From teacher to manager to conference speaker…29-Oct-2012
Tinker, tailor, soldier, jack-of-all-trades
Jammy. That’s what my dad would call me. Opportunities just seem to rear out of nowhere and drop, screaming faintly, into my welcoming lap. My ever-loving boyfriend would dispute this and declare that you make your own luck, that everything I have achieved is a product of my own genius (or some such… I may have paraphrased!). Anyway, my current position is Academic Manager of English Unlimited in Brisbane, but I have in the past laboured under such titles as conference speaker, relief worker in Pakistan, ESOL tutor, curriculum designer and one-to-one teacher trainer. Now, of course, I can add blog author to my list. One day I dream of buying a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows and being hailed as Professor. Aaaah, dreams. Here, in my last blog, I will enumerate a few of the most significant challenges I’ve faced so far… none of which, may I say, have caused me anything but joy. I truly have the best job in the world!
Full time manager/full time teacher
I was quite happy as a teacher in England. Creating diverse, entertaining classes, leaving management behind as I blithely left the college after my contact hours… well, now I am the one languishing behind; tied to my computer and with a phone that, when it rings, is equally likely to be an invitation to an all-Aussie-BBQ as a teacher ringing in sick. I used to be that teacher! But, the workaholic in me confesses… I love my job. I love observing other teachers, teaching at the drop of a hat when my colleagues can’t, taking care of academic and pastoral needs, creating materials for the college, and, much to my horror, and I suspect, my mother’s mirth, I love the responsibility. A few of our successes are:
Friday complimentary classes – We usually have 4 standalone, optional hour-long lessons on Friday, on a variety of topics set by the teacher (last week, for example, we had pronunciation, collocations, idioms & speaking). Levels will vary – at any one time we could have advanced and elementary studying in the same class. The focus of the Friday lessons is fun and communication. Homework is never set and students attend with expectations of games, communicative activities and fluency development rather than accuracy.
Academic & Welfare Support – Students can sign up for free, personalised tutorials with a teacher. Creation of CVs, emotional support, pronunciation practice… endless requests. The best thing about these sessions is the ability to interact with the students as individuals, away from the pressures of the classroom.
PD sessions & teacher observations – Observations are no-one’s favourite hobby. Except me! I’m in the fortunate position where I observe teachers weekly – to provide constructive (hopefully!) feedback, observe classroom dynamics and monitor student progression. Our teaching team now merely sighs mournfully as I appear, beaming, pen and paper in hand at their classroom door, rather than the full blown panic that used to ensue. Progress!
Audit… a word to strike fear into the stoutest of hearts. Whereas in England you may quiver at the sound of the heavy tread of the evil-OFSTEAD-ogre breaking down your door; here in Australia the big bad wolf is NEAS.
Colleges who wish to be able to produce COEs for students to allow them to apply for student visas need to be accredited by 2 organisations, NEAS and CRICOS. The list of supporting paperwork that must be provided is truly legendary, and although the auditors are allegedly not there to petrify, I challenge anyone being audited not to feel a little clammy, and rejoice not being hooked up to a blood pressure machine – the beeps alone would give away the lack of confidence!
Some assessment areas for an Academic Manager:
• English Language Programmes and Assessment
1. Curriculum – Writing your own curriculum is tricky and time-consuming. However, the benefits are an ability to answer any questions around underlying principles, course rationale, methods, procedures and instruments for assessing student progress and macro skill balance, among others! You will (and should) be quizzed on whether the curriculum meets the student’s needs, what aims and objectives there are and what provision there is for cyclical learning. You wrote it – you know it!
2. Assessment – How are you testing your students? Questions around formative and summative assessment will be thrown at you with speed, along with gently placed queries about the validity of your placement tests. And how are results recorded, stored and monitored? ‘Umm, the teacher knows his/her students well’ is just not an acceptable response…
• Specialist staff
1. Teaching folders – Prior to the audit all centres must send a list of current teachers, their qualifications and years of teaching experience. Just to make sure you weren’t fabricating a stellar teaching team when really the school is peopled with randoms pulled in off the street, the auditors upon arriving will want to see staff folders, observe classes in progress and possibly speak to teachers. Crucially – the submitted information and staff files must match! It’s not rocket science but you’d be surprised at how many times (the auditors gleefully told me) staff records are badly kept, not kept at all or clearly made up.
2. Professional Development – How are you developing those teachers of yours? Are they mentored? Supported? Left to languish alone and bitter? You need to know!
I spoke at a large, international TESOL conference earlier this year, held in the bustling, energy-filled city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The cries of ‘are you mad?’ ‘I could never do that’ and ‘but what do you possibly have to say of any interest’ still reverberate around my head. Charming… It was certainly a challenge: 40° with 90% humidity but no air conditioning (only a sad lonely little fan run on a watch battery), 80 people crammed into a classroom, and although I specified the workshop was only – repeat, only – for new teachers, the topic appeared to fascinate all (I blame the expectation of nudity… it’s my own fault really for entitling my session ‘Nearly Naked Teaching’) and thus I had to differentiate a great deal. Sadly, a complete description of the workshop would take a whole new blog but importantly I include a generic list, from my experience of what to do and what please-God-not-to-do:
No way never, no way never no more:
• Just read the slide text – assume your audience can read! Also, try to avoid echoing – repeating everything said by delegates, I said repeating everything said by delegates…
• Allow mistakes! Proofread! It may seem self-evident but it’s too easy to rely on auto-correct…
• Speak too fast, too much or, horror of horrors, appear bored by your own speech
Doing the do:
• Provide handouts and clear explanations of terminology and metalanguage
• Entertain – use music, images and humour
• Reduce gestures to avoid appearing like a manic puppet fish flailing on the conference line
• Plan plenty of additional activities in case of ‘white air’
• Forget PowerPoint – be dynamic! Use Prezi!
I’ve loved writing these blogs. Thank you for reading!
AM – Academic Manager
COE – Certificate Of Enrolment
CRICOS – Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students
NEAS - National ELT Accrediting Scheme
OFSTED – Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills
TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
If you would like to read more in the ‘From teacher to manager…’ series, please follow the links below: