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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


A Day in the Life of an English Teacher
Text by Emily Fieldhouse, illustrations by Nika Harrison

6.45. Another day, and just enough time to gulp down some instant porridge before it all begins. Showered and out by 7.45, I’ve got to be a good mile’s walk from a Metro station somewhere on the other side of Moscow for my first appointment of the day. My nine o’clock has asked me if I can teach her children. I would love to, I explain, but on a 40-hour per week teaching schedule (not including the travelling and planning involved) it may just tip the balance in favour of a heart attack. The next student, somewhat conveniently, works in the same office, and although he has never studied English in his life, has a wonderful instinct for the language.

I now have half an hour to get to my twelve o’clock, who works in the same district, but in a rather inaccessible location. Try apologising to the General Director of a mediumsized Russian company for constantly being late. The combination of unreliable trams and over-vigilant security staff makes punctuality practically impossible! Even though I have been teaching there for nearly six months, they don’t seem to believe that somebody like me could possibly have a reason to be admitted to see him. This student is a real pleasure to teach, and never complains about my late arrival, however his lessons require rather more preparation than for my other students. His level is such that he finds even the most advanced material provided by the school too easy, and is constantly craving something more challenging, which takes time to find and adapt for use in lessons.

I am now an hour away from my half-past-two appointment, which is, rather annoyingly, just forty minutes away on average. If you have a good run, you still don’t have time to order, eat and pay at a cafe, and if you take your time you arrive fifteen minutes early, which is rather embarrassing. On days like this, an ‘al Metro’ lunch is required, much to the disgust of my travelling companions. Next on the agenda is a two hour group session, although a good proportion of these lessons end up being one-to-one, be it due to business trips, workrelated emergencies or a student’s on-call status. This high absence rate makes planning difficult and progress slow, and it is almost impossible to ensure that everybody has covered all the required material for their regular progress tests.

Next stop is a marshrutka ride away from some faraway Metro station. This can take anything from forty-five minutes to an hour and a quarter. Attendance here is good, I normally get at least five out of the eight students, which means that the group work I organise can almost always proceed as planned. However, the students’ levels are really quite varied, and it takes a lot of preparation to ensure that I satisfy everybody’s needs. Their motivation levels are always excellent as they spend the majority of their working day on the phone with English-speaking clients. For this reason I feel rather guilty when I pity myself for having to spend at least half an hour waiting for the marshrutka to take me back to this middle-of-nowhere Metro. The free shuttle service is appalling in this particular business park. Maybe the reason for this lies in the fact that it is free. On these days I will get on the Metro no earlier than 9 p.m., and be home after 10.

This all does sound rather brutal but this is reality for me on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other working days (including Saturdays) are marginally better, and allow me time to prepare for future lessons, compile and mark assessments, write reports, and to record my experiences on paper! Employed by a medium-sized international language school, I teach only corporate clients. Somebody teaching on the premises of their language school will undoubtedly have a somewhat different daily routine.

Complain though I may, I have no wish to teach all my lessons under one roof, or indeed to give up any of my current students for the sake of a nine-to-five working day. With all the travelling I do, I really feel I know Moscow much better than I would even if I had more time to wander and explore. In addition, I have lost 12 kg since arriving in August, which I do not miss at all!

When teaching corporate clients, you really do get a mixed bag. Those eager for promotion, who need to enhance their English skills in order to achieve this, generally hang onto your every word and make great efforts to practise new language during lessons. You might get some students in group classes who are less eager to participate, most likely those whose lessons are paid for by the company, and who are expected to attend, and would rather be doing something else. Then you have the ‘Question girls’, eager to know WHY one cannot use the future tense after the words ‘after’ and ‘before’. I really do enjoy teaching curious philologists, but there is a limit!

Without exception, all of my students are wonderful people to know, and when I eventually move on from teaching, they will be excellent contacts. This is the key. For the vast majority of expat English teachers in Moscow, this is not a job that you will want to keep forever. For year abroad students, recent graduates, or anybody wanting a career break, teaching English in Moscow really does offer some wonderful opportunities for the future. However, if you are working for a language school, the bonds stipulated by the contract can hinder your efforts to find work elsewhere. Many of them are unwilling to allow teachers time off for interviews, and have a four week notice period. For this reason, as of next month I will be working freelance. The higher salary, along with the freedom to organise my schedule as I please won’t hurt either.

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