Moving from ESL Teaching to Management – Chris Newcombe

Good teachers don’t automatically make good managers. Chris Newcombe tells you what he wishes he knew when he started out.

Author – Chris Newcombe

This is a tricky area in our industry.  The most direct route is that good teachers are promoted into management.  This works some of the time but if you really think about it, then it’s sensible to consider that just because someone is a good teacher doesn’t mean they will be a good academic, people or business leader.  When it does work out it is great for the individual and for the business.

I was a classic “good teacher” promotion to manager story.  At that point I had post-graduate teaching qualifications in the form of a Diploma in Education (PGCE) and a DELTA.  These gave me the basis for understanding what happens in the classroom, how students work and learn as well as a starting point for writing curriculum.  It didn’t teach me how to manage people or the business side of the job.

ESL Management Leaders - Meeting

I’d love to tell you that I was great at this from the start and I’m now a “thought leader”, “people hacker” or even an “innovation disruption expert” or any other range of meaningless titles people brand themselves with.  But I wasn’t great at it.

The truth is it was hard.

I made some good decisions in terms of engaging teachers and I made some poor decisions in terms of perhaps letting policy dictate outcomes with customers.  The one thing I keep with me is the ability to look at the past and laugh.  A hefty “Geeez, I wouldn’t do that now!” and a chuckle won’t change the past but it does a good job to remind you how far you have come and how you’ve adapted and changed.

Get Educated

The other key thing I did after a year as a manager was to take a Masters (mine was in organizational leadership in the area of Education).  My experience of most promotion positions in ESL is that they rarely come with any kind of management training so this was my way of shoring up the business side of my capability which I thought was lacking.

ESL Management Leaders - Grad

This was a strategic choice because I knew my path was going to continue in management.  If you think your management role is a pitstop on the way to become a trainer/coach or a lecturing position then the chances are doing a Masters or certificate in an area closer to those goals will work best.

The advice I wish I’d had…

There’s a thousand pieces of advice you could give to new and prospective managers but I’ll limit it to 3, in areas I’ve either failed myself or seen other new managers make in the ESL field :

  • You’re no longer a teacher.  This means that your job isn’t to walk into a management meeting and recite a list of complaints that bothered you as a teacher or are bothering colleagues of yours.  A good manager will bridge between students, teachers and upper management but will also know when something is too ridiculous to even say out loud (“I really think we should be giving 6 free extra classes a week to students for which you will pay me to prepare and conduct”).
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to peers when you want to sense-check your approach.
  • If you can do it in person then do so.  Being a visible face with your staff is really important.  You can also explain things more fully and address any immediate concerns your team may have.

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