For an EFL teacher at home or abroad, a good boss is good luck. A bad boss is very bad-especially when you’re away from home.
If you have your EFL qualifications, it sounds like a great and romantic adventure to teach English in another country over the summer or for a longer period. And it is. But every EFL teacher knows that a language school is only as good as its DOS (Director of Studies).
Although the teachers are on the front-lines every day teaching students, the DOS is like a general, directing who does what, who teaches which students, who gets the hours they want-and who gets too many or too few. The DOS is key to whether or not your work at a language school will be valued or degraded; whether you’ll feel supported in your teaching or demoralized.
The bottom line: When you’re looking for a good school in which to teach abroad, look for a good DOS. That comes first before what the school pays, where the school is located or almost any other factor.
Here’s how to find yourself teaching in a good language school abroad:
1. Get a recommendation from someone who enjoyed teaching at a particular school. Ask this person what contributed to his/her feelings of enjoyment and success. Ask how he or she got along with the DOS.
2. If you can’t find someone to recommend a language school as an employer, then, at least, seek out which schools to avoid. Word gets around fast about which DOS’s make good or bad bosses.
3. Don’t sign a contract for a job abroad until you actually meet the DOS. Go with your gut reaction: Do you like the DOS? Does the DOS seem genuinely interested in your skills and experience or just ready to sign you up because the school needs teachers?
4. More than likely, as a potential teacher in the school, you’ll be asked to observe a class. Go ahead and comply, of course. But this hardly tells you anything except if the teacher you’re observing is a decent teacher. It tells you nothing about how the staff gets along with the DOS. So….
5. After you observe a class, hang around a bit and observe DOS in her interactions with the teaching staff. Is the DOS readily accessible to the teachers when they need her? Or do notice that most are turned away from her door?
6. Do teachers waiting to see the DOS appear silent and anxious? Or is there casual conversation among the staff when teachers are waiting outside the office?
7. How do teachers look when they come out of the DOS’s office? Sullen, angry or resigned? Or do they look satisfied?
8. What is it like around the DOS’s office in general? Is there a tense silence around the office-or is there some animated talk going on? Do you ever hear laughter or see smiles?
9. If the DOS talks to a teacher about something that seems important, does the DOS arrange for privacy? Or does he put the teacher on the spot in front of other staff?
10. Do you hear the DOS snap at teachers?
After answering these questions, you’ll get an idea if this person is someone you would and could work for.
Finally, take aside a teacher for a moment and ask what it’s like working at this school. If possible, seek out a foreign EFL teacher (like yourself) and inquire about the person’s satisfaction. You’ll be surprised at how honest teachers will be with you when they get the chance.
If you hear that a DOS is bad to work for, believe it. And then get yourself to another language school. There are plenty of good schools with good administrators looking for good teachers like yourself.
Ilene lives and teaches EFL in Malta, and is author of An-American-in-Malta.com.