English language teaching is hierarchical; we have titles even if we don’t refer to our colleagues using any pre-defined labelling. Some titles may allude to levels of academic achievement, length of service and specific skill sets needed to perform a role. Here are some typical titles which you may find familiar:
- Teaching Assistant (TA)
- Senior Teacher (ST)
- Assistant Director of Studies (aDoS)
- Director of Studies (DoS)
- Academic Director (AD)
- Teaching Centre Manager (TCM)
All the roles outlined above, except teacher, have an administrative-managerial component that broadly involves tasks which go beyond the scope of preparing and delivering lessons. It’s also true that all people working in a managerial capacity are qualified teachers, although it’s probably the case that an ST would do far more teaching than say a TCM. Also, organisations do typically outline and define each role and where the parameters are, i.e., what people are expected to do as a DoS, for example.
However, I have always found that the blanket term ‘teacher’ far too broad. It could refer to a newly qualified teacher (NQT), but it might also be someone with 20 years’ experience teaching specialised language courses. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to look at how we might break down the ‘teacher’ title to help distinguish between people who are new to the industry and those who show specific competencies to perform certain roles.
While working in a summer school a few years ago, I started to think about the given expectations of a summer school teacher. Of course, we expect teachers to teach, but would it be fair to give an NQT, fresh off a CELTA, an early primary beginner’s class, or a post-advanced class? Probably not. As teachers, we grow in confidence and gather experience of teaching a variety of levels, age groups and niche areas over many years. It’s therefore understandable why those who are responsible for timetabling would avoid giving say a proficiency class to someone who is still cutting their ELT teeth.
It’s not just about teaching; a summer school teacher can be tasked with placement testing new students. Unlike year-round schools, summer school has a large turnover of students who need to be tested (typically spoken and written samples of language) on their arrival. But how do we manage the task to allow the most competent members of the teaching team to get on and do the job of testing while at the same time supporting those who need to learn how to conduct a placement test? Experience tells me that allowing all teachers, to conduct speaking tests and mark writing leads to a large margin of error and the inevitable and time consuming need to make adjustments after students have been placed in class groups. There will always be a margin of error and there may be the need to compromise, but we really don’t want to place people who struggle to produce little more than a few memorised language chunks or who can only respond to a limited set of questions with those who are able to produce longer utterances on a broader set of topics.
It’s the job of a summer DoS to draw assumptions on what a teacher should be able to comfortably do based on their experience; at this point a teacher can be tasked accordingly. Of course, there are those who might have been working as a teacher for five years but have essentially repeated their first year five times; limited professional development or lack of progression beyond conversation classes in and around the intermediate levels. However, if a teacher has progressed: taught a range of different levels and courses and has some understanding of pedagogy and language, we should be looking at harnessing their skills and understanding. For example, if a teacher has taught a Cambridge First (FCE) course, they should have taught speaking and writing skills. They should also have marked speaking and writing using set criteria. Opportunities teachers have had to look at, breakdown and analyse productive skills can be transferred to placement testing and teaching.
Learning is incremental and gives us a rationale why we should limit involvement when it comes to placement testing and who teaches what levels and courses. By making this clear to our teaching team, it will avoid any awkward conversations which we might have when a teacher asks to mark placement test writing when it’s felt they do not display the competencies required to do the job properly within a specific framework. Can they shadow another staff member and learn from them? Yes, of course, but they certainly wouldn’t be free to work alone from scratch.
All of this would be made easier if we were able to encapsulate all of this under specific headings which help to distinguish teacher abilities. I discussed the idea with my line-manager, Phil and I partially ruined it by going too far by suggesting we could adopt military insignia and wear big hats. I was promptly told to stop being silly.
But seriously, no big hats or chevrons on your lapel denoting rank… But we could consider, on an institutional level, giving titles other than ‘teacher’ depending on what competencies are displayed. We already do this on an informal level when people say, “I’m an NQT’, “I’m an Early Years teacher”, “I teach adults”, “I’m an exams teacher”, “I’m very experienced in teaching…”. From a summer school perspectives, here are my suggestions:
There are three titles with Teacher being at entry level. These titles could easily be substituted with something else, e.g. Teacher (Band 1), Teacher (Band 2) etc.
For this to be a working document, the descriptors would need to be elaborated for each criterion. It’s also very specific to my experience of working in summer school and will probably not be relevant to other teaching contexts.
But what happens if all your students are 9- and 10-year-old beginners? Well, the system doesn’t function. The same could be said if you aren’t able to redeploy a teacher to a specific cohort where their expertise are best served- let’s just hope we don’t have to make an NQT teach that proficiency group of spirited teenagers, eh?