What makes a school a rewarding place to work for?
Academic Management and Teacher Satisfaction
25th of February, 2022
By John Pritchard
(Teaching TEFL/ESL in numerous countries for the past 15 years)
A lot of online articles in the TEFL space are focused on teacher tips, classroom technology, finding happiness as a teacher abroad, and so on. I want to consider the question of teacher satisfaction from a different angle, that of management.
In my 15 years of practical classroom and online teaching experience, it’s the quality and style of management that makes the biggest difference in terms of how well a school is run, and how rewarding the job is for teachers.
I’ll draw from my own experiences while outlining some of the core management challenges which apply to TEFL, and specifically how they relate to teacher satisfaction.
An analogy I like to use is that of an airport and airplane. Think of the teacher as the pilot, and the students as the passengers, whereas the management is air traffic control. For the plane to land smoothly teachers need support in key areas, and when this support is absent, landing the plane can be a challenge.
Which specific areas do I have in mind?
First of all, resources. It is often taken for granted but there are schools that don’t provide textbooks or even printing paper. This is bread-and-butter stuff but when you’ve worked for a school that makes you find your own resources online or go to an Internet café to print whatever you need then you’ll appreciate an employer which provides books and printing paper free-of-charge.
Secondly, timetables. This is a tricky one and often in my experience a source of unhappiness. Schools ought to strive not to make a teacher’s day unbearable and also to consider the impact on a teacher’s energy and motivation that their timetable has.
For example, finishing at 9 or 10 pm on a day when you started at 7 or 8 in the morning means you’ve given up the whole day to work and done nothing for yourself. Although there tends to be a block or two free in between classes, It’s usually not enough time to switch off or really get anything done. Very often I’ve found myself just hanging around in a teachers’ room waiting for the next group to start.
Schools concerned with teacher satisfaction can make life easier by either grouping lessons closer together or compensating for a long day by making the next one shorter. For example, make classes 15 minutes apart rather than 30 minutes apart and the teacher can finish their day a lot earlier, or compensate for a late night by ensuring that the teacher doesn’t have to work the following morning. These are strategies that help teachers to stay motivated and maintain their energy.
The third area where teachers need solid management is a group composition and level placement. If you’re teaching a group and there’s one student whose level is markedly higher or lower than all the others then you’re going to be challenged constantly by the need to supplement the lesson to accommodate this student.
I am writing exclusively from my experience as a teacher, so forgive me if this article seems one-sided. I know that management has considerations of its own.
For example, putting an extra class on a teacher’s timetable might inconvenience the teacher but add vital revenue to the school’s budget and ultimately everybody’s incomes. Schools also need to retain students year after year so it may be essential to find a slot somewhere for an established group of regulars.
Regarding group composition, it may be inconvenient to place someone in a class where the students are of a different age or level, but if the alternative is adding another lesson to an already full schedule then there’s no easy solution. I can appreciate that managers do face tough choices when preparing timetables and composing groups.
The above three areas, namely resources, timetabling, and management, are the essentials of sound management.
When these three areas are well-attended-to, teachers can carry on smoothly and “land the plane”. Management that neglects any of these areas will inevitably create problems for teachers throughout the year, as teachers who have to deal with either a lack of resources or a poorly composed group of students will find themselves faced with additional preparation time as they overcome these obstacles.
Teachers who struggle with antisocial schedules can find that successive long days drain their energy and enthusiasm. Managers with an interest in retaining teachers in the long-term should take note.
This leads me to another point. What is a TEFL teacher? Is TEFL a form of “gap year” or a serious career?
Please move on and read Part 2 of this article as it addresses more issues that relate to our (teacher’s) well being and job satisfaction
Please also let us know here at TEFL PDI what you think and how we can help in providing a better environment for all teachers to work in
The follow on articles from the above will be titled:
What is a TEFL teacher? Is TEFL a form of “gap year” or a serious career?