Paul Barry is an EAL specialist at Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok, Thailand. Like many in the sector, he has worked in both private language schools and in international schools – both of which can differ substantially from public-sector schools. The questions he asks, though, may resonate with language specialists around the world.
In August 2016 I made the transition from a private language school to the EAL department of an international school. Having worked in that position for a year, and having spoken to EAL practitioners from different schools, it has become apparent that the job varies a great deal from school to school. Certainly, the position of EAL specialist at my school seems to come with different expectations and offers different opportunities from those advertised in the UK. Reflecting on the international nature of EAL teaching, and looking back on my own experiences, I have compiled a list of some of the questions that I think would be useful to ask when looking for an EAL job anywhere in the world.
How would you define your approach to language support? Is it a whole-school approach? Is it an inclusive approach? How do you decide which students need additional support?
I would be very wary of interviewers or teachers who were unable to articulate a clear response to any of these questions.
Does the school allow time for teachers to co-plan together?
If your position involves co-teaching, then co-planning time is really important. In some education systems there is mandated preparation time, but it’s often too little for EAL-subject teacher collaboration. Without it, you might find yourself having to chase co-teachers or receiving materials as you walk into class.
What is the background of the Head of EAL? How do you differentiate between SEN and EAL provision?
These are questions that might give you a better indication of a school’s attitude towards EAL and how much they value the skill-set of a teacher with a background in second language teaching.
Do mainstream teachers receive any EAL training?
Again, another indicator of how seriously the school takes its responsibilities and whether it is reinforcing the message that language support for EAL learners is an important part of school life.
What is the difference between an EAL specialist/coordinator and an EAL teacher?
I wasn’t aware of this distinction until I joined my current school, but some schools make a distinction between the two titles. It might be a good idea to see how and why your school chooses to differentiate, if that is the case.
What is the pay scale for EAL specialists and mainstream teachers? How do duties differ between mainstream teachers and EAL teachers? What criteria must one meet to be considered a qualified teacher?
There may be differences between benefits for mainstream and EAL teachers – especially asking whether EAL staff are on a full teacher’s contract. I would suggest finding out as much as you can before you start and making sure you have a chance to see job descriptions. Transparency says a lot about an institution.
What are the opportunities for progression within the school for EAL teachers? Do teachers move into mainstream teaching or leadership roles? How long do teachers stay?
Take the opportunity to think ahead to the end of your initial contract and decide what you hope to have achieved during your first contract as an EAL specialist. There may be a limited number of opportunities to advance within a school based on your qualifications (lack of QTS being one example) so it is important to establish this at the beginning. Think about opportunities for professional development within the school setting too. Compared with my previous roles, my timetable is far lighter which lends itself to study, research or resource development more than past jobs ever did.
Working as an English language specialist in an international school environment alongside ‘mainstream’ teachers has its challenges but can also be a rewarding experience. Based on my own experience, these are the questions I would ask when assessing the various positions available. I would be very interested to hear what other EAL practitioners think and what advice they would offer to people considering making the switch to EAL.
The EAL Journal is published termly by NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit www.naldic.org.uk to become a member.