine their own rules and appoint “policy police” each week.
What are Common Expectations for Teachers?
Most Russian schools will want their English teachers to take a task-oriented and activity-based approach to learning, focused on using English for real communication. They will be more impressed by teachers who bring the content of textbooks to life, rather than those who “teach from the book.”
Often times, Russian learners will have separate English lessons with a native speaker and with a local teacher. The local teacher will focus on explaining and drilling grammar. The native speaking teacher should then focus on bringing that grammar context to life and creating a situation in the classroom where the learners “need” to use it to accomplish a goal, win a game, or solve a real-life problem.
Foreign teachers looking to work in Russian schools should be prepared to work, to be creative, and to be passionate about their students and their professional development. Often times, foreign teachers are paid significantly more than local teachers, despite having less pedagogical training. It is thus expected that teachers take their work seriously. Just “showing up” and being an “English Monkey” will NOT work in a Russian school. No one will be impressed that you are from the USA or UK. They will be impressed by your work ethic and the care you provide to your students. Teaching English in Russia is a serious profession, for serious teachers.
This applies to the dress-code, as well. While a lot of Asian schools provide uniforms for teachers, or do not mind them coming to work in jeans and t-shirts, this is unheard of in Russia. Teachers should both look like and act like teachers. This means coming to work with proper hygiene, in business casual attire, and prepared to teach the daily lesson content.
What are some ‘quirks’ of Russian schools that new teachers should be prepared for?
1. 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 on your campus. Change into them in the communal wardrobe area at the front of the building, before stepping into your classroom.
2. It’s inappropriate to wear outerwear like coats, hats, or scarves indoors. You will quite possibly offend people if you do not follow this rule!
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. You’ll have sick leave in your contract, and you are meant to use it when you are ill.
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. Always avoid discussing politics, religion, and especially issues related to sexual orientation in Russian schools. If you teach older students who ask you pointed questions about these topics, it is your responsibility to redirect the conversation. Your personal views may be conservative or liberal on the topics; regardless, it is AGAINST THE LAW to discuss these things with minors!
6. As you can see, Russian culture and Russian school environments are very traditional. This will be the case even in very “modern” international schools. Etiquette rules your grandparents used (and probably tried to teach you) will come in handy while working in Russia!