What It’s Like to Teach English in Tbilisi
| Teaching House Nomads Blog
I arrived in Georgia in the middle of January, with no job, no friends, and no apartment, just the vague hope that I could find some work teaching English in Tbilisi. A couple weeks later I was already teaching, had found a great apartment, and was planning a weekend trip away with new friends.
When I first got my CELTA, I never expected that I’d be working in Tbilisi. I came here by way of Ukraine, influenced by my students extolling the amazing scenery and delicious food. It may not be the most obvious destination for teaching English abroad, which gives it a certain undiscovered charm. There have been a lot of perks to teaching in Tbilisi, but there are some challenges too. So if you’re thinking of taking the leap to explore this part of the world, here are some things to think about.
So, what is it like to teach English in Tbilisi?
The EFL industry in Georgia is slowly starting to take off. While there is definitely a demand for English language skills, your options for employers are a bit limited. International House and British Council both have centers in Tbilisi, but besides that many of the language centers are small with limited staff. It’s very likely you will need to cobble together a schedule from two or more centers, or supplement working at a center with some private lessons, in order to make enough money.
If you choose to work at a language center, you will probably have afternoon or evening group classes, as people study English after work. Your center might also ask you to do individual lessons, which I only do when the student is from one of my group classes and preparing for something particular.
Private language classes are in high demand in Tbilisi. These are often the most fun – I’ve helped one student prepare for chairing a UEFA meeting in Belgium, another for two weeks of trade shows and negotiations in China, and another to take her first flight to a medical conference in India. It’s really rewarding to hear from them after their trips about their successes. There are some challenges with taking on private students, which I elaborate on in other sections.
Academic English and exam preparation are also very popular here. A lot of young people want to prepare for TOEFL or IELTS as they’re attempting to go to university abroad or apply for visas. You can also teach English at primary and secondary school, as well as at universities.
The type of teaching that doesn’t seem to be in demand is in-company English classes. When I was teaching in Ukraine, in-company classes made up about two-thirds of my schedule, so it was surprising to find so little interest in it here. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes in the next few years, as centers get more savvy about marketing their classes to companies.
Most of my students are Georgian, though in private lessons I also have a handful of Iranian students and one Iraqi student. At universities, you might have a more diverse mix of students.
How can I find an English teaching job in Tbilisi?
With its developing industry, it’s easiest to find an English teaching job in Tbilisi once you’re already on the ground. Georgia has flexible immigration requirements for some nationalities, which means you have time to come, find a company, and then work out your legal employment with them. I found both my teaching positions through job adverts in Facebook groups.
As for private students, most of them are gotten from word-of-mouth – so make sure you treat your private students well! There are many people, qualified and unqualified, who are teaching English in Tbilisi, so make sure you market yourself as a professional. There’s another important consideration if you decide to focus on private students. The demand for classes tends to rise and fall. Some months I have a crazy schedule, and some months students disappeared. Other teachers reported the same thing, highlighting holidays and summer vacation as leaner times.
There are also opportunities for volunteer English teaching in Tbilisi. You might have to look a little harder (again, try Facebook groups!), but your contribution would be very welcome in a country that’s eager to connect globally.
What is it like to teach Georgian students English?
I’ve found that Georgian students are fun to teach! They are laid back and interested in hearing other perspectives. As their country has experienced a lot of different situations over the past few decades, they also have a lot of opinions to share – though some students are private about more controversial topics. I would let them take the lead when discussing politics.
Sometimes, though, Georgian students can be a little… too laid back. More than one center director told me that it’s not surprising when a student pays for a course and then just doesn’t attend. So don’t be too upset if students don’t do their homework or your class size shrinks. But do try to keep your expectations high. Many students are eager for newer, more communicative methods of English language teaching than they grew up with.
How much money can English teachers make in Tbilisi?
Unfortunately, not a lot. While Georgia has made huge leaps in development over the past several decades, the economy is still struggling. Georgian salaries are often very low, so it’s a big decision for locals to spend their money on English classes. If you come to teach English in Tbilisi, you will probably just barely break even yourself. It’s also rare for an employer to offer any additional perks, like accommodation or flight allowances.
As for wages, I am paid between 20 and 25 lari per hour, depending on the employer and the size of the class. When I started taking on my own private students, I decided to charge 25 lari an hour. At first I worried that I was underselling myself, but 20-30 lari seems to be the going rate among other teachers I asked, though some make more in special circumstances.
You can make more money by teaching at primary or secondary schools or at universities. If you go this route, not only will you have a higher income, but it will also be more stable. Private students come and go, group classes can close if there’s no demand, but work in education is pretty constant.
The good news is that cost of living is pretty low too. The rent for my two-bedroom apartment (that I share with a Georgian girl) is only $350 a month. Public transport is cheap and groceries aren’t too expensive, as long as they are not imported. Eating out can get pricey, but there are plenty of hole-in-the-wall local eaters that offer a good deal. And wine comes by the very affordable jug.
Perhaps the best way to make money teaching English in Tbilisi is to teach English online. Find affordable accommodation with a strong Internet connection and spend your days teaching online for $20 an hour. But if you do that, I feel you miss out significantly on what makes living in Tbilisi so great – the people!
What is social life like in Tbilisi?
A weekend away with friends to explore some 800 year old caves!
Georgian hospitality isn’t just legend – it’s real. The culture is very sociable, and if you open yourself up, you will soon find yourself with invitations to birthday parties and weekend getaways. Young people tend to speak excellent English and are enthusiastic about meeting foreigners. Georgia is one of the few places where I’ve had more local friends than expat friends, and it has made my experiences here so much more memorable.
Once you have those good friends, the city opens up. Of course, you can visit the plentiful museums, bars, and art cafes on your own, but if you are going to do it in Georgian fashion you must do it with a friend! Tbilisi is not an especially big city, but I have yet to run out of things to do.
But if you do – or if you just crave a change – Georgia offers so many diverse distractions outside of Tbilisi. It’s famous for its stunning nature, from mountains to gorges to beaches to caves. Georgian tourism is at the perfect stage of development if you’re into off-the-beaten-track destinations. The infrastructure is at a point where it’s not too difficult to go exploring, but it hasn’t been completely overhauled for visitors just yet. And if you want to change things up a lot, you can always hop over the border to Armenia or Azerbaijan!
What is Georgian food like?
Heavy and delicious. It’s a cuisine stuffed with breads, cheeses, salads, legumes, and sauces. Georgian cuisine is becoming very trendy worldwide, especially khachapuri and khinkali. Khachapuri is cheesy bread, with each region in Georgia having their own particular way of preparing it. Khinkali is a kind of pyramid-shaped dumpling, filled with meat, cheese, mushrooms, or potatoes, typically. There’s a very particular way to eat khinkali – grab it by the top nub and turn it over, then take a tiny bite and drink up the juices. Then resist eating the rest in one bite!
So that’s a snapshot of what teaching English in Tbilisi is like! It may not be the most lucrative position you’ll ever have, but it’s a unique experience for intrepid teachers. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them!