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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Teachers Go to London to Teach English

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ST. PETERSBURG — In an effort to combat Britain's chronic teacher shortage, a London primary school has turned to an unlikely source of help to teach its pupils English.

Russians.

To add to an international staff from Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and North America, Gloucester Primary School in Peckham, south London, has recruited a trio of experienced St. Petersburg women to teach the British national curriculum, which includes English, mathematics, science and physical education.

Yulia Tanina, Irina Leontyeva and Yelena Loktionova are to start at the multi-ethnic 900-pupil school in September. And while Gloucester Primary — described by its head teacher, John Mann, as "one of the most challenging schools in London in one of the most challenging areas" — may seem a far cry from St. Petersburg, few doubt the Russians will cope.

"I have every faith that they will be able to adapt without problems," said Leonid Romankov, head of the Legislative Assembly's education committee. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov was just as positive. "This proves yet again how well we train our specialists," he said in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia.

But Filippov also sounded a warning that Russia may lose more of its well-trained teachers. "I do think there is some danger that young teachers who speak foreign languages will leave Russia — and it is now extremely important that we raise the prestige of the teaching profession, not least by raising their salaries."

Mann was unapologetic about poaching in Russia. "I need a professional staff that's going to stay with me and bring ability and dedication to the job — and the Eastern European teachers I've already got do that." Gloucester's staff includes instructors from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, who have been there for four and seven years respectively. "There is a huge recruitment problem in the U.K., up to 40,000 teaching jobs that need taking. I had nine places to fill and I had to do something about it."

The three Russians will earn about $24,500 a year, well above the annual salary they could hope for in a Russian state-run school — about $600. They will also get an additional $4,250 allowance in recognition of London's high prices and Mann says it won't take the new teachers long to increase their salaries.

However, Tanina, Leontyeva and Loktionova, who won out over approximately 90 candidates, stress they are mainly coming for the adventure.

"When I saw the advertisement for the job, I went for it because I wanted to work abroad, anywhere abroad," says Tanina, who has nine years' teaching experience, although she was working as an administrator for a construction company when she applied.

None of them seem fazed by the prospect of a multi-ethnic primary school in Peckham, although they have all been asked by journalists if they are scared about working in "one of the most criminalized areas of London."

"The language will be the biggest problem, rather than discipline," said Tanina, "My first year of teaching was difficult, but after that it was fine."

All three teachers speak good, natural English.

One can not say that they would have done anything to get out of teaching in St. Petersburg.

"I think teachers here are satisfied with everything except the salary," said Leontyeva. "We don't live well, but we are able to survive. The government could do more to help us. We will never have a luxurious life, but we should be able to have a decent one."

Sergei Gorsky, head teacher at School No. 510 in southern St. Petersburg, said that if any of his staff wanted to go abroad to work, he would be very unwilling to give them up — particularly since the city is also suffering from a teacher shortage.

"My teachers are irreplaceable, and I'd be afraid that if they went abroad they wouldn't come back," he said in an interview.

But both he and Romankov said that poor pay was a major factor in alienating people from the profession. To top up their budgets, state schools rely on donations from the personal reserve funds of local politicians and appeal to parents.

Gorsky added that money was a constant worry for his school. "Before 1991, we got more or less everything we wanted," he said. "Money from the St. Petersburg budget was practically unlimited. Now, [we receive] ? only enough to pay salaries and some utilities. Today only 30 out of 550 of our children get free school meals, and we frequently have our gas and lights turned off."

The Russian trio has left these problems behind to face the unfamiliar challenge of adjusting to a new curriculum and new ways of teaching. After a two-week training course in Bulgaria, they will fly to London for another fortnight of acclimatization.

"We will show them how we teach, the idea behind our class organization, as well as behavior management," said Bob Worth, deputy head of Gloucester Primary. "Our fundamental philosophy is that children make choices, whereas the Russians are probably more used to being the leader within their own classroom."

Mann said he foresaw few problems. "In reality, they have a broad capability and will have very little trouble," he said. "We are putting a great deal of effort into looking after this group of teachers, developing them and raising their salaries."

"They certainly are very able people — I've not interviewed a group like that in 12 years as a head teacher. I know I've done the right thing, and I feel privileged to be able to employ them."