The following information was written by Josh Wilson, Assistant Director of The School of Russian and Asian Studies, with assistance from Kim Frankwick, Student Services Coordinator for The School of Russian and Asian Studies. It was written primarily for the benefit of current and potential SRAS students, but also covers teaching English full-time and professionally in Russia. Note that The School of Russian and Asian Studies does not hire English teachers.
As the Russian economy has grown and opened to the world since the 1990s, the demand for English teachers has soared. Many American students today subsidize their study abroad or even life abroad by teaching English.
Ambitious students who are hoping to make a career in Russia can find teaching a valuable networking tool – as many Russians studying English work for internationally-minded companies that might hire foreigners (or have contacts at those that do).
While there are many pluses to teaching, there are also several questions to answer and issues to consider before diving into the market. This article will overview these in a comprehensive fashion.
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I. Do I Need Certification? (back to top)
Simply put, no, you do not need certification. If you are looking to teach under a contract position – which can be good for those hoping to work fulltime and long-term – then your prospective employer may want you to be certified. If you are looking for part-time work or looking to freelance, you can fairly easily find work with no certification. No other language-related qualifications are needed (although they can affect how you should market yourself and how much you can earn). If certification is required – some employers may want a specific certification. There are several out there (e.g. TEFL; CELTA; TESOL) so you might want to research your options before investing the time, cash, and effort to get certified.
II. Is it Legal?
To work in Russia legally, you need to have a work visa and a work permit. If you’ll be working full-time for a school or company, they should provide this for you.
Students can work on-campus at a university if that university has sponsored their student visa. Many universities hire native speakers enrolled with them to help teach languages. Ask around at your university. If you happen to be pursuing a degree in Russia, you can now, as of January 1, 2014, obtain a work permit and work legally on the basis of your student visa. Note that this only applies to those seeking full degrees. Click here for details.
A residence permit will also entitle you to work in Russia. However, the whole process can take nine months or more and requires navigating considerable Russian-speaking bureaucracy. For this and other reasons, obtaining residency isn’t really a viable option unless you are planning to spend a few years in Russia.
Most teachers, to be honest, work under-the-table. This is true especially if they are freelancing independently or even working part-time at a school. While not legal, it is commonly practiced. Americans can now get 3-year tourist or business visas that will allow stays of up to six months at a time. Most other nationalities can get 2-year tourist or business visas on a 90-days-in-90-days-out regime. Obviously, neither of these is optimal for long-term employment and legally, neither entitles you to work in Russia. However, both can allow you time on the ground to look for long-term employment, should you desire it.
We should also mention that Russia has been on a long, slow path to improving the enforcement of its visa regimes for many years. It has recently made another sudden and unexpected leap forward with this with several cases of enforcing the “scientific-technical” visa for researchers (who have commonly arrived to Russia on the more common general business visa). If you are caught working in Russia, you can be fined, deported, and banned from Russia for five years. If you are a student, you will likely lose whatever tuition you’ve paid to your university as well. Thus, while under-the-table employment on various visa types is still common, and while enforcement would likely be highly difficult, these possible consequences should still be borne in mind.
Taxes are another issue. If you are working for a company legally, the company will probably pay whatever taxes you owe to the Russian government. However, you should ask about this during the interview to be sure. If you are teaching independently on the basis of a residence permit, you should also have a Russian tax ID number and be a “registered entrepreneur” and pay 6% tax on your income based on this. If you are American, the American government is one of the world’s few that require citizens to file based on world-wide income whether or not you are currently living in America. For more on this issue, see this article on working in Russia.
III. Are the Horror Stories True?
During the “Wild 90s” and even well into the 2000’s, there were many “slaver schools,” which would hire teachers and work them without pay for as long as the teacher would keep accepting excuses for why the pay was “late.” Luckily, Russia and its educational markets have matured considerably. Such instances are quite rare now that there are many stable, legitimate schools in the market.
If you are working freelance or in any non-contract position, you have no legal basis for your employment. You will be solely responsible for guarding your rights and wellbeing. Research anything that doesn’t seem right on forums such as Dave’s ESL Café, RedTape, or Expat. Always be willing to walk away from a situation you feel is suspect, dangerous, or unfair.
In terms of general safety, Russia is a safe place. However, you should always realize that you will be in a foreign country and most likely in a very big city. Both of these are reasons to always keep your wits about you. See this article on health and safety in Russia for more information.
