A governess’s typical primary duty is planning and giving lessons (often language lessons). Other tasks undertaken by a governor or governess include managing extra-curricular activities and accompanying charges to these activities, and the planning of days out and free-time.
The governess’s role is generally to prepare a child for adulthood. This is with particular regards to education, behaviour and social etiquette. A governess may also be in touch with her charge’s school teachers to ensure that the education given at home complements that which the child receives at school. In this way the presence of the governess helps to push the child to his or her full educational potential.
Governors and governesses are often employed in a language capacity. Parents wishing their children to speak English, French, Spanish, Chinese or other languages fluently may employ a governess, usually a qualified teacher native in the desired language, to work with their offspring. The governess role is generally a full-time one.
The immersive nature of the governess working on a full-time basis, combined with her educational background, provides a sound environment for the child to pick up a second (or even third language) practically and naturally, and achieve fluency in as short a time as possible. Spending 40 hours a week or more with a governess, a child can quickly become bilingual, and learns to read, write and think in the language the governess teaches.
Governesses may also have extra-curricular talents such as art, music or sporting ability that they are able to pass onto their charge(s). Whilst an English language governess, for example, will prioritise the teaching of English, additional time can also be dedicated to teaching music, encouraging sports or broadening the charges’ educational horizons by other means.
Whilst generally deemed to be expensive, the hiring of a governor or governess is prized by wealthy families around the world. Hiring a native governess in particular may incur employment costs including flights, visas and accommodation for the duration of the work contract, and when combined with the high salaries qualified governesses earn this can add up to a large outgoing.
The positives for the family employing the governess, however, are many. Through the governess the child will learn English (or another language) in the most natural way possible. The charge will generally learn to speak with excellent, natural grammar and vocabulary and a clean and clear accent. Ultimately the child will be well-placed to live in a different country or to work in an international capacity. From an early age an interest in languages and other cultures can be well nurtured. The opportunities available to children who are fluent in two or more languages are abundant in our increasingly international world.
Governors and governesses generally work a full-time schedule of 40-50 hours per week. They may be hired on a short term basis - for example working in ‘summer tutor’ capacity, when they might travel with a family, or full-time. A governess generally works 5 or 6 days per week for an average of 8-10 hours per day.
The days off a governess takes are usually decided together with the employer. Whilst working in a ‘rota’ capacity is possible (2 weeks on/ 2 weeks off, 1 month on/ 1 month off or similar) it is much more likely that the governess will take 1 or 2 days off per week.
A usual day off for a governor or governess working 6 days per week could be a Sunday. If the candidate works 5 days per week, a weekend day and a weekday off (example, Sundays and Mondays), two weekdays off, or Saturdays and Sundays off (a ‘normal’ weekend) are all possible scenarios.
For governesses working with children of school age, Saturdays and Sundays are often working days, to take advantage of the time away from school. During the week the governess tends to start later, after the school days finishes, and work through the evening. Naturally this is subject to change with regards to holidays from school or in case of illness.
Generally, a governor or governess salary is based upon their previous experience, qualifications, the schedule they will be working and the number of children they will be working with. Language, sporting ability and musical knowledge may also impact upon salary.
For governors and governesses living in a new country, the employing family commonly offer accommodation (usually a separate room and bathroom on family property for ‘live-in’ or an apartment for ‘live-out’). For summer work the governor or governess may be provided with a hotel room in the vicinity. Internet access in accommodation is almost always available.
For both ‘seasonal’ governess positions and full-time contracts, the client generally offers paid holidays (usually 2-4 weeks), sick leave (usually 5-10 days) and pays expenses related to travel and visas. The employing family will also usually take care of any work-related transport. Of course, the details of these conditions vary from contract to contract.
A governor or governess tends to take care of his or her charge’s educational development, organise their free time, and occasionally engage in sporting or musical activities with the child.
If working with school age children, the governess may often begin a weekday by collecting her charges from school together with a driver or other family member. The governess may take this chance to speak to teachers from the school, check in with regards to behaviour and homework and to sign them out of school with the relevant body. The governess can check the child’s general comportment and may also be required to keep an eye on the charge’s clothing.
School day evenings, therefore (similarly to Saturdays and Sunday or other time off school) are often organised based around the child’s extra-curricular schedule. The child may need accompanying to after-school activities such as sports, swimming, chess or more; another opportunity for the governess to engage with him or her in the required language. Occasionally the governess may take part in the activity with the charge.
Additional language or educational classes at home tend to be planned at the governess’s discretion. Evenings and weekend days may consist of language lessons according to school guidelines or homework. Typically there will be a lot of reading with the charges, in different languages. Equally, the governess may prepare her own materials for language teaching or tutoring in other subjects. The governess is rarely required to cook, but again this detail may vary according to the contract. The same applies for getting the child ready for bed and conditions such as monitoring hygiene and clothing; whether this is the governess’s responsibility or that of a nanny or family member should be defined in a written agreement with the family.
For weekends or extended time away from school, families may travel to summer houses, leisure centres or parks. In school holidays children may have extra tutoring time with their governess or may attend summer camps or similar. Again, these details vary between contracts.
Working with a governor or governess typically means a family can expect to see language progress within a few months, and hope for fluency in English or their chosen second language in around a year.
Hiring a governor or governess is a convenient option for any family with the appropriate financial resources. A full-time governess can slot into a busy family’s schedule nicely, fitting in lessons, conversation and games whenever there is an opportunity. The governess provides a constant English language environment for the child whilst acting as a role model.