Management vacancies that arise in LTOs (language training organisations) can be filled by candidates recruited from outside an organisation but are frequently taken up by teachers selected/promoted from within the organisation’s current staff.

Jenny Johnson - February 2009

There is often very little time to train up the incoming manager, in fact 'One of the major issues in ELT Management is how professionals in this field receive appropriate training and development. Many individuals start their managerial careers without any formal management training or qualifications and learn on the job…' (

This article explores how teachers get into management and what training they receive - or do not receive - before they start their jobs, and what training they think they need - or do not need - both before they take up the position and when they are in the job.

The survey
To collect information around this area I designed a survey which was answered by 135 respondents from around the world. The largest number of respondents (30%) were in Australia (thanks to Kath Brandon from English Australia, and Steve Heap for sending around the survey link!), many of whom were doing or had done the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) training course. Thanks to everyone who answered the survey.

The manager role
My sample is not restricted to people whose job title is ‘manager’. The range of job titles of my respondents shows that management is an aspect of many job roles in language teaching organisations. My respondents included:

  • academic managers: 25%
  • directors of studies: 36%
  • teacher trainers: 29%
  • heads of department: 13%
  • administrative managers: 10%

Other job titles included director, programme manager, principal, co-ordinator, head teacher and more, with many instances of combined roles. As one respondent said: 'It's not very clear if I am an academic manager, because at the same time I am the director of studies, the teacher trainer and the administrative manager. However, that is my job title', which echoes many people’s sense of the multi-tasking nature of management roles.

Where they work
The respondents were based all over the world, including:

  • UK:  16%
  • Spain: 5%
  • Vietnam: 4%
  • ‘various’ or ‘worldwide’:  4%
  • Other countries: 26%, including Latvia, Nicaragua, Argentina, North Cyprus, China and Northern Ireland

Length of experience
This ranged from 6 months in a DoS role to 29 years as a teacher/teacher trainer. Unsurprisingly, at least a third had been in academic management for more than 10 years, with only 12% for under two years. 60% of Directors of Studies had been in place for less than five years.

Places of work
The managers worked in large language teaching operations, small private language schools, universities, English medium schools, with one or two ‘freelance’ and ‘consultants’.

The decision to manage
Nearly half of the language school managers in my survey had not taken a conscious decision to become a manager. This was fewer than I had expected.

'The previous DoS resigned and I had been in the company for over ten years and I was asked if I would like to "take the job".'

'Found myself filling in when people left the company and this gradually became a full time position: I never consciously applied!'

Just over half of my respondents (53%) had consciously decided to go into management.

'I decided that I wanted to move into management as I needed a new challenge. I also wanted to find a job which would provide me with more stability and pay.'

'I always thought as a teacher that "I could do this better" - decided I could either leave, or work to improve the place. When the opportunity came up, I applied.'

Management training
Training for managers can take many forms. My survey asked about:

  • A handover period: a predecessor doing the job you are going to do, passing on the systems, procedures, documentation and information about how the organization works and its culture.
  • A mentor: someone who has done the job or a similar job who you can go to with questions and doubts and receive advice and suggestions.
  • A management training course: gives comprehensive covers of all areas of ELT management, such as the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management), one of the few courses of this type I have come across.
  • Workshops and sessions: at conferences, online or brought in to the organization, in a peer-group, giving one-off help with specific management areas.

Pre-service training
My survey did not support the view that managers get very little training before they start.  In fact, almost two thirds had had some kind of training before their jobs began. Of these, 36% had had a handover period, 33% had had a mentor, 17% had done a management training course and 13% had attended sessions or workshops. However, 35% had not had any training before they started and commented:

'Even though I have taken several courses on teaching, and possibly that was why I was given the post as a manager, I had never, ever taken a course on management, not even training sessions. Everything I have done has been empirical.'

'I had no training before my first management post (apart from my own observations as a teacher), and learnt a lot on the job with no formal training.'

'I have attended some workshops along the way, but there was nothing specifically aimed at management on offer when I started.'

'I was doing a lot of my line manager's job unofficially for quite a while before she retired.'

'It was an extremely short period indeed and with little support materials or documentation. I cannot call it "training" at all.'

'This is the main problem in my school and in the whole university...teachers jump into management positions without any training at all! "Where there is the wish there is the will".'

Ideal pre-service training
51% viewed a management training course as being the ideal training before starting the post. 47% said sessions or workshops, 41% said a mentor, and only 34% said a handover period, which was the training most of them had in fact received.

Ideally, before they started my respondents would have received:

A course:
'I've never had to manage projects before or be responsible for anything but my own students. A management training course would have helped me realize systems that exist and use them to facilitate my job - instead I learn by trial and error on the job.'

'I am currently taking the IDLTM course - and this is something that I would have liked to have done before - in my first year or second year of management. I also think a DoS course would have been useful - for basic ways/ideas of carrying out tasks and dealing with problems related to being a DoS.'

One-off sessions or workshops:
'A general briefing on the role of a manager with a hefty dose of general principles, theory and objectives would have been useful - together with a recommended reading list.'