IV. Is it Right for Me?
While teaching can be a great networking tool and an effective way to subsidize your time abroad – keep in mind that it will be another responsibility on top of many other demands on your time. While studying abroad, you will be studying intensively. You will be surrounded by new friends from all over the world. You will be surrounded by a large city full of cultural and social activity. You will have travel opportunities that will be cheaper and more available than they may be at any other time in your life. Before making your decision, consider carefully your need for cash and your reasons for studying abroad. You will also be less immersed in Russian if you are spending your time speaking English and preparing English lessons. If you are primarily looking to study, have fun, travel, and meet new people, this might not be the right choice. There are other funding opportunities for study abroad if you just need cash. This is particularly true for those that research and apply early.
For those contemplating teaching while looking for other employment or as primary freelance employment, you should also consider the current ruble volatility. If you have obligations such as student debt back home, working for rubles can represent a risk. In 2014, the ruble lost half its value, meaning that expats working in Russia suddenly had to pay double the rubles they earned to cover any dollar-denominated debt they held. While the ruble has rebounded somewhat (as of 15 April 2015), it is likely to remain volatile for at least the near future. It is possible to obtain dollar-denominated salaries in Russia (which are valued in dollars and paid at the official exchange rates in rubles each payday). Such situations are not the norm, but it is worth looking for them if you have significant expenses in dollars. This will also, however, represent a risk to your expenses on the ground if the ruble strengthens against the dollar.
Where to Work
I. Work for a School
Working for a school can provide more security than freelancing. The school will most usually line up students for you, make sure students pay, make sure you are paid, and supply a curriculum with which to teach your classes.
A. Full-time Position with a School
Schools should offer you a work visa if you are working full time. Some also offer housing support and other benefits. Usually, this applies only if you are in a contacted (legal) position. Contracted positions often mean a one-year minimum commitment. Many of these positions will desire certification, but some offer free or discounted certification training as part of the package for otherwise qualified candidates. However, locking into a full-time contract can leave you with little free time – especially if the school does not count course preparation or commute time into the hours that you are expected to work. Those studying abroad or those hoping to network or travel may find a contracted, full-time position incompatible with their plans.
B. Part-time Work with a School
For those looking for an easy way to pick up some spending cash while abroad, a part-time position with a school is one way to go. Often, this will involve going to various businesses to teach their employees. Many businesses in Russia offer English lessons as a perk and continued professional training for their employees. Sometimes people request private lessons for themselves or their children. While the schedule is usually somewhat flexible, you can end up spending considerable time traveling between gigs. These positions are often offered without contracts, which is technically illegal (though, again, commonly practiced). Some, however, do offer contracts and even visas. Many English teachers in Russia consider this situation optimal as it makes you fully legal and still leaves you time to freelance (which can pay better), travel, or peruse other plans.
C. A Few Major Schools to Consider
Please note that the information below is as listed on the schools’ websites. Note that some schools will list a TEFL certificate as a qualification needed, but sometimes hire without them. Also, some schools may have “trial periods” that will pay lower rates than those listed. Trial periods are common in Russia – and backed by Russian law – and can last for as long as three months.
Locations: Moscow, St. Peteresburg, Vladivostok, Almetevsk, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov on Don, Stavropol, Tyumen, Tver, Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, as well as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Qualifications: For onsite contract positions, a bachelor’s degree is required and a TEFL certificate is recommended. Ongoing teacher training is provided. For offsite non-contact positions, no qualifications are required.
Approximate pay: Contact positions offer a monthly salary, accommodation, visa, transportation reimbursement, and insurance. Non-contract positions generally offer an hourly salary and include no benefits.
BKC International House
Location: Moscow and Moscow suburbs
Qualifications: A TEFL certification is required. They offer monthly teacher development program.
Approximate pay: A 30-hour contract begins at $1,150 per month, based on qualifications and experience. A 24-hour contract begins at $895 per month. Accommodation, visa, and flight are paid by BKC. A discount is offered on health insurance and Russian classes. Hourly rates range from $23 to $29, but do not include any benefits.
Location: Moscow and St. Petersburg
Qualifications: University degree required and TEFL certification preferred.
Approximate pay: The site doesn’t say. Full-time staff receive social benefits. Visa support is only provided to those with TEFL certification.
Serendipity-Russia (The American Home)
Qualifications: American citizenship, a bachelor’s degree, and TESOL certificate are required. Ongoing teacher training and support is provided.
