Moving abroad to Russia to teach was never something I envisioned myself doing whilst at university. Personally, I had viewed most teach-abroad programs to primarily be vanity projects for young people. Sure, they got to feel they were doing some good, spruce up their CVs and generally preen themselves – all whilst living in an exotic setting - but ultimately the low-responsibility undertaking seemed to produce scant benefits to their students. That is why when I heard about the opportunity to become a full-time governor to a Russian family, the job description’s contrast with my previous impression - mistaken or otherwise - instantly caught my interest.
The job titles of ‘Governess’ or ‘Governor’ draw up imagery of Victorian aristocratic families; strict views on what a ‘proper’ education entails; extremes of formality, and stroppy, spoilt kids. Whilst that last feature is an almost inescapable facet of teaching, the modern incarnation of the governor/governess role, as offered by Oxbridge Trinity Partners has revivified personalised education to suit the modern world.
For those that do not know (as I did not), 21st century governors fulfill a role best thought of as an amalgam of personal tutor, role model, older sibling, confidante and au pair. One of the chief goals is to convey Englishness. Not just the language but all the best of our traditions, culture and values. My day-to-day schedule requires I spend a significant amount of time with my students in any and every context: in the car to and from school, at the dinner table, at birthday parties and family functions, helping with homework, on the way to sports clubs, in formal lesson, on holiday, at the playground etc. Parents hope, in this way, to give their children a sense of confidence and deep understanding when interacting in English. Many of them hope to send their children to study in prep and boarding schools and believe spending time with a fine exemplar of Britain will help smooth integration with other British kids.
The words which to me most describe my role are: flexibility and responsibility. As an example of the latter, at the start of my contract I was handed the task to assess the English abilities of my students and then structure a curriculum, lesson plans and goals for the year. Considering I had the bare minimum of teaching experience, this kind of trust in: me, my qualifications and the English system was a spur to show off my knowledge and do the best job I possibly could. The high levels of commitment will certainly deter some but for those who want to explore their potential it is extremely rewarding. It is an opportunity to really get to know your students and to try to find the very best teaching method that will work for them.
A common frustration for teachers in large classrooms is that they must divide their attention amongst the whole class of 20 or more and consequently must rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. Conversely, I have been able to get to know my student’s personalities, strengths, weaknesses and interests very well. With Boris (a 7-year-old student of mine), this allowed me to tailor my curriculum to focus on his difficulty with reading. A few months of the program had the knock-on effect of improving his writing since he gained more experience with common spellings and sound formations. In many schools, such students would be pressured to press on with all aspects of literacy; an approach which may gloss over specific, underlying gaps in knowledge that are holding children back from their potential and will likely cause serious problems down the line.
As for flexibility, just consider the range of activities and roles I have with the children. During lessons, I must be strict and maintain pedagogic authority. Fifteen minutes later I may be bouncing on the trampoline outside, showing how to do a somersault that my childhood muscle memories can barely recall.
As part of my contract, I spend on average 50 hours a week with the kids of my one family. This makes me part of the furniture in their lives and, whilst practicalities such as cooking and cleaning are handled by others in the household, I am responsible for the children’s emotional maturation and moral upbringing. Of course, with strict deference to the parent’s philosophy and wishes.
Being a governor has called on me to be self-disciplined, a fair judge, tactful, sensitive, authoritative, supportive, a role model and many of the other qualities we expect from a parent or guardian. Somewhat in contradiction, there is also a great need to be fun, playful and a friend to my students. These demands are what make being a governor at once challenging and rewarding. Whilst attempting to help my students to progress and achieve their best, I myself undergo a daily process of learning and maturation.
I hope this blog will serve to accurately portray the trials and tribulations but also the fruits of being a governor/governess. Whilst true that the job will not suit everyone, for the tenacious, adventuress and self-motivated it is a character building experience, for you and your students.