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Teaching English* in Ukraine: Facts and Opportunities

* Also in demand are teachers of German, French, Italian, and Spanish, some central European languages, and also the major Asian languages
Last update: Sept. 11, 2011


Our service is still available, but there are some important developments to be aware of. Due to changes in Ukrainian immigration policy, it appears that the days of expats being able to teach English in Ukraine "under the table" and remain here long-term are coming to an end. English teachers will need to seek employers who are willing to apply for a work permit to hire them officially. This process is currently lengthy and tedious for all involved (see TryUkraine blog entries on the subject), and as a result the numbers of native English teachers appear to have dwindled in recent years.
Prospective teachers will need to find someone to hire them officially within their first 90 days in Ukraine, if they wish to remain here year-round. Or they will need to have established permanent residency through other means (i.e. marriage to a Ukrainian). One can also stay in Ukraine year-round as a university student, but the law doesn't [yet] allow foreign students to work during their studies, so any English teaching work would be unofficial.

How can I earn a living in Ukraine?

If this question is on your mind and you have plans to spend a considerable period of time living in Ukraine, maybe you should consider teaching your native language -- English or other -- to Ukrainians. This is a realistic way to earn a living and work as much as you choose to. If you are interested in starting up as an English teacher or a native teacher of any other popular language (German, French, Italian, Spanish, possibly others), we can help you.
RJD ( author) and Gela Turabelidze -- both experienced linguists and language teachers -- have extensive contacts at language schools in Kiev and other major cities around Ukraine. Many language schools desperately need dependable and qualified native teachers but have no reliable way of finding them. Our service helps connect language schools with native language teachers in a way that reaches more schools more quickly than than trying to hunt down language schools on one's own and try to get them interested.

What kind of teaching opportunities are out there?

Here are the kinds of institutions in Ukraine that are in need of native teachers of English and other languages.

state schools and institutes of higher education
(these are generally beyond private teachers' reach)
affiliation with registered volunteer organization or foreign academic institution; "stray teachers" rarely accepted several hours daily in a classroom, usually in the daytime virtually nonexistent (free rent at best), unless your sending organization is paying you; private tutoring available on the side to supplement income
private elementary or high schools, language centers teaching credentials (usually) several hours daily in a classroom, usually in the daytime; reliable schedule and benefits generally decent (enough to live modestly on)
private language firms depends on the company: some require teaching credentials while others require none by the hour, often several evenings a week in an office classroom; corporate lessons are during the day good pay by the hour, but teaching schedules are sometimes undependable and subject to frequent change since schools work with private clients

When is it easiest to get teaching jobs?

Jobs are available year-round at private language firms in Ukraine. That being said, late August to September and mid-January to early February are the best for finding employment. At these times most schools are starting new courses and teachers have at least three solid months of work before the breaks begin -- the year-end doldrums of New Years and Christmas and Old New Years, the lost week or two of May holidays, and the vacation months of July and August. During these periods teachers' workloads typically drop in half or more.
Many language schools look for native teachers in the middle of a semester, too. Teachers may move away, new clients show up, an existing group asks for a native teacher to supplement their classes, etc. etc. If you arrive in the summer looking for work, though, don't expect to find much unless you have a stroke of luck.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the teaching market in Ukraine, private language schools often do not know they will need additional native teachers until suddenly the need comes up and they frantically begin looking. This is why our service is effective — when the language schools in our database suddenly have a need for a teacher, they know where to find one — posted right here on TryUkraine, in Russian. We tell them about new teachers in our periodic e-mail reminders. They can browse from among the language teachers posted at our website and establish contact with whomever they choose.

Can I make a living teaching English?

Yes, almost always. To live comfortably and securely, though, you'll need to be competent and make intelligent choices. For instance, learn about the local lifestyle and ways of saving money and keeping expenses low in Ukraine. Be prepared for things to be very different than in your home country and read about the experiences of other English teachers in Ukraine. Getting by in Ukraine requires tenacity and some street smarts, but it is not hard once you get the hang of it. After that, you will be able to live comfortably and not worry much about money.
Ukraine isn't yet like Taiwan or Korea, where you can go teach English and practically get rich, but it may eventually get there. The practice of bringing over foreigners to teach foreign languages just hasn't been institutionalized yet, and there is no convenient legal framework for it.

Teaching pay and workload

As of early 2010, starting pay at private language schools and firms is generally around $10-15 USD per calendar hour in Kiev and slightly less in other large cities. Over time pay may increase to as much as $15-25 per hour, and specialized courses such as TOEFL preparation that require special qualifications may pay more. With Ukraine's lower cost of living this money can go a long way if you are frugal, but if not, it can easily be frittered away.
Teaching 40 hours a week is nearly impossible and probably undesirable due to the high level of responsibility and amount of preparation required. A more reasonable goal is to build up to is 20 hours of classes and then think hard before adding any more. You could work even harder, but your risk of teacher burnout will increase.
Be prepared for the fact that 20 hours a week could mean 5 1.5 hour classes in the mornings, 5 1.5 hour classes in the evenings after work, and 5 hours on Saturdays. You will probably have a lot of free time during the day unless you are employed by one of the few schools that have extensive daytime English courses. After a while, you could very well accumulate a few private students and some English editing work on the side, resulting in a handsome income by Ukrainian standards.
Pay may be by the calendar hour (60 minutes), academic hour (45 minutes), or class period (typically 1.5 hours) and is rarely by the week or month. Therefore, your pay varies from week to week depending on how many classes you had. Pay almost never covers preparation time or transportation costs. Normally, schools pay you for classes cancelled at the last minute that you showed up for.
Teachers are usually paid at the end of each month, but occasionally schools pay twice a month or delay payment for the previous month somewhat.
Language teaching gets easier with time, and at some point you will find yourself reusing old notes and course materials. At some point, you might find yourself teaching as many as 25 or 30 hours of classes a week. At this point teaching comes easy, but beware of burnout! Is this really what you came to Ukraine for in the first place?
An occasional bonus of teaching English is that some schools will offer you free or heavily discounted Russian or Ukrainian lessons in return for you teaching for them.