Approximate pay: Contact positions offer a stipend, homestay accommodation, and visa.
Location: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Samara, Toliatti, Rostov na Donu, Shakhti, Stavropol, Ekaterinburg, Perm, Ufa, Steritamak, Orenburg, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Obninsk and Zelenograd. They also have a center in Atyrau, Kazakhstan.
Qualifications: Vary based on program: intern, work-study, or EFL teacher.
Approximate pay: Varies based on program: intern, work-study, or EFL teacher.
English Lingua Centre
Qualifications: TEFL certification recommended, but not required. Those without prior teaching experience are required to complete their in-house training.
Approximate pay: 600-700RUR/hour or 1500-2000USD monthly for full-time
Modern English School
Qualifications: A university degree and TEFL certification required. Newly certified teachers are accepted.
Approximate pay: Pay unknown, visa provided, accommodation support, and free lunches.
Windsor English Language School
Qualifications: You must be a native English speaker with a university degree, TEFL certification, and have at least a year of teaching experience.
Approximate pay: A 26-hour contract is paid $1,000 per month and includes shared accommodation, visa, travel stipend, and travel insurance. The hourly rate is 750 rubles with no benefits.
Wall Street Institute
Qualifications: You must be a native English speaker with a university degree.
Approximate pay: $1,350 per month, plus medical insurance, and bonuses. No hourly rate listed.
Location: Moscow, St. Petersburg
Qualifications: You must be a native English speaker with a university degree and TEFL certificate.
Approximate pay: Not listed.
ABC Language School
Qualifications: You must be a native English speaker. No university degree or TEFL certificate needed.
Approximate pay: 450 rubles (~$15) per class for part time workers.
III. Work at a University
Many universities hire foreign students studying with them to help them teach foreign languages. Hours are usually limited to part-time and the pay is often lower than what you would find at commercial schools or what you could command freelancing. However, there is usually very little travel time as the work should be all on-campus. This convenience is complimented by the security that you are working completely legally. Most the contacts you will make will be students, which can be a boon to your social life, but is not likely to be suited to helping you find career opportunities abroad.
IV. Work (or Intern) at a Company
Sometimes companies hire English teachers directly to teach employees. In this case, you may be offered a contract (again, usually only if the job will be full time – which is most often incompatible with study abroad) or as a freelancer (meaning that you’ll be paid out of petty cash and will be “not-exactly-legal”). If you have specialized skills, however, and if you are looking to break into a profession in Russia, contacting relevant companies and offering to teach their employees (even for free) can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Emphasize that you are a native speaker with specialized education and experience – and be clear as to the time commitment that you can offer. If they do take you up on your offer, make sure to use your time with them to prove that you are energetic, professional, a hard worker, and serious about staying in Russia. If nothing else, this can at least give you Russia-related experience to put on your resume when applying at other companies later.
Freelancing can be best for students who have professional education or experience, the desire to land jobs while abroad, or need flexible schedules to allow for travel, study, or other reasons.
A. Positioning and Marketing Yourself
There are many things to consider in deciding what you should teach and to whom. Obviously, if you have strong Russian skills, you’ll be better able to teach all levels of students – and not just those that already know enough English to study in English.
Most freelancing will be one-on-one lessons. Teaching groups is also possible, and often more lucrative, but much more difficult in terms of coordinating schedules and designing effective lessons.
More important is your experience and education. Students who are able to teach specific terminology and about specific industries – such as finance, real estate, management, oil and gas, etc. – can command more by capitalizing on these skills. Freelancing can be a great way to show off your skills and knowledge and potentially break into a career in Russia.
Students who have majored in liberal arts or business and have strong writing skills and backgrounds in English grammar can also position themselves well by offering lessons focused on writing essays, resumes, and cover letters for Russians hoping to get into universities or professions abroad themselves. Test preparation is also of importance to this market. Some of the major tests that Russians may be preparing for include:
- GMAT is used by many business schools to test candidates applying for MBA programs.
- ETS runs GRE (a test for graduate school applicants), TOEFL (a standardized placement test for English language ability), and TOEIC (a professional placement test).
- SAT is a placement test required by many college programs.
Generally, how much to charge will depend on how specifically you can market yourself. Giving general conversation practice can be worth $15-25 per hour. Giving more specific lessons in professional terms or test preparation can net $35-50 per hour in Moscow.
