Following the completion of my DipTesol, I’ve taken the bull by the horns and made the transition to Director of Studies. I’ve moved from one of the largest English language school groups in the UK to a small, but growing, private language school in Manchester.
I realise that this has come fairly early on in my ELT career – 6 years is not a very long gap between completion of initial teacher training and assuming an academic management position, I think that it’s time to test myself at that level and I’m excited to have the chance to implement some of my own ideas.
It’s thrown a new perspective on some of my early career experiences. The past two years I’ve been a Senior Teacher and now Director of Studies. I remember being hugely dependent on the advice and support people in those positions gave me early on, and in particular I always saw one of my early DoSs as a figure of great authority, whose actions were all competently planned with the smooth running of the language school at heart. In fact, I would be really reluctant to go to her with anything other than a really serious issue.
Now that I’m the one making those decisions, the balancing act that constantly goes on behind the scenes has really struck me, along with the realisation that not all of those decisions are borne out of some kind of superior strategic thinking.
On the contrary, the nature of the business means that a lot of what needs to be done can be seen as firefighting: frantically arranging cover for the teacher who calls in sick at the last moment; trying to equitably share out the hours between all the teachers who want them; dealing with complaints from students and teachers alike about various aspects of the school and the curriculum.
There’s also the fact that a small language school can’t really say “no”. So no matter how complicated the request, the risk of business going elsewhere means that you just have to get on with it. 20 hours of one-to-one classes starting next week? Even though it’s 4pm on Friday and there’s no way you can get hold of your teachers to organise a timetable? “Yes, no problem.” And then there’s dealing with the parents of children who seem to have more extra-curricular activities than curricular ones – when I was 10 I just went home after school and played Nintendo 64, occasionally I went out for a kickabout with my mates from the estate!
So while you might have every intention of sticking to your high-minded principles, you have to accept that the institutional change you want to drive is only going to be possible incrementally, perhaps over a pretty long period of time.
However, all this is not really what has affected me the most – most of the above I already knew/guessed from working closely with management in other organisations. What I have found most disruptive is the change in the working dynamic you have as a DoS.
As a teacher, even as a Senior Teacher, I spent my time outside of the classroom in the staff room, taking full part in the sort of barrack-room camaraderie that goes on in teachers’ rooms all over the world. Now, I spend most of my day in a small, windowless office at a computer screen, faffing about with spreadsheets. Interactions with other members of staff have become a lot more transactional – delegating tasks, asking for information, giving information. In fact, it can get pretty lonely.
I’m not complaining – I want the job, after all. Financially, and professionally, I’m in a far more secure position than I have been previously. But I totally get why people don’t really look beyond teaching, and don’t wish to take on extra responsibility in an organisation.
Finally, I’m not disappointed at all that from time to time, I’ll still be required to get into the classroom and teach special courses. Reflecting on my early experiences, I think that part of my reluctance to ask for support from previous DoSs was because I didn’t really see them as teachers, only as managers. Hopefully I won’t lose that link between the DoS’s office and what goes on in the classroom itself.