To manage or not to manage? Is that really a question?
As a manager, I aim to provide my teaching team with as many opportunities and skills as they are ready for because when the next big promotion comes up, they better be ready. I celebrate their promotions probably more than they do themselves, as it makes me feel like I have succeeded when they succeed. Consequently, when I had a discussion with one of my teachers fairly recently – someone I rate quite highly as a teacher – I ended up being slightly annoyed by the fact that this person had avoided taking up opportunities to present on training days or mini-conferences we had arranged and also declined becoming a line manager for a part-time teacher. This led to a bit of a rethink – as much as I want to make everyone around me a manager and a leader, this conversation made me realise that management isn’t for everyone and teacher training isn’t for everyone.
It is important to realise that if you are the teacher who doesn’t want to be a manager or trainer, that there is a path for you to continue developing. It is also important as a manager that you recognize teachers that do not want to leave the classroom and offer them the appropriate guidance and ensure that they continue to be valued as professionals. So, let’s first look at why teachers might not want to manage or train.
Why would you not want to manage?
The added pressure of being responsible for things beyond what you are comfortable with is a very good reason to not want to be a manager. Entry into management often means a manager keeps their teaching load, but they are given extra responsibility for more money, which in effect just means more work. There is also the feeling that managers at times lose members of their social circle because you are now viewed as the manager rather than one of the ‘in-group’. Teachers can’t be ‘complaining’ about things if the manager is present, and sometimes, over a coffee or a beer, that is exactly what they need to unwind because teaching can be a stressful job. Being a great manager can also be a stressful job as you have to balance company requirements, client requirements, and stakeholder interests and requirements, and for some teachers, this just isn’t a job they want.
Why would you not want to be a trainer?
Other than exam or EAP (English for Academic Purposes) type courses, classroom assessment is based on the teacher’s perception of progress and development. With training, especially on certificated and moderated courses like the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or the Trinity Certificate TESOL, there is a lot of pressure on trainers to ensure that candidates pass, that they are ready for moderation, and that all the administration and paperwork is perfect. Assessment in a language classroom is often a co-created blend of feedback and encouragement rather than a rigid pass or fail. While teachers usually enjoy self-designed in-class assessment, read about it, and try out the new ideas, the added pressure of moderation and increased administration could mean that, other than bespoke shorter courses, they don’t want to be a part of formalised teacher training.
Can you progress without being a manager or a trainer?
The key issue is to realise that if teachers really don’t want to be a manager or a trainer that there are still opportunities for growth or development. So, this part will primarily look at what they can do if they feel management or training is not for them. It is written for both teachers and managers who need to support teachers in their career choices, even if their choices are different from your own, meaning not everyone wants to be a manager or a trainer.
Developing as a teacher
One way of developing expertise is to get exposure to other contexts and classes. This might mean asking your current academic manager to assign different classes to you in the next academic year or leaving your current employer and working for someone else.
Although this is covered in the point above, teaching different levels might also extend and develop your expertise. If you have been teaching Cambridge First for two or three years, then teaching Cambridge Key, Preliminary or Advanced might give you greater insight into how learners develop across different levels.
Using teacher frameworks to plan and plot your own development is another idea. It means that you don’t have to necessarily change level or contexts, but can reflect on your own teaching in a more guided manner. I have used the Cambridge English Teaching Framework and the British Council Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Framework for teachers. Don’t use it as way to measure where you are, but rather as a road map to identify areas where you can increase your expertise.
Examining is another area that allows teachers to develop their assessment literacy and awareness. While the better-known exams such as IELTS and TOEFL often require proficient users as examiners, exams such as the Cambridge YLE (Young Learner English) do not require this and it is an opportunity for teachers with lower proficiency to also get involved in examining. There is a lot to be learned from examining and being part of a team of examiners that meet annually for standardisation and certification or just increasing your professional network as your contacts increase to include other examiners.
My top three
The following three are my favourites, mostly because while I was a full-time teacher, these were the three things I got the most benefit and satisfaction from.
3. Action research
Number three on my list is action research. It really helped me gain greater insight into how my practice influences results for my students. I am putting it at number three mostly because when I started, it was extremely intimidating, and I didn’t know how to get started.
Nowadays, there are more resources available online like the British Council’s A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research and a range of articles from English Teaching Professional as well as Modern English Teacher with lots of practical tips on how to get started and exactly what the process is.
I only discovered the book Doing Action Research in English Language Teaching by Anne Burns (2009, Routledge) years after I started action research, but it has been invaluable in how I coach others to do action research.
2. Writing for teacher magazines
Number two on my list is writing for teaching publications. Before you write, read as many of these as you can because they clarify the register and target audience, and will help you when you start writing. I would suggest looking at writing for any of the IATEFL Special Interest Groups, for Modern English Teacher or for English Teaching Professional. Editors are always willing to help, and publications are often looking for new ideas and new writers. Even if you don’t immediately get published (it took me about a year and a half to get my first publication out), there is a lot of learning that takes place during the writing process. For more writing tips, see Kirsten Holt’s recent blog post about Thinking about being a writer?.
The other big benefit for me has been meeting people through the writing process. I did this by emailing writers that had published articles, especially if they were really interesting to me, and they were very often quite keen to get involved in exchanges and discussion. One such a person is David Dodgson who blogs for Modern English Teacher and we have had numerous email and Facebook exchanges.
1. Formal and informal meetings with other teachers
There are numerous ways to build up a support network where you can get ideas, share ideas, and get support if you are struggling. The use of social media is quite popular in this area and there are numerous Facebook groups dedicated to teaching, and also a number of Twitter chats that you can find and follow. Examples are #ELTchat, #AusELT, and any of the IATEFL SIGs.
Formal associations and their individual international and local conferences and meetups also help when you are looking to meet people in the same industry. Although we often want to find ‘like-minded’ people, sometimes the diversity that comes from meeting people from many different contexts helps us to notice similarities and differences between different contexts and improve our own awareness of language teaching practice in different contexts. IATEFL and TESOL are the two biggest international associations, but many countries also have their own local associations. The main reason this is my number one is because I have always felt more at ease and supported when I had the opportunity to connect with others who were experiencing the same challenges and successes as I was. As managers, we have the responsibility to support our teachers in this way. As teachers it is always good to look for people who share your views and you might then find lots of people who love teaching, and do not want to leave the classroom for a management or training job.
There is nothing wrong with not wanting to move beyond the classroom. There are many opportunities for teachers to develop skills that will create greater language and skills awareness, greater self-efficacy, and greater job satisfaction without ever leaving the teaching profession or the classroom. As managers, we have to know that these people exist, often in large numbers, and it is our responsibility to develop and support them in areas where they want to grow rather than to force them into roles they don’t want.
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