10 ways to make the move from teacher to Director of Studies

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While many ELT teachers are very happy to continue working in the classroom for their whole career, at some point others will start to think about ‘making the next step’. They may feel like they have gained the necessary skills and experience to take on a leadership role, and they may also want a change. In this situation, becoming a Director of Studies is often the logical move to make.

The main thing to bear in mind when considering a move like this is that a Director of Studies has to wear a variety of hats. As well as continuing to teach, a DOS is also involved in things like academic management, leading the teaching team, recruitment, timetabling, teacher development, admin and strategic work. So, it’s important that you feel comfortable in all of these roles.

One thing that isn’t very clear, however, is exactly how to make this move. Once you’ve decided that being a DOS is the next move for you, how do you go about becoming one? To answer this, we thought we’d ask a teacher who did become a Director of Studies.

In this post Sarah, a DOS based in Manchester, gives us her tips on how to prepare to make the jump to management and to make a success of it once you’re there.

1. Be prepared to teach

While some people might think that moving into management means leaving teaching, covering for absent teachers is actually a key part of the job of a Director of Studies. So if you have your eye on becoming a DOS, it’s important as a teacher that you put your hand up and show a willingness to step in for absent colleagues when needed. This will definitely help your candidacy if an opening for a DOS does present itself!

2. Help build the team

Another important role of a DOS is to make sure that there’s a good team dynamic and everyone is pulling together with a common goal in mind. My advice to any aspiring DOS would be to use every opportunity to show that you’re a team player. Get involved in team building whenever you can, and try to help everyone around you achieve the best results possible.

3. Focus on individuals

A DOS has to be flexible in dealing with a wide variety of students and teachers. If you think you’d like to become a DOS, try to interact positively with a wide range of different people at school. Be dynamic in your relationships, and don’t just stay in your comfort zone. In this way, you’ll actively show that you have the flexibility and ‘people skills’ necessary for the job.

4. Work for your team (and they will work for you)

Just because the DOS is the boss doesn’t mean they’re the best at everything! As an aspiring leader, try to identify your fellow teachers’ and students’ strengths, and give them all the chance to shine. Be an asset to the school, and try to help raise up others rather than yourself. If you do eventually get the DOS position, it will be because you have shown you know how to get the best out of everyone around you, not just yourself.

5. Learn to manage impossible expectations

Another big part of the job of a DOS is helping students to understand that they can’t try to run before they can walk. This is another easily transferable skill you can practice as a teacher which will help you if the opening for a DOS becomes available.

6. Hone your handyman skills

As the DOS, the buck usually stops with you. You’ll be faced with a multitude of tasks, some more pleasant than others! In every school I’ve worked, I’ve had to fix shelves, move tables and chairs, and even unblock toilets. By volunteering and showing off your valuable handyman skills, others will see that you’re ready to rise to the different challenges of being a DOS.

7. Remember that it’ll all be fine …

Being a DOS can be stressful, so you’ll need to work on acquiring a ‘c’est la vie’ attitude. As a DOS, you can’t afford to sweat the small stuff, or you’ll find the whole job too stressful. My advice here is simply to show calmness while you’re teaching. A calm, relaxed attitude will rub off on both your students and your teaching colleagues.

8. Be persistent

There are a huge variety of environments in which you could be working as a DOS, and in all of them you need to be able to stick to your principles about what works. By being principled and persistent in your teaching, you’ll be sending a message that you’re professional, reliable and ready for more responsibility.

9. Make contacts and keep saying ‘Yes’

Teaching is where you learn how a language school works, and it’s also where you start to build your network. In any career situation, building a network is usually the best way to be offered new opportunities, so if you really want to be a DOS, be prepared to make contacts and to take the opportunities that might come from them, even if it feels like a risk. I fell into this pathway myself through saying yes to a series of opportunities I was recommended for, and I’ve been a DOS ever since!

10. Work your way through the ranks

If your goal really is to move into management, you’ll need to show you’re prepared to go the extra mile. Some practical advice in this regard is to volunteer for professional development opportunities, go to talks and conferences, help out with school admin, and apply for any senior teacher positions that might open up. If you demonstrate that you’re ready to advance in your career, then it’s much more likely that you’ll be considered seriously for a management position like Director of Studies. If you decide that’s your future, then the very best of luck!

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