Teaching Private Students

Private tutoring is a tradition in Russian culture that hearkens back to the days of Peter the Great. In fact, governesses and tutors can be found gracing the pages of some of Russia’s most famous classic novels. Consider the English Governess Miss Jackson in Pushkin’s “The Squire’s Daughter,” or Mademoiselle


Roland in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Both of these characters represent stereotypes that still inform how Russians view and choose their private tutors today. Miss Jackson is very British- staunch, strict, prim, and always on time. Her credentials are strong, and she is respected in her household for her ability to bring some much-needed structure to her charge’s lives. Mademoiselle Roland on the other hand is despised and distrusted by the Oblomov’s servants. She is blamed for starting the affair that drives a wedge between Oblomov and Kitty at the beginning of the novel. These stereotypical characters are of course simply works of fiction, but there are two areas where their depictions still affect the daily lives of tutors working in Russia today.

1. Prevalence

Tutoring jobs in Russian households are still very common. Having a tutor or governess continues to be a reflection of a family’s class and privilege. With more expendable income available to Russian households than ever before, even middle-class families will seek out the opportunity to employ a tutor for their child. The extremely wealthy may prefer to hire governors or governesses, but still rely on highly qualified tutors to assist their children with foreign languages, international school placements, and language homework. Almost any teacher coming to Russia will be approached about private tutoring. Some teachers do this on their own time to earn some extra money, while others make an entire career out of it. There are also companies in Russia that specialize in placing tutors and governors/governesses with private clients.


2. Perception

The stereotypes regarding tutors and governesses set out in 18th and 19th century Russian literature still inform how Russians perceive their tutors and governesses.  It is not presumed that simply because someone is foreign, they are qualified to be a competent and effective teacher. Teachers entering the private tutoring sector will need to work hard to prove their expertise and worth. Simply “showing up” and being a native speaker will not satisfy the rigorous demands of Russian parents. It’s important to be aware of this, and in control of the image you present when entering a Russian home. Make sure you are well-groomed and well-prepared. Do not appear disheveled or disorganized if you want to command the attention of your pupils or the respect of your employers.


Once you are aware of these two issues, you’re better suited to begin working in Russian homes as a tutor. There are some other key considerations to keep in mind, as well. We’ve outlined some important points to consider before taking on a post as a Russian tutor below.


Communicate Expectations Clearly

Before taking on a job as a private tutor or governess, make sure you understand fully what parents are expecting you to do, and that you are capable of meeting those expectations. Explain that you cannot control certain factors like school admission and establish up-front markers of improvement or success that are measurable and fair.


Consider the Interests of Your Pupil

When designing your lessons remember that your pupils are studying outside of school with you, after a full day of learning. To be successful as a private tutor, you must form a bond with your students, and tailor your approach to their unique personalities and interests. If, for example, your pupil is a huge football fan, incorporate English language articles about recent matches into your activities to spark interest or break up work with a game of footy outside. Remember that tutoring is different from classroom teaching. The classroom can be in the backyard just as much as it can be at a desk in your pupil’s room.


Manage Your Time Effectively

Conversation and play are large parts of what a private tutor engages in. There are of course specific learning goals that need to be achieved as well. If you only have 3 hours a day with your pupil, you can’t play outside for two of them, and chat leisurely about football for the rest. It’s equally important to review schoolwork and engage in additional assignments. Make sure you are balancing your time in these areas, so you do not fall behind in your plans or goals. Establishing a schedule, and sticking to it, will help you maintain authority and respect with your pupil, as well as ensure you are able to accomplish all of your goals.


Balance School Work with Additional Study

Always remember that a Russian parent will want to see results. If your pupil is doing a great job with your additional assignments but getting a less than stellar grade in their English classes at school, parents will be quite unhappy. Make sure to begin your lessons by reviewing your pupil’s English homework, making sure they have done it in the first place, that it is correct, and most importantly that they fully understand it, before moving on to other tasks.


Maintain Trustworthiness and Reliability

Always be on time and prepared. Try to never cancel lessons. And under no circumstances drink or smell of alcohol before entering into a Russian home. While the structure of private lessons is less rigorous than a traditional classroom lesson would be, the expectations of teachers are largely the same. Remember that you are guest in someone’s home, as well as a professional. And it goes without saying, avoid following in the footsteps of Mademoiselle Roland!