What Can You Do if You Want to Transition Into a More Senior Role in TEFL?

by Robbie McDonald

Back in 2009, I started work as a TEFL teacher at BKC-IH Moscow. Despite it being a relatively long time ago, I vividly remember my induction sessions and meeting the Director of Studies (DoS), various Assistant Directors of Studies (ADoS) and Teacher Trainers and wondering what steps they had taken in the careers to become senior members of staff at the school. After some weeks at the school, having watched their training sessions and noticing how they had helped me become a better a teacher in the short time I had been there, I decided that I would like to do something similar. 

Fast forward to the present day and I’ve been lucky enough to have experience of working as a DoS, ADoS and being involved in Teacher Training programmes. This article thus aims to present some ideas about steps you can take if you would like to take on a more senior role in the future, based loosely on my own experience. 

Demonstrate your ability as an effective teacher  

This may seem obvious, but this is a prerequisite for being considered for a senior position. Also, by demonstrating your knowledge of what is effective teaching, you can show that you would have something to give in a role where you would be helping other teachers develop. 

Volunteer to run in-house training sessions  

Senior roles often require you to run teacher development sessions and by volunteering to do one as a teacher gives you the chance to dip your toe in the water and gain some experience. Two ideas for doing this could be to run a session on something that you’ve done in your teaching and found useful or on a TEFL related area that you find interesting and has an application in the classroom. Remember that you can liaise with senior staff at your school (such as teacher trainers, senior teachers or your DoS) regarding ideas for a session and also planning. 

Teach a variety of different class types  

TEFL classes vary greatly and, as well as the standard fare of General English to adults and Young Learners, can include teaching Very Young Learners, 1-2-1 classes, English for Academic Purposes, English for Specific Purposes, Business English and much more. Senior positions, therefore, typically involve observing teachers who are teaching a range of different classes. By increasing your own breadth of experience in the classroom, you will help put yourself in a position where you will be able to provide relevant observation feedback regarding a variety of different lessons, as well as being able to give useful advice to teachers who teach a range of different classes. If there’s a certain kind of class that you would like to get experience in teaching, you can let your DoS know and they should be able to give you advice about where to go from there. 

At the same time, it could also be useful to pick an area of TEFL you enjoy and focus on it. Subsequently, you can focus on your area, gaining experience and perhaps doing an IH certificate in it. For example, if teaching Young Learners is your speciality then you could do the IH Young Learners Course. Perhaps you would like to focus on Business English, in which case the IH Certificate in Teaching Business English might be useful for you. A general overview of the IH certificates can be found here, while you can find out more about the online teacher training courses that IH offer here. Regardless of the area that you specialise in, having a sphere in which you have a deeper knowledge means that, as a senior member of staff, you would be able to use your experience and knowledge of it to provide expert advice to teachers. 

Another class type that could be beneficial are those with a teacher training angle, such as a class preparing state education teachers for a state teaching exam. These classes can sometimes have a methodology element to them, making them especially good preparation for those looking to become involved in Teacher Training. If you haven’t been involved with a type of class like this before and would like a taste of it, you can ask your DoS if you can do a guest session on a course that is running at your school. 

Also, teaching doesn’t just stop at classes in your school. I found that running marketing events and lessons during school open days were useful, giving me a greater understanding of the non-academic side of TEFL. If this kind of angle is something that might interest you, speak to your DoS at about it. It could also open avenues to non-academic roles in TEFL, such as marketing itself. 

Widening your teaching experience will also help you to… 

Take steps towards a further teaching qualification  

There’s no doubt that courses such as Delta or DipTESOL open doors for you and are essential if you want to become a DoS or CELTA trainer. However, for teachers such as myself, who don’t have a background in linguistics or pedagogy, these can be quite imposing and a large undertaking. In my case, doing Delta meant that I needed to think about what I could do beforehand to prepare myself for it. I opted to do the IH Certificate of Advanced Methodology course, which I found an ideal bridge between CELTA and Delta as it equipped me with all the theory that I needed.  

It’s also worth remembering that courses such as Delta are practical in nature, and going into them with a rich experience of teaching different class types and understanding the challenges that these class types bring (and also understanding the challenges that different groups of learners face) will put you in a good position for when you decide to take this next step in your TEFL career. 

Get some administrative experience  

Senior positions tend to include quite a lot of administration and can have an emphasis on organisation. Think about how you can give yourself experience of this. Perhaps there’s a coursebook your school is using that needs a pacing schedule written for it? Maybe the school needs to update its system of placement testing after changing coursebooks? Why not volunteer to help write it in conjunction with a senior member of staff? This could be quite a lot of work, but it will give you some experience of the administrative work that goes with academic management positions. 

Keep your ear to the ground  

Many different teaching organisations have end of year reviews (such as the PDI in IH schools) and these can provide a forum for teachers to note their interest taking up a senior position in the future, allowing the teacher and DoS to build a dialogue from there. 

If your current school isn’t able to help you, a cursory look on the IH jobs board shows that senior positions are advertised fairly frequently. If you’re in a position to take advantage of this, checking the jobs board or signing up for job alerts regarding academic management or teacher training positions will give you an idea of what’s out there. From there you can decide if you think it’s right for you.  

Obviously, moving countries for work is a huge commitment and you really need to think about where you are in your career; what you want from your career; and where you want to be geographically, as well as your personal circumstances. In my case, when I applied for the ADoS position at the school I was at, I had already decided I was going to stay at the school no matter what. Although I felt I was ready for the next step in my career, I was settled in the city and had friends there and I really enjoyed working at the school, two things which I ranked above all else in terms of importance. Therefore, before making any move, be sure to take your professional and personal circumstances into account.  

So, if you aren’t sure that you’re comfortable moving schools or cities for a senior position, you could look for something that might allow you to stay at your school during the academic year and… 

Gain some experience with summer work  

Summer schools hire DoSes and ADoSes, which could give you an opportunity to gain some experience and give you taste of what it’s like. However, one thing to remember is that summer schools can be very intensive and hectic by their very nature, and subsequently roles there can be very demanding. That said, much of the work undertaken in a summer school context is similar to the work that a DoS or ADoS would do during the academic year, and therefore can be a useful taster of what you might expect from a senior position in TEFL. 

And finally… 

This advice is based on what I’ve found effective in helping me move Academic Management and Teacher Training, and is just one version of what can help you make such a transition. If you’re interested in doing something similar, speak to as many people as possible, for example a senior member of staff at your school, to find out their advice too. 

Author’s Bio: Robbie McDonald is a teacher and a CELTA tutor at IH Palma de Mallorca. He has previously worked in Ukraine, Russia, Ireland and Scotland as a Teacher, Assistant Director of Studies and Director of Studies, as well as being involved in Teacher Training programmes.