'Something about moving from being just one of the teachers to their supervisor would have been good - especially since some teachers were older and more experienced that I was at the time.'

'There definitely needed to be a handover period of a week or two. And while the idea of a training camp was great, the workshops really needed to be more practical (i.e. doing actual tasks that the job involved rather than talking about them; having mock conversations with employees and customers, etc).'

'Training that specifically looked at solving ELT management issues such as balancing the philanthropic aspects of teaching with finance and business constraints.'

On-the-job training:
Asked what training they would like now, as practising managers, 58% said sessions or workshops, 35% said a management training course, 26% mentoring and 11% none.

Sessions or workshops:
'I feel that regular, PRACTICAL, training workshops would be most effective. The problem is finding the time.'

'I think refresher sessions in different areas of management would always be useful. Even time set aside for professional reading.'

'Specific training in finance and/or marketing - people skills training - always - e.g. HR Mgt in general, assertiveness training, how to delegate efficiently, customer care, handling conflict/discipline, giving+ receiving feedback, interviewing skills, etc'

There were comments about a mix being the best approach:
'I personally find short conferences and workshops, plus some online collaborative communities, to be the most inspiring and helpful. And I often prefer distance or blended learning solutions rather than long face to face courses.'

'I think there are things to be learned from all kinds of training. Personally, I would particularly like to experience a mentoring situation, in addition to a formal training course.'

Some said discussion and sharing with peers is what is needed:
'Not training as such but it would be good to have a forum with people in similar positions, where people share experiences and challenges, discuss issues or simply listen to each other without necessarily feeling the need to suggest something…. Sometimes all you need is for someone to listen to you.'

Some recognised that professional development can come without specific training:
'At this stage, I don't feel I need training, but for academic satisfaction if nothing else, I do feel the need for ongoing professional development.'

'From an academic point of view, in a busy position one can become a bit detached from ESOL developments, new materials etc. I'd appreciate more time to get up to speed on things, attend workshops etc.'

There is a general feeling that management training, both pre-service and on the job, is desirable. The recruitment circumstances and the pressures of the job - particularly time constraints - can conspire to make it difficult. There is a feeling that money is invested in teacher training and development but none is provided for management training and development:

'This is an area where EFL lags behind most industries in professionalism. Employers won’t invest in management training for their staff in all too many instances.'

'I think EFL has long used a "learn from what you experience approach". If you had a good DOS as a model, then that helps but specific training would be of enormous benefit. A lot of money is poured into making us better teachers but not better managers.'

Wherever possible, efforts should be made to facilitate training, both to improve managers’ performance and also to provide a model which shows teachers that training is universally valuable and to encourage teachers to take up any opportunities which are provided for them to engage in training and development activities themselves.

Where it is not possible to receive training, managers and would–be managers can ‘do-it-themselves’:

  • Join the IATEFL Management Special Interest Group:
  • Join the ELT management group yahoo discussion list (non-IATEFL members can sign up for this too)
  • Read  From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organizations  by Ron White, Andrew Hockley, Melissa S. Laughner , Julie van der Horst Jansen Cambridge University Press (2008)

Other books I enjoyed:

  • Mullins L J Management and Organisational Behaviour - Pitman Publishing, London
  • Handy C Understanding Organizations, Penguin Business Management, London
  • Belbin R M Team Roles at Work - Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford





Submitted by carladelia on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 13:14


I have been an English teacher for over 10 years in Brazil and I have the same impression: management positions are taken up by professionals who have been working at the school/institution, people who are highly skilled and competent. However, they do receive very little or no training. I myself have already taken up a position of director of studies at an ELT school and I received very little training. This two-year experience was really important to me because it gave me a wider view of the whole process of managing a school. I believe there should be more workshops and courses on the matter. What do you think about it? 

Carla D'Elia - English Teacher

It's definitely true that a lot of academic managers come through the ranks and become managers simply by being in the same place for a long time. That they do so without any significant management training is almost certainly a bad thing. It is good that most managers in ELT have extensive teaching experience but it is a shame that there is little attempt made by most institutions to ensure that they have the training available to be good managers.


Hi Carla,

Yes, I totally agree with you on this matter. I have been a teacher for 25 years and a director of studies now for the last three years. I must say it has been a very rich experience but when I need any help, I need to find it myself and so I also agree that there should be more workshops and courses on the matter.

Sheila Craddock - Teacher of English and Teacher Trainer 


Submitted by philipd on Thu, 03/05/2009 - 17:20


I was lucky.  After two years in the classroom, I was invited in 1969 to assist
one Alf Crosby to run the summer holiday courses with 1200 'punters' and a
teaching staff of 34+ a week .  Brilliant organiser, and so easy to learn from.

My only qualifications were Cert Ed (St Lukes Exeter,1965), RSA Cert TEFL (1970) and four years of teaching, the latter two as a TEFLer.  