Who will my students be and what will the curriculum be like?

Most positions will have you teaching students who have signed up for a particular course. In other words, they are paying for your instruction. Ages vary, but the largest demographic group seems to be women between 18 and 45 years of age. If this is an issue, be aware that dating students is often discouraged and at some places can get you fired. Other rules vary as well, such as required dress and classroom behavior. Some schools are very relaxed, while others are quite strict. In general, sloppy attire will not cut it.
Methodology also varies. Many language schools need natives to lead conversation-type classes for intermediate and advanced students. For these, you can usually come up with your own topics and activities. Other schools have their a special methodology or use book-based courses. Occasionally schools look for teachers who have developed their own teaching methodology. Business English and TOEFL classes have more demanding teaching methodologies that may require more preparation outside of class.

What do I need to have to be successful?

It may come as a bit of a surprise that the number one most important quality language schools need in their native teachers is dependability. They simply can't have teachers showing up late to class or missing classes altogether. This results in a loss of face for the school and potentially the loss of valuable clients.
After dependability comes the teacher's presentability. There is a 100% chance your students will look nice, and it is an embarassment to have an unkempt and poorly groomed teacher. Think of how your school teachers dressed and groomed, and look accordingly. Anything less shows indifference to your work and will be noticed by your employer. To be an effective teacher, you've got to look decent, hold yourself with dignity, and not have obvious annoying habits.
Thirdly, you need to be able to speak clearly with good enunciation. If your natural speaking mode is rapid and jumbled or highly idiosyncratic and you are unable to change your style for your students, they will come away from classes dismayed and frustrated. Be prepared to speak slowly and clearly and avoid slang and highly idiomatic expressions such as "holy moly it was friggin' cold today!" As a teacher, you'll need to learn how to give your students new material in doses small enough that they aren't overwhelmed. A related skill is having good spelling and grammar. This becomes very important if you end up teaching English classes that go beyond conversation clubs.
If you have these three things -- dependability, presentability, and a good speaking style -- then you should have little problem finding English teaching work on the ground in Ukraine. Many language schools will disregard your lack of English teaching experience if you have these qualities.
After all these factors in importance come teaching experience and credentials. Some schools specifically require credentials and/or experience as a kind of filter or guarantee of teaching quality. By obtaining those credentials you demonstrate your serious intentions and a basic TEFL skill set.

What is my tax and legal status?

Your working relationship with your employer who is hiring you to teach English will usually take one of three forms: 1) they may pay you "under the table," 2) they may prefer to have you register as a private entrepreneur, or 3) they may obtain a work permit for you in order to treat you as a regular employee.
The first route is common and is seen as acceptable because you are not really providing services to the language firm, but rather to your students, and the legal status of many language teaching firms is already muddled due to Ukraine's complicated and backwards legislature. This is generally a safe route for the short term but perhaps not a good long-term solution if you intend to spend years in the country.
The second route is somewhat complicated and will require some interaction with tax authorities, which can be daunting for foreigners who have recently arrived in the country and are not fluent in Russian or Ukrainian. You may want to hire a legal consultant to register you and find someone who understands the system to provide you with any necessary advice on filing returns and documenting income. In any case, you will have to keep abreast of visa and registration issues. It could happen at some point that even your private entrepreneur tax status does not allow you to stay in the country year-round.
The third route is the most legal and requires substantial effort on both the employer's and the employee's part. There is always a chance that the employer's petition will be rejected and you would not receive a work permit, but companies that do these usually have a well-oiled process. Getting a work permit for a foreign employee can be quite costly, and the work permit must be renewed each year. This route is usually chosen by well-established companies who will be hiring a foreigner for full-time work on site.

Historical overview

Ukraine's foreign language market is developing in sync with its economy. The more the country opens up to the outside world and is integrated into the global economy, the more demand there is for native speakers of foreign languages to help in language instruction.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union generations of students were still taught foreign languages by teachers who had never been out of the USSR or spoken with native speakers before. Not all these teachers were bad, but the lack of prospects for interacting directing with foreigners meant that instruction focused much more on grammar, reading, and writing than on speaking and listening comprehension.
Then along come perestroika, glasnost, western pop music, foreign tourists, international NGOs, transnational corporations, western missionaries, and international travel opportunities. Suddenly everyone began to realize that knowing English and/or another foreign language could double or triple their earning potential or make emigration possible. Ukrainians began learning English en masse with varying degrees of success. Now, everyone talks about how they have tried or are trying to learn English, but they "don't get any practice." English fluency remains a highly sought after skill that few Ukrainians attain.
Before criticizing Ukrainian teaching methods for their ineffectiveness, let's consider how many Americans can even hold a basic conversation in the foreign language they spent years studying in school. No comment. Language instruction in Ukraine tends to focus on grammar, written exercises, translation, and working with texts. Yes, this is an ineffective way to learn how to speak and understand a spoken language, but it does familiarize students fairly well with the written language to the point where they can make their way through nearly any text with a dictionary. Frankly, this is sufficient for most Ukrainians' professional needs in modern-day Ukraine.
With Soviet education traditions still firmly ingrained in the culture, native English teachers will find many of their students in Ukraine to be overly concerned with avoiding grammar mistakes. Self-consciousness when speaking a foreign language is a common problem in every country, and native teachers will need to try to make their students feel comfortable enough that they worry less about making mistakes. Getting students to overcome speaking inhibitions is perhaps the greatest service that foreigners can do for their students.