Could you handle a job as Director Studies in China, or more importantly, would you want to? For a lot of people who decide to teach English in China, it is for the chance to get away from life inside an office and do something completely different, creative and rewarding.
I know plenty of excellent teachers who have risen through the ranks, first to a senior teacher and then on to the next step up the ladder to Director of Studies. But just because you are a good teacher, does that mean you have what it takes to be a good manager? Just because you enjoy teaching does it mean you will enjoy managing?
In this article, we will have a closer look at what you can expect from a Director of Studies job.
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A lot of schools will first look to promote from within, so if you have proven yourself at a school for 2 or 3 years and have shown excellent teaching skills, good people management skills, are organized and responsible and have a bit of luck with the timing of the current DoS leaving, you may find yourself next in line for promotion to DoS.
Other schools will look to hire externally and typical requirements include a Master’s degree in Education, Early Childhood Education, DELTA or something similar, at least 3 to 5 years teaching experience as well as management and training experience.
Managing Staff vs Students
Managing a class of twelve 5-year-olds is not the same as a school of 14 teachers. While you may have mastered the art of giving clear instructions, eliciting understanding and arranging the classroom for various types of activities, managing a team of teachers from different cultural backgrounds is a different challenge altogether.
The typical language school in China might have between 6 to 15 foreign teachers, plus local Chinese teachers, teaching assistants, sales staff, and marketing staff. It is your job to communicate your vision for the school, maintain a positive work environment, deal with disciplinary issues and ensure the highest possible academic standards for the school.
Staff from various cultural backgrounds may have very different expectations in terms of how tasks are assigned, levels of formality and the proper way to communicate with their boss to name just a few.
Teacher training is a major part of the Director of Studies job. Usually, on a monthly or bi-monthly schedule, you will be delivering teaching based workshops to your team. This requires in-depth knowledge of teaching methodology, keeping up to date with the latest developments and training staff on new course material or curriculum.
You will have to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your teaching team and will have to target the training to both new teachers with little to no experience but also to your teachers who have a lot of experience but are still looking to develop.
Related to this is classroom observations. It is common to observe at least one class per month for each teacher on your team and be able to provide constructive, practical advice on their lesson. Again, there will likely be cultural as well as interpersonal factors to be taken into account when pointing out areas that can be improved.
Hiring the very best teachers for the school is one of the most important parts of the job. The size of the school will often determine the extent of your role in the recruitment process. For smaller schools with no HR team, you will likely be in charge of the entire process, which includes developing recruitment materials, posting and promoting jobs, screening applicants and arranging interviews, usually a Skype video interview and maybe a demo class too.
With larger schools, there may well be an HR team that deals with some of this for you and your role will be to hold the Skype video interviews and select the best candidates.
In most language schools in China, the classes are run on a semester basis with additional summer and winter courses too. In addition to the core classes, there will be social clubs, events, 1-on-1 classes, demo classes, admin duties and a weekly teachers meeting to incorporate into the schedules.
Teachers will have individual preferences/strengths for which age groups they teach and may have a preference for continuing to teach certain classes for multiple semesters if they made a strong connection with them. Arranging the schedules for the academic team can be quite time-consuming and really does require good planning and organizational skills.
In the Classroom
In addition to all the tasks, as a Director of Studies, you will be expected to teach a number of classes each week. This is can range from maybe just 1 or 2 classes to 20 hours per week, depending on the school and how busy things are. If you find yourself short-staffed due to sickness or recruitment problems, you will be the one who has to step in, often with little or no notice, to make sure the classes go ahead.
The DoS will often also be the one delivering demo classes to attract potential new students to the school and running placement testing for new students to determine which course they should be placed in, although you will also have the help of experienced teachers for these tasks.
Working as a Director of Studies comes with a lot of challenges and is a huge change for someone who is used to coming to school, teaching, then going home. You may miss the classroom but the variety of skills you’ll build as DoS in addition to seeing your teaching team develop offers a similar sense of accomplishment and pride that a teacher sees in his or her students.
Jim Althans previously worked as Director of Studies at a language school in Wenzhou, China and now works at Gold Star TEFL Recruitment, where he puts teachers in touch with the best schools across China.