“What are the pros and cons of becoming a lecturer in academic skills?”
Having spent 10 years in the EFL trenches, I made the move over to Higher Education two years ago to a position as a lecturer in academic skills. While I haven’t looked back, my decade in the industry was far more valuable than I envisaged when I first went off to Paris after completing my CELTA.
ELT is not aromatherapy
I once heard ELT described as the ‘aromatherapy of education’ – wishy-washy, without real substance and a poor relation to other, more ‘weighty’ disciplines within the field. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. During my EFL career, I developed a whole range of skills and learned to cope with all manner of personalities, organisations and situations. I became more creative, vastly enhanced my interpersonal skills, gained management and organisational experience, struck out as an entrepreneur, and learned to network.
And then there was the DELTA. While not as gruelling as a PGCE, perhaps, it was no mean feat and certainly pushed me more than far enough out of my comfort zone to ensure that I grew as a teaching professional. At the time, I saw it as a means to an end – a way to command a higher hourly rate and perhaps (reluctantly) move into a management role one day. But its value went far beyond that. Without a Master’s, the DELTA was what qualified me for my current role as a university lecturer.
Exploiting the skills learned in TEFL
I have held the position for just over two years and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The skills I acquired as an English teacher have been built on and developed, and I have relished the step up into the heady world of academia. Aside from the interpersonal skills I honed while teaching, I also drew on my experiences teaching IELTS and EAP, though I did have to remind myself of how to reference and also learn about dissertations, having never written one myself! The role is varied and stimulating, my managers and teammates are exceptional, and, as a parent, I am grateful for the stability the job provides.
The end of my time in EFL coincided with a downturn in fortunes at my old school, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. After narrowly escaping redundancy, I was delighted to get the opportunity to jump to a more stable (and better paid) ship. The time was right for all sorts of reasons.
Nevertheless, I remain hugely grateful for my decade in EFL. The soft skills it allowed me to develop (not to mention the personal ones) were more valuable than I could have realised. Indeed, as we are on the cusp of a new era of AI and automation, I believe that it is these attributes that set us humans (and teachers) apart.
Be careful with TEFL?
So, would I advise others to go down the EFL route? Yes, but with some caveats. Don’t go into it for money, but be entrepreneurial. Embrace diversification and look for opportunities (often in unusual places). Keep an open mind. Hone your people skills. Take an interest in those you teach and those you teach with. Think carefully about how the skills you develop can be transferred to other disciplines. And don’t let anyone tell you that EFL doesn’t lead anywhere – there were plenty of naysayers within the industry that told me that and, guess what? They were wrong!
Matt Fletcher worked in EFL for a decade in Paris, Manchester and London before moving into Higher Education two years ago. If he isn’t working, he’ll either be playing the drums, exercising or trying in vain to keep his two small children under control.