Two summers of assisting Alf C equipped me with the basics for a 35 year career in language school management (and classroom teaching of course).  It wasn't until 1995 that I began to feel that my lack of more academic qualifications were holding me back, but by then my experience made up for a lot.  

I never had a Director of Studies post that was beyond my competence because my relatively lowly qualifications always filtered me out of contention for high powered positions.   

The 'big' jobs I never got would all have involved an element of marketing,
entrepreneurial involvement and/or an academic competence beyond mine.

On the plus side, I never had an ulcer, rarely had a day off sick and have a small collection of testimonials I am proud of.  And I have retired to a mountainside on a Mediterranean island.

So for ambitious young TEFLers I would say:  
Getting ready for that first management job starts long before the first offer -
prove to your employer that you are competent even if it will appear only on your testimonials or references
Get experience wherever you can
Get training wherever you can and preferably before you need to use it
Above all, follow your ambitions vigorously and let your bosses know what you are keen to do, but at the same time, know your limitations

My testimonial to Alfred J Crosby, who sadly died some years ago now:
Many years as DoS at Kings School of English in Bournemouth (1965? to 1985 or later), much respected and liked by colleagues, very tolerant and encouraging of less competent teachers, he lead by example as much as by any other means.  His reputation obviously went before him and he became DoS at Eurocentre Cambridge.  I will have to leave others to continue his testimonial from then on.

Philip Duerdoth

Submitted by Ajit Singh Nagpal on Fri, 03/06/2009 - 02:21


Management and training are two different domain areas.  I agree that, if the manager comes from the training domain he or she will make a better manager.  However the roles are diametrically different.  A manager is in the people business. He or she gets things done with and through people.  His or her job is to make things happen for an organization. 

A trainer or teacher on the other hand must have specific skills; be a subject matter expert and most important of all have passion to teach.  He or she is someone who gets his or her sense a achievement or satisfaction when he or she is able to see that the students have learned something and are able to use it. 

This being one of the main differences between the two, i.e. teachers or trainers who inevitable switch to management must be ready to embrace the change in their role and the motivation to move into the new role. 

While the switch may sometimes be more lucrative a manager can keep in touch with his profession if he or she continues to teach occassionally.  I believe the teacher or trainer leanrs the most from his students.         


Submitted by Neli Kukhaleishvili on Sat, 04/04/2009 - 18:08



Hi Jenny!

Yes, unfortunately this is how matters are. People get promoted just because:

a. they have been with this or that educational establishments for some time;

b. they are the most punctual or hard- working;

c. there is no other choice;

Nobody ever thinks of training people. Training would contribute to quality of teaching and learning. I think there should be special training courses for  DOS, heads of departments  for those who are going to hold positions connected with managing.  

Usually predecessors are people with no training background , they pass on their experience  which is great  but passing on experience and undergoing special training, experiencing the system itself, getting some theoretical background  make difference.

Thanks for your thorough analysis.

Neli Kukhaleishvili

Having been in the Management training field for a number of years it has been a shock to see that Managers are not trained in Management at all but simply 'roll over' from Teachers to Managers overnight. Managers are not born, they have to be trained.

This is also unfair to Managers as it can't possibly be a rewarding role for them when they are not trained or don't possess management skills/knowledge to bring into their new positions, in fact it must be a truly frustrating role. I have certainly seen ineffectual managers and in a business this is critical to its success, and for staff they are managing.


Submitted by noelchivers on Wed, 04/22/2009 - 09:22


I started teacing in '94 and after a few years went into management in the business world. When I came back to teaching it alarmed me just how bad 'managers' were.

Why oh why do the best teachers get appointed as managers? They are taken away from their area of expertise and suddenly expected to be business managers. OK as an academic DoS but how many Dos's are purely academic?

EFL leads in teaching/training methodologies and it's about time that the industry caught up with the business world and employed trained experienced managers and not promote good teachers.

I very much doubt whether Ronaldo or Rooney will ever be managers - I wonder why?

Submitted by mike2000 on Fri, 09/17/2010 - 19:29


A trainer or teacher on the other hand must have specific skills; be a subject matter expert and most important of all have passion to teach.  He or she is someone who gets his or her sense a achievement or satisfaction when he or she is able to see that the students have learned something and are able to use it. 

This being one of the main differences between the two, i.e. teachers or trainers who inevitable switch to management must be ready to embrace the change in their role and the motivation to move into the new role. 

While the switch may sometimes be more lucrative a manager can keep in touch with his profession if he or she continues to teach occasionally.  I believe the teacher or trainer learns the most from his students. 

Mike Anders - Teacher of English and Teacher Trainer

Submitted by JoKiwi26 on Tue, 02/25/2020 - 20:17


My apologies if it is glaringly obvious, but I cannot seem to find an author for this article, and I would like to include it in a bibliography. Does anyone know? 

Hi JoKiwi26

It's not obvious at all! In fact, this article is from 2009, and was published on the site by a member of the admin team, without a name. We have tried to discover who the author is, but haven't been able to, I'm afraid. 

Thanks for your interest,


TE Team

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