I’m Not a Teacher

I'm Not a Teacher: The Uncharted Terrain of ESL Management

From ESL Teacher to Academic Manager: A Journey

I’m not a teacher! Yet, I began my journey in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) when I was just 19 years old in Malta. The irony isn’t lost on me – starting a piece claiming not to be a teacher and then diving into my teaching origins. But bear with me. These early teaching experiences in Malta, a fun summer job back then, laid the foundation for what was to come.

At 23, during a stint in market research in Adelaide, South Australia, my passion for teaching ESL reignited. I pursued a CELTA, a Cambridge English Language Teaching Certificate, out of sheer boredom when working for that market research company and longing for the same stimulation I got from teaching English to adults. Shortly thereafter, I started teaching ESL in various colleges in Sydney.

However, by 28, my career took a turn. I was offered a position at a university college, where the the Director of Studies at the time, saw management potential in me. He trained me for his role, which I eventually took over. This transition marked my foray into academic management, a world vastly different from ESL teaching.

The Complex World of Academic Management

For the past 20 years, from the age of 28 to my current my current age of 47 while writing this, I’ve been deeply entrenched in academic management. This role, contrary to popular belief, is not about teaching. It’s about managing – managing and recruiting teachers, handling administration, ensuring compliance, addressing student complaints, liaising with marketing managers and officers, reporting to senior management and owners, and dealing with agents and a host of other stakeholders.

What many fail to understand is that as an academic manager, you might occasionally step into a classroom when student numbers at a college drop; however, this sporadic teaching doesn’t take away from the fact that your primary role is to manage. Manage upwards and downwards. Address the needs of the senior managers (owners) while ensuring the smooth functioning of your teaching staff. And even, collaborating with marketing teams to develop course offerings that are not only saleable but pedagogically sound. 

Misconceptions Outside the Industry

It’s been a constant source of frustration for me, and possibly for many in my role, to be perceived as a “teacher” by those outside our industry. This misunderstanding isn’t limited to just friends and family. I vividly recall a management conference where a journalist, unfamiliar with our industry and serving as the keynote speaker, addressed a room packed with academic managers as if we were all ESL teachers, focusing her talk on teaching English as a second language. It underscored the prevalent misconception about our roles.

Valuing Both Roles

I don’t mean to take away from the role of ESL teachers. It’s a fulfilling, purpose-driven job which I myself did for many years and found both challenging and stimulating. But as academic managers, our duties extend beyond the classroom, delving into the intricate management of a business that delivers educational service. While we may have the skills to teach ESL (though these skills may have become less sharp for some of us due to time away from the classroom), our primary responsibilities focus on management and ensuring the smooth operation of our institutions.

Fundamentally, this sector comprises for-profit companies offering educational services. It’s crucial for those outside of it to recognise this fact and understand the distinction between the roles within.

Reflecting on my journey has been both cathartic and enlightening. For two decades, I’ve been at the intersection of education and management and while the label of ‘ESL teacher’ might stick with me due to misconceptions, it is worth noting that the ESL teachers I work with and manage, along with other academic managers at other colleges, may be the only ones who truly grasp the distinction between an ESL teacher and an Academic Manager.