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I then went to Gabon where I had an official management role - Language School Coordinator. I was supposed to be in charge of designing the general and business English learning programmes, hiring and training teachers, placement testing and in-house assessment, and other logistical tasks like timetabling and scheduling cover. I was fine with all that and prepared for it but once I was there, I soon found myself involved in all sorts of other things - designing a brochure and website for the school, commissioning photographers, meeting company executives and HR managers, promoting the school at local events, conducting case studies and many more. These were tasks I struggled with, and it was all only compounded by my lack of French.... and I was teaching 20 hours a week as well!
At the British Council, I now have a slightly better teaching/management balance and I also have the support of an established system and clearly defined role, all aided by being enrolled on an academic management course. I still feel that I have a lot to learn about the management side of ELT though and that is why I picked out Shirley Norton and Karen Chambers' session "Stick or Twist: the Teacher to Manager Dilemma" for this report.
Shirley began the session with an overview of how she became a manager and it seems my story from above echoes hers - through a combination of chance and invitation, she acquired more responsibility until she got a full-blown management role and felt she wasn't truly ready for it. The option to a course (in this case the DELTM) helped her get back on track. Interesting that she found her employers saw the management course as an optional extra. Indeed, this highlights an issue in ELT with employers having a slightly warped perception of the available qualifications. The entry-level certificate is often seen as all a teacher needs. The higher-level teaching diploma is often seen as an entry into teacher training or management when it actually officially prepares you for neither. Specialist management or teacher training courses are then seen as not necessary, but as my own journey to this point and Shirley's story show, they often are.
Karen spoke as someone who had entered into management roles but then moved to teacher training before returning to teaching. She mentioned that a significant number of managers do not choose to become managers and a high number of them also receive no management training, which is a potential recipe for the managers being 'a bit rubbish'.
The need for training for managers is an important point and one that many schools could invest more time in. There was an interesting need highlighted as well for teacher training to retain staff. It seems counter-productive to take a good teacher out of the classroom to give them management responsibility as a 'promotion'. There have to be other options to keep good teachers doing what they do best while still feeling a valued member of the team. Encouraging CPD through in-house training and sending teachers out to conferences and other events was highlighted as a way to do this and it's difficult to argue against that.
The idea of identifying key strengths in each teacher and encouraging them to develop them, whether they be materials development, marketing, or teacher training, is a vital one. This serves the teacher and the school better than forcing people into roles of responsibility that they are not keen on (like when a former employer tried to coerce me into joining an in-house coursebook writing project). I was also intrigued by the advice to allow teachers to take sabbaticals, work in different locations, or be relived of all teaching duties to work on a project while their jobs are held open for them - not something I have come across in my ELT career to date!
There were some different ideas shared in this session which moved away from the traditional management roles of the day-to-day running of a team. Investing in staff and offering opportunities are the way to keep good staff and develop better teachers and effective managers - language schools and ELT departments, take note!