B. Where and How to Market Yourself
Advertise yourself as early as possible and in as many sources as possible. You can start even before you arrive in Russia and thus have students ready by the time you get there. We recommend that you advertise yourself not as a new teacher or recent arrival – but simply as an “English language teacher currently accepting new students.” You should also indicate what levels you are willing to teach (beginning, intermediate, advanced), what age groups (children and/or adults), and mention that you can teach general English as well as terms/concepts related to any specialized skills you may have. This last point is important in differentiating you from the many other English teachers operating in the same market. We recommend, for safety, that you do not mention your name in your ad and that any online handles you use be professional but not able to easily identify you.
There are many places to advertise – for free or via paid ads or services. Here are several to consider:
- Expat.ru and RedTape.ru are forums where English speaking expats and Russians come together. Not surprisingly, both have special sections for you to post an ad advertising yourself as an English teacher. Both are free, although accepted decorum states that you should only post ads once per month at a maximum.
- CouchSurfing.org also has a very active community in Russia. Use it to advertise your services or just to network on the ground.
- Native Speakers Club is something between a school and a trade union. To advertise with them, you have to provide teaching certificates and pass an interview. They help you to keep your schedule full by essentially providing secretarial services. Although the site doesn’t say, we assume that there are probably members’ dues or a cut of your earnings that will go towards funding the organization.
- Ваш Репетитор is another schedule-filling service for teachers. You have to sign up with them and they charge between 400-2400 rubles ($12-80) per client you receive. The site and service is all in Russian.
- Avito.ru and Iz ruk v ruke are sort of Russian-language “Craig’s Lists,” offering free ads to anyone who wants to register and post. However, the sites are entirely in Russian.
Once you have students or a job, you may like some help in developing or improving your lesson plans and materials. If you are doing individual lessons, your student will likely have requests as to the style, content, and focus. Here are a few sources to draw from:
For general help in handling students, presenting material, and managing a classroom, try one of these two books:
How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer
Amazon says, “*How to Teach English provides practical coverage of specific methods, lesson planning, using textbooks and coping with the unexpected! *Includes a clear introduction to describing language so that you can understand technical words relating to grammar and pronunciation *Ideal for experienced and inexperienced teachers and CELTA candidates.”
The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry Wong
Amazon says, “The best-selling book ever on classroom management and teaching for student achievement with over 3.3 million copies sold. The book walks a teacher, either novice or veteran, through structuring and organizing a classroom for success that can be applied at any time of the year at any grade level, pre-K through college. This is the most requested book for what works in the classroom for teacher and student success.”
II. Online Resources
There are also lots of resources online:
- English Primer for Russian Speakers is a document developed by Josh Wilson, SRAS Assistant Director, for rapidly teaching basic English pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary to Russian speakers.
- The American English Website is run by the US Department of State. It provides resources for teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL), exploring American culture, and encouraging conversation within the global EFL community.
- TLSBooks and bogglesworldesl have lots of free worksheets.
- ESL101 has extensive resources and job listings for English teachers.
- Director’s Chair has a great round up of resources for teaching language.
- The British Council has compiled a large database of materials searchable by skill and level.
- The BBC has a collection of materials ranging from videos to vocabulary lists to news-based lessons that can be very helpful to English teachers. The site is primarily in Russian.
- One Stop English provides a wide range of materials. Registration is required, though is free.
- Voice of America regularly uploads broadcasts and has an archive of short news stories classified by level. Most come with text.
- The Canadian Broadcasting Company has pulled together holistic lesson plans that combine listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
- The Folger Shakespeare Library website offers a wealth of free lesson plans and materials for teaching Shakespeare.
- Teachers First is a terrific collection of materials for all subjects and grade levels. Though not specifically for English as a learned language, most of the resources can be adapted.
- The US Consulate in Krakow, Poland produces a monthly English language learning newsletter focuses on current issues and includes classroom activities.
- EngVid offers free English language video lessons. They may be utilized for students struggling with a concept, as a homework assignment, or for teachers needing to improve their own teaching methods.
- Both Stanford’s High Wire database and the Directory of Open Access Journals offer teachers a wealth of advanced level reading material, particularly useful for students preparing for admission exams.
Teaching English is not for everyone. Whether, how, and where you teach English while abroad will depend on your goals for study abroad. If you decide to teach, breaking into the market is, in our experience, not difficult, and there are many sources to help get you on your way.