For those that are maybe thinking about trying out TEFL in Russia I wanted to take some time out and come back to the issue and look at: who's it for, why it's good and why it sucks (although I think that ESL is pretty much the same in most countries).
After this post i'll be whipping up another one looking at ways to get out of teaching English here, I know a lot of people who want out and I have some ideas and a splice of rant.
It's a way of getting your sweet ass into Russia and I totally recommend it as the first step to getting you foot in the door. A lot of people are confused by visas, but signing a contract and having a company take care of everything for you is a definite plus when you have no idea what you are doing. Not only that, once you do get here, you'll be able to get a taster for whether you want to stay here (although most people just do a year stint).
While you'll probably start on a low wage, once you get into the swing of things, you can actually make some serious dollar if you get the right private clients. Once you are a bit more established, you can change the place you teach and maybe go for one of the places that caters specifically to rich Russian kids, for example.
fortunately, rich Russians still don't know what value for money is yet (image credit http://www.personalincome.org/
Another plus is that you don't really need to be qualified. Okay, sure the piece of paper helps and some companies require it but it's no way a necessity since the demand here for English is still high. Just an FYI, usually the companies that do require the cert, pay shit money anyway. While that might sound materialistic, Moscow is not a cheap city.
The sad fact is, and one that not many ESL will like to admit is that, it doesn't offer a lot of growth professionally. You can teach here for ten years and if (one day) you go back to your home country, your employment skills and opportunities will be the same as they were ten years ago, unless of course you have a passion for teaching in general, in which case, rock and roll.
One fairly major downside here is that English teaching can become a prison that's hard to escape. For example, some companies that offer free apartments and work permits to compensate the small salary of about 30000 roubles per month (rent in most flat sharing situations is usually at least 15000).
and all I needed was a work permit
This setup is great if you only ever want to be temporary or are on a gap year, but what if you get a girl you want to move in with, or want something more long term? The flats these companies provide, aren't exactly deluxe real estate and you'll have to share with another teacher or two - fine if you get along, shit if you don't.
But moving out isn't so simple because two thirds of your wage will be gone on rent, and you still need food and fun costs - and don't forget, you're work permit is tied to your job so you can't just up an quit. As I see it, half the point of doing time abroad is that you enjoy it and not spend every last second teaching every private client in sight to make ends meat, all because you wanted to rent alone.
When you depend on your company for a wage and real estate - they have you by the balls real tight - sure, the ball-twisting hand might be in a velvet glove, but you're in big trouble if you piss off the glove holder and I'm talking evicted and put on a plane type of trouble.
do not fuck with the glove
I see this as a massive restriction. Other companies will hire you and you can command a bigger wage (like with teaching the rich kids), but you'll be on your own in terms of visa and will be an illegal worker.
This isn't so much of a big deal really, but you need to be in the country for quite some time before you get the knowledge and contacts to buy your own work visa. To someone coming to Russia for the first time, this isn't an option.
The market is pretty saturated, but there still plenty of room for your own innovation and time saving. Skype lessons are getting pretty popular now which let's you manage your time nicely but there's a lot of other ideas to play with.
One I saw recently was 'English while you sit in traffic'. The businessman pays the teacher a sweet wage to practice his English while he wastes time in Moscow traffic. You sit on your ass and talk.
I'm sure if you think about it, there are a lot of other niches out there too which you could be specializing in. Try new ways of teaching to stand out and set your own price. Business English has been flogged to death and one day, half the Russians paying hundreds of dollars for lessons out of a Market Leader book that costs ten dollars will catch on and the bullshit bonanza will end.
If like me, you only ever saw teaching as a means to an end, have a look at my post dealing with some basic advice for getting away from teaching. For another more sober, slightly rant-esque look into the reality of working as an expat in Moscow, check out this post.