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…

 

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5 responses

4 08 2013
A midsummer DOS Day-dream | ELT Leadership and ...

[…] 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 re…  […]

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4 08 2013
Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

Hi there – There is so much in here I identify with; I think all of us who manage language programs over the summer can. I have a new group of Japanese uni students coming in this weekend and being tested on Monday. Really, the question over the last week has been regarding where these new Japanese students should go. Should they be integrated into existing classes? Will that overflow these classes should they all test at the same level? Should I hire a new teacher to take the majority of the group who test at the same level? Really, their arrival is not something I’d planned for when hiring the original teachers for these 4 weeks.

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4 08 2013
JoshSRound

Hi Tyson, thanks for commenting.
Yes, the situation you describe is a typical one. We have to make these kind of judgement calls – find/get another teacher? Open a new class? Risk keeping the same classes and hope for a nice spread of levels. But often you just won’t know for sure until it happens. Basically, flying by the seat of your pants!
Good luck on Monday!

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17 08 2013
Eduardo Santos

Hi Josh,

Thanks for your post. I could feel your anxiety while reading it, thank God it worked out fine in the end. I’ve been a DOS for just over a year and sometimes I still ask myself: “Am I doing the right thing?” The shift from teacher to DoS wasn’t easy, but I’ve been learning a lot, so it’s all worth it.

Hiring teachers is also a problem here, especially because teachers who work at my school are not allowed to work at other language institutions. For that reason, the number of teachers hired and the number of groups available is a huge challenge. One of the things I did to get last-minute teachers was a bit of what you did. I used social media and my PLN to try and get CVs and teachers to interview.

But then, as you mentioned, comes a new challenge: mentoring and providing support to new teachers even if it’s the beginning of a busy semester. Have you had this issue as well? If so, how did you deal with it?

Eduardo

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19 08 2013
JoshSRound

Hi Edoardo,
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Glad to hear you’re enjoying the experience of being a DOS, the regular (daily?) challenges can be fun, right!
So getting last-minute teachers in, or taking on newly qualified teachers, does bring certain potential problems; it always depends on how self-reliant the teachers are, and to what extent they need a helping hand.
Here I am lucky in a way because as I mentioned my school is also a teacher-training centre, and we have a good number of teachers who are also trainers and we’re all mixed in together – ie there aren’t two separate departments. So when I take on a teacher, and this is most important at busy times, I always ask someone on the team to be their ‘buddy’, someone who is one of the trainers or senior teachers. For the new teacher, it means there is someone apart from me who they can go to and ask for support, and for the trainer/senior teacher it is just an extension of their mentoring role. This usually works and new teachers tend to bed in well.
I also make sure to let everyone on the team know that this new teacher is starting, and what classes they are going to be teaching; I think most people will then tend to make an effort in small ways and help the new colleague settle in.
Beyond that, I also have to make sure I keep in touch with the new teacher – ideally at the end of their first day, at the end of their first week, and then keeping a general eye on how they are getting on.
But this is all part of an induction process, and at busy times it can get squeezed too much; or the new teacher just feels too overwhelmed (and then you might have to reflect back on the way he/she was recruited?)

Josh

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