Working as an English language governor or governess in Russia

In this post, fellow blogger James, who has been working as an English governor (male governess) in Moscow, tells us about the job and what is expected in this unusual role. Read on to learn how he into it, how you can become a governess in Russia and how not to wreck a $10,000 quad bike!

Where do you work now?

I recently finished working as an English language governor for a private family based in Moscow, Russia. I taught the family’s 10-year old twins, a 25-year old daughter and sometimes the mum of the family. Before this I worked with 3 kids in a different Russian family for 4 years. In total I have 8 years’ experience as an English governor in Russia.

As a governor, I have always taught English as a foreign language through everyday life. As well as ‘sit-down’ lessons teaching vocabulary and grammar, the kids I taught learnt through sports, trips and games. My students and I spent time together after school each day, at weekends and travelling in the summers and during school holiday periods.

What’s the best thing about living in Russia?

There are three things I love about living in Russia.

Firstly, I love the excitement of living in such an enormous, thriving city. Moscow is developing at a jaw-dropping rate and it is incredible to be located somewhere where history is being made in front of your eyes.

Secondly, I love the expat crowd. You have to be a little bit crazy to live in Moscow which means that the people you get to know here are some of the most interesting (and most fun) people you will meet in your entire life. On top of that, expat salaries are high and Moscow is (relatively) cheap so you can live comfortably and afford a good many adventures if you play your cards right.

Find out how to meet people as an Expat.

Finally, I love the Russian people. While they may come across stony-faced on the surface, Russians are very deep and soulful. Your closest Russian friends will truly do anything for you. Personally, my Russian friends are unpredictably hilarious, very knowledgeable about nature, always have a bottle of vodka or an axe handy (don’t ask, don’t tell) and are experts at barbecuing meat.

For more stories of teaching English in Russia, read Becky’s interview on how she taught in Russia and Japan.

Why did you become an English teacher?

I studied languages at university. Upon completing my studies I realised that teaching English was a convenient way to be able to travel and see the world, at the same time as helping a few of the millions of people worldwide who would like to improve their English skill

How did you start teaching English?

I finished my degree in Modern Languages in the UK and as part of my placement year in France I completed a fast-track teaching course, which allowed me to work in a school in Nice. At the same time as working in the school I tutored English as a Foreign Language. I then moved to Russia to teach full-time.

If you’re thinking of getting started in TEFL, read our Advice for new TEFL teachers

What was your first teaching job?

My first full-time position was in Moscow in late 2011. I found a job through an agency, a private position teaching an 8-year old boy. It was pretty terrifying getting off the plane in a country where I knew nobody and did not speak the language. I remember seeing all the pine trees and snow out of the plane window and hoping I wasn’t out of my depth! A driver took me off to meet my boss and my student in their huge house outside Moscow.

For the first few weeks it was a difficult job, but soon my student and I clicked and he began learning English at an extraordinary rate. We played football and swam together, went for walks outside. He even had driving lessons with me sitting in the back behind his instructor (Russia!). And the best bit about it is that my student, Max, and I are still friends today. He will soon turn 18! Max is now finishing boarding school in the UK and hoping to study engineering in the United States next year.

Read more to find out about the pros and cons of being a governor or governess in Russia versus other teaching jobs in Russia.

Where have you taught?

Whilst I tutored and taught part-time at a school in Nice (France), my full-time work has always been based in Moscow. However, the nature of English language governor work has meant that I’ve travelled with my students on their holidays, as this is usually a great opportunity to speak a lot of English. I have therefore also taught in some wonderful locations including Dubai, the Maldives, Switzerland, Barbados and Mauritius, to name but a few. My longest contract (4 years) was with a family that had a holiday home in France, so I spent 3 months there every summer teaching too

Nanny jobs in Russia
Visiting Disneyland during a trip to France

What was your favourite place to work?

I personally enjoyed my summer ‘placements’ in the South of France. The weather and food were fantastic, I always came back with a lovely suntan, and I was close enough to home to be able to travel back to my native UK for long weekends when I wanted to. I gave the majority of my lessons outside in the sunshine and I was able to use my boss’s pool when I finished my teaching commitments.

Whilst I love teaching in Russia, the flight plus domestic travel means that the journey ends up taking a full day, so travelling home for anything less than a week isn’t really worth it.

Not sure if being a governess in Russia is for you? Read our guide to how to choose where to teach abroad.

What is the best thing that has happened to you since you became an English governor in Russia?

Working as an English governor or governess in Russia is such varied and interesting work that it is really hard to pinpoint a single ‘best’ moment. I would probably say that my number one work highlight is a toss up between travelling on the world’s largest yacht, staying on Marlon Brando’s private island close to Bora Bora and meeting various Russian celebrities at my boss’s birthday party.

What is the worst thing that has happened to you since you became an English governor?

The single worst moment in my English teaching career was probably the time I went quad biking with a student as part of our ‘conversation time’. The student in question was a 9-year old boy, and his dad asked me to sit with him on the bike and supervise his driving. Unfortunately he wasn’t a particularly well-behaved student and about 10 minutes into our tour he got his own ideas about which way he wanted to go and drove us into an enormous bog. Our quad bike inevitably got stuck. My student and I managed to get to safety but I was in a mild panic about the $10,000 bike that was presumably my responsibility and was sinking in front of our eyes.

Fortunately the dad (my boss) who was wondering where we were came back to look for us and went into hero-mode, somehow towing the quad bike out of the mud and saving the day. Thank Goodness for that

English governess in Russia
With that quad bike!

Tell us a bizarre story about something that has happened to you since you became a governor

In my second ever week working in Moscow, my employer and student (who at this stage both spoke terrible English) prodded me into their car and we drove to the centre of Moscow, where there appeared to be some sort of car show taking place. Without any real explanation, I was pointed in the direction of a very old cream-coloured Mercedes and told to sit down, which I did. And then before I knew it, some girls got in the car and we started driving. It turned out that we were doing the Moscow Classic Car Rally, and for some reason I was one of the passengers. We drove around Moscow for 30 minutes in a 1960s Mercedes, with crowds waving at us and clapping. I never did quite figure that one out.

Teaching as an English governor in Russia

Is there anything you would change about your time as a governor?

I actually don’t think I would. My English language governor career in Moscow has been so eclectic, unexpected and varied that I don’t think I would change any of it.

Wait – scrap that. I would have kept a diary from day one, so at the end of my English governor career all I could read what I was thinking as the madness unfolded.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a governess in Russia?

Just do it! As well as being incredibly rewarding, teaching English gives you the chance to be a part of other people’s lives and can take you to places you never expected. I’d choose it over the 9-5 office job any day. You only live once!

James also writes regularly about many aspects of working as a nanny, governess or tutor in the industry in different countries in the world over at the Jobs in Childcare blog

The photos on this blog are James’s own.

For more interviews by people teaching abroad all over the world, read our New Teacher Tales blog series.

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