Teachers on the frontline

November 5, 2022
Schools in Russia have faced teacher and staff shortages for years. Now, the mobilization of male educators looks poised to strain the country’s educational system even further.
Russian media reported in mid-October that Vadim Sedov, a physical education teacher from St Petersburg, had been killed fighting in Ukraine on October 5, just weeks after being mobilized. "Major Vadim Yuryevich Sedov died heroically on a combat mission during the special military operation," read a social media post by the school where Sedov taught.

The death of Sedov is a reminder that in Russia’s war, teachers can also be subject to mobilization. Even state media is reporting the potential negative impact of mobilizing teachers. For years, teacher shortages have afflicted schools throughout Russia. Now, the protracted war in Ukraine is straining the country’s educational system further as some male teachers are sent to fight, while others flee abroad to dodge the mobilization.

One teacher from St Petersburg told journalists from Verstka that many private-school teachers from the northern capital are leaving the country. An English teacher from Yamal-Nenets said he decided to leave Russia because administrators at the school where he worked were unwilling to protect male employees from being sent to Ukraine. In his words, by the time he left, three of his coworkers had already been mobilized.

However, the head of the Alliance of Teachers union Daniil Ken told the news outlet Cherta that he doesn’t believemany teachers left Russia following the mobilization announcement since their salaries are usually very low, meaning most can’t afford to leave. At the same time, finding work as a teacher abroad is difficult if not impossible, with the exception possibly being foreign language instructors. Still, Ken said that his organization recently helped several teachers leave Russia.

In some cases, teachers receive draft notices at their workplaces. In Belgorod and Khabarovsk regions, local journalists wrote that school principals are required to compile lists of military-age teachers. In one school in Cheboksary, administrators asked all male employees to bring their military identity cards (voennyi bilet) to work.

Draft notices are also coming for teachers recognized for excellence. In late September, Miras Ishdavletov, a teacher from Ufa, won a national competition for teachers of native languages and native literature and named an Honored Teacher of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Yet just a day after receiving the title, Ishdavletov was mobilized, leaving behind a pregnant wife and several outstanding loans.

Yuri Varlamov, who heads the Uchitel’ (Teacher) teachers’ union, told Verstka that, in some schools, the situation has become critical – there is simply no one to teach.

"Many schools have lost up to 100-120 teaching hours per week and there is no one to make them up. Sometimes entire subjects disappear from the schedule. The bigger picture is not yet clear. But what’s already clear is that it will be dire,” said Varlamov.

According to recent data from the Center for the Economics of Continuing Education RANEPA, most of Russia’s federal districts are experiencing a shortage of teachers and staff. Across the country, the total number of vacancies in the educational system is 3.1% higher than the number of those currently employed. In some regions, the number is as high as 4.5%. Experts and teachers’ union representatives agree that the main causes of the shortage are poor salaries and excessive work.

Uchitel’ representative Olga Miryasova said in an interview with Kommersant: “Most often there is a shortage of teachers in large and medium-sized cities, where there is at least some labor market and you can find other work. In villages there is often no such choice, but in Moscow and St Petersburg, most schools have the opportunity to hire specialists on competitive terms, as the pay isn’t bad.”

The union wrote to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government requesting that teachers receive deferment from the mobilization: “Since the beginning of the partial mobilization, dozens of schools have lost male teachers, including principals. Thousands of schoolchildren have been left without teachers. There is no one to replace them.”

Parents and students are also writing letters to officials in the hope that teachers will be exempted from the mobilization. At the end of September, a group of students in Pskov Region wrote to Governor Mikhail Vedernikov asking him to grant an exemption to their history teacher who had been called up. RT head Margarita Simonyan drew attention to the matter and later reported that the teacher had been returned to the school.

On October 14, Russia’s Education Ministry sent its own petition to the government requesting mobilization deferment for school teachers. Yana Lantratova, deputy head of the Duma Education Committee, said she had received more than 3,500 official appeals from teachers in various regions and tens of thousands more via social media asking for deferrals.

"Schools really do need teachers. There is already a catastrophic shortage of them – from 200,000 to 500,000. In rural schools, the absence of even one teacher can stop the educational process… It is difficult to find replacements for some quality teachers from prestigious schools who prepare children for university entrance exams," said Lantratova.

While some male teachers face mobilization, others are being pressured to take part in another aspect of the mobilization: in late September, The Insider reported that teachers in Buryatia were forced to write and deliver draft notices to local residents. In one city, classes were even canceled so that schools could be used as mobilization and information centers for reservists. Similar reports emerged from Amur Region, where the principal of one school allegedly used teachers to distribute draft notices at night.

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.
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