A midsummer DOS Day-dream

4 08 2013

Where I am?

I’m walking into a room filled with students.

What’s happening?

I have some scribbled notes, cut-up materials, a coursebook, a class register and some board pens.

Am I dreaming? Am I really about to teach again? Aaaaaggghhhhhhh!!

This was mid-last week, in the midst of the ELT midsummer madness.

To be honest, it’s been great to be busy again in July in London! Last year, the Olympics – the so-called global advert for our city – persuaded 100s of English language students, and 1000s of tourists to stay away from the capital during July and August. Apart from the sports fans crowding the east side of London and all the Olympic venues, everywhere else was like a ghost town. Bizarre. So it really has been a relief to be spending July with lots of students, having lots of courses to plan for, as well as lots of summer teachers to find, recruit and manage.

The busy summer is always fun, but also a tough period of managerial tests. Summer madness, as we all seem to call it.

The goal is for it to feel like everything is happening seamlessly. The arrivals,  the testing and placement, the inductions, the timetabling, the lessons, the extra rooms, the facilities, the audio equipment, the technology, the ventilation, the social activities – all of it falling smoothly into place. Of course as a continuous enrolment school, we are used to dealing with this every week, but in the summer, the system is put to its greatest test with a tripling of student numbers or more.

Behind the scenes, the puppet-master – the Director of Studies – is working furiously away.


Photo by @ij64 #eltpics

Photo by @ij64 #eltpics

And because we can’t really say no to new course enquiries (‘make hay while the sun shines’ says my boss – and he’s right because a good summer can fund the investment back into the school for the rest of the year), and because we can generally get the extra rooms if required, and because we offer and run a lot of intensive group and one-to-one courses, the biggest test for the DOS – for me at least – is to get the summer teacher recruitment right.

It’s a hard thing to forecast. You want to have just enough, but not too many, good and willing teachers.

Last year was drastic. I had spent more time than usual carefully scanning CVs, and interviewing, and offering work, until when it became clear the summer rush wasn’t going to happen – that Olympics effect – I had to withdraw employment from several teachers right at the last minute, including a couple who were travelling back to London to work for the summer. That was awful. At least I was able to find interviews for them with summer schools outside London.

Anyway, this year, I have been cautious in my recruitment of summer teachers. We’ve been fine, more or less, with a couple of excellent teachers coming in, but also with quite a few squeaky bum moments when I haven’t known who would be teaching certain courses until the last minute.

The planning for the week of July 15th was one such example. It had all been looking ok, but then turned into a bit of crisis. First, a former teacher who was coming back from abroad for a few weeks teaching and due to start that Monday asked to delay by a week to have some time visiting family. A current teacher then revealed she had flights booked for a week’s holiday. Bookings for courses that week kept coming in. Emails from other London DOSes started to circulate: ‘If by a miracle you know of any teachers looking for work, please ask them to get in touch…’. I too was going to be short of a teacher, maybe two. But in such situations I use a teacher agency, who tend to supply reasonably good teachers, and usually at the last minute; the reply to my emailed request: ‘It’s just a maybe, and we won’t know until tomorrow’. Tomorrow was Friday, so time and my options were running out.

I took a throw of the dice:







A lucky throw, it turned out. I got a reply from a very experienced teacher, trainer, writer – someone who I had briefly shared a taxi with at the IATEFL conference back in April, a PLN / Facebook friend, but still a great surprise to have him respond. A few messages later, we had it sorted out, and my potential teacher crisis was averted.

Last week also proved to be tricky.

I had taken on a new teacher who’d just completed our Trinity Certificate training course – just for 1 week before she went on holiday. It’s great to have this option – to be able to ‘cherry pick’ the best trainees who can then get some real classroom experience among the ongoing support of their trainers, who become colleagues.

But in my desire to staff all the coming courses, I probably tend to over-emphasize the positives for the ex-trainee of being employed by the training institution and forget the pressures some may feel of being thrown in at the deep end of a ‘mad’ summer teaching schedule.

It was too much for the new teacher – mostly due to exhaustion at the end of an intensive training course. After two days of teaching, she was too run down to continue. A casualty of this crazy season.

So, that was the reason I was walking back into the classroom again, to teach for the first time in a couple of years. I tend to resist it as long as I can – I’m just too busy! But in the end – it was great, I really enjoyed it.

Another four weeks to go.

The summer madness will continue. But hopefully, only I, behind the scenes, will know about it…