Experiences for English Language Teaching

Reflections as a Young Learner Co-ordinator

It has been over a year since I left my previous position as Young Learner Co-ordinator with a local private language school in my hometown, but was fortunate enough to secure employment with a University soon after leaving. However, I was reading a blog post by Sandy Millin in which she reflects on her 5 years as a Director of Studies, so I thought I would share my reflections for the six years I were a Young Learner Co-ordinator.

What Did I Learn?

Teachers can be unpredictable

When I was promoted to the position of Young Learner Co-ordinator, from English teacher, the majority of staff were very supportive – the Director of Studies, Principal, Directors. However, there were two staff who were not so happy and one person made their opinion heard almost immediately. As the Director of Studies (DoS) held a meeting to share the good news, this person quipped, “We knew this was going to happen!” and the DoS responded, “No, actually we didn’t!”. What other teachers did not realise the Directors offered the position to me to help out during the summer months – more a temporary position – and I responded saying, “Well, if you are offering a position for a few months, I will not accept this and go back to Korea.” A compromise was met and I was offered a full-time permanent position, so agreed to this.

So what did I learn from this?

There will always be people around who would respond more emotionally, and from various situations which occurred, I learned how to manage more demanding staff.

Change can be undesirable

Wanting to push through change and seek agreement with management was a challenge. It was usually met with disagreement before I had anything to show. I discovered that more senior staff were happy to continue with the same model that had been applied time and time again – a sort of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” process. One thing that I wanted to push through was the process of printing labels for students who were starting their course at the beginning of the week. The DoS was still rather happy for labels to be hand written on sticky labels with a board marker, rather than be printed out. This seemed unsuitable and I decided to work with the school database – I believe it was Class – to create a label for students. After much perseverance, I managed to get the labels printed, include the school logo and it took much less time than having to hand write them.

What did I learn?

If you want to change how things are done, then you have to be rather arrogant ‘determined’ (thanks Sandy for the more appropriate word) and show staff the results rather than seeking agreement beforehand. You also have a better chance of agreement if you are able to demonstrate potential improvements.

Unexpected issues arise

If you are involved with teaching, you will encounter a variety of issues – either expected or unexpected. There are so many issues that arose which were completely unexpected and shocking from a certain staff member stealing young students’ pocket money to feed their gambling habits, a teacher drinking too much and passing out in the staff room, or a teacher making their position untenable due to writing inappropriate language on the whiteboard. All staff who were put themselves in such positions, were quickly removed from the premises and things were dealt by the principal or directors.

What did I learn?

You will always come across teachers or staff who will tarnish the industry but ensuring that you maintain your professionalism is more important than dwelling on the very few who make such dreadful mistakes.

What Did I Enjoy?

Despite some of the challenging tasks from the position, I throughly enjoyed my time as a Young Learner Co-ordinator. I throughly enjoyed dealing with newly certified teachers, and providing the necessary training that they needed to develop their skills as practitioners. The first area that I developed with the language school was improve the overall teacher induction process. When I first started as a language teacher in the UK, after returning from South Korea, I did not receive any induction, was quickly told the coursebook to follow, the classroom and who my students would include. I remember reflecting back on this and not wishing new teachers to go through the same rudimentary induction or introduction to the school.

I established a two day induction for newly employed teachers for young learners and they had time to go through the curriculum as well as plan their first few days of teaching. I explained the curriculum (which I developed and will also explain a little more shortly), introduced the material available, gave a school tour and introduced peer observations within the young learner team. None of this existed beforehand and I was happy to share this whenever we had a British Council inspection. In fact, before I decided to leave, I was recognised as developing a programme for teachers and learners with the school – I never got any recognition from the senior management or directors (which was annoying) but I was really focused on my teachers and the learners rather than pleasing senior staff at the school.

The curriculum was wholly unsuitable and teachers were left to their devices, having a patch-work of best lessons and recycling them for students time and time again. I was fed up with the lack of a suitable curriculum – particularly for newly certified teachers – and decided to put together a range of material into topics (I thank my friends on Twitter for sharing their ideas on how a young learner curriculum should be developed, especially for short courses). I looked at the contents list of popular young learner coursebooks and materials, which told me common topics, I then chose 20 topics – 1 per day, so a total of four weeks worth of material – and then I set about organising the material by topics which could be photocopied and shared with each other. They were placed on a shelf for stay to look at for inspiration but I told newly employed staff that they should not be followed religiously and you are more than welcome to supplement their lessons with other material. When I left, this material was still being used and I believe that it is still there.

Finally, seeing staff develop and evolve as a teacher was incredibly rewarding and it was so good to spend time with other like-minded teachers. I was so keen to get teachers to blog, and one person who embraced blogging was Pete from ELT Planning. It is so good to see how he has evolved as a teacher from when he first started at the school

What Am I Looking Forward To?

I am now involved with English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and it has been my second course – albeit online for emergency purposes – but I am looking forward to developing the skills necessary to become a professional and respectable EAP tutor. The experiences from my previous position has helped inform me how best to deal with the unexpected, dealing with difficult issues or emotional staff, or how best to develop aspects of teaching or learning which is lacking.

I also have submitted a proposal for an online EAP-related conference (I shall share more information in due course) and hoping that it is accepted. If it is accepted, then I look forward to developing my knowledge and awareness of an EAP practitioner. It is refreshing and rewarding to be involved in a new area of teaching and being able to specialise is rather rewarding.

A huge thanks again to Sandy for her inspiration and her blog post.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Martin,
    Thanks for the mention. It was interesting to read your reflections on the position. I’m sorry that you didn’t get recognition from the senior team for the work you did there, but you clearly introduced useful systems to the school. Thanks too for introducing Pete to blogging!
    I’m not sure I completely agree with this statement: “If you want to change how things are done, then you have to be rather arrogant and show staff the results rather than seeking agreement beforehand.” It’s definitely important to be able to show results, but sometimes pushing through changes that people haven’t agreed to can cause negative feelings for the future. It’s important to get buy in from as many people as possible, or find ways to introduce the change gradually so that people can get used to it. In the example you gave of printing stickers, I would introduce it to one or two teachers first, for example for my own groups, and comment on the fact that it was much faster. Then one or two weeks later I’d roll it out to other teachers, perhaps in a couple of waves, perhaps in one go if everyone is with you by then. Another option would be to discuss the pros and cons with anyone who is fighting the change, and make a decision together with them. Of course, we don’t always have this option, as March 2020 showed, but I definitely feel like being ‘rather arrogant’ causes more problems than it would solve.
    I hope your EAP conference proposal gets accepted.
    Sandy

    • Martin Sketchley

      Thanks Sandy. I guess ‘arrogance’ is possibly the incorrect term but having the option to share or demonstrate results will be more beneficial than having nothing to show and senior staff taking on possible faith with particular activities. Anyhow, thank you for your input and I suppose ‘determination for change’ is probably a more suitable phrase.

  2. Pete

    Great reflection Sketch, and I remember some of those issues well… you certainly made positive changes to the place 🙂
    Cheers for the mention too – I also remember those days in the staff room sharing resources and reflections, thanks for all the support and so glad you’re enjoying the move into EAP so far 🙂

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