“What does being a director of studies involve?”

The role of Director of Studies (DOS) or “academic manager” as it is sometimes called, is one which is perhaps unique to private language schools. Generally speaking, the DOS is responsible for the educational side of the school, leaving the school’s director or owner free to deal with such matters as financial planning and marketing.

The specific role of the DOS varies according to school size, country, company culture and so on, but speaking generally, the DOS has to deal with:

  • clients (students, parents, HR managers)
  • teachers
  • the school owner and/or director

Keeping all of these various “stakeholders” reasonably happy can require considerable diplomatic skills. Typical tasks include:

  • placement testing and needs analysis of students
  • course planning and materials creation
  • observing teachers and giving feedback
  • providing professional development for teachers
  • timetabling lessons
  • dealing with complaints – from students, parents and teachers
  • providing emergency teaching cover

The DOS is often the first person teachers turn to with a teaching-related query, a moan, or simply when they need a shoulder to cry on. Many EFL teachers are comparatively young, often abroad for the first time, and can experience culture-shock and homesickness.

A key element in the DOS’s job is quality control, which can sometimes involve the tricky matter of giving unwelcome feedback to an under-performing colleague. Another perennial headscratcher is how to consistently deliver useful Teacher Development sessions to a group of teachers whose skills, needs, and experience may vary widely.

The peculiar position of the DOS – not just a teacher, not only a manager – can often lead to feelings of isolation, together with the classic symptoms of impostor syndrome – “Am I doing a good enough job?”. Those DOSes fortunate enough to work in schools belonging to networks such as International House or similar national associations often get much needed support from their peers, and it’s worth trying to build up a “Personal Learning Network” via social media.

Being a DOS is a challenge, but if you are lucky enough to work  in a well-run school with a supportive director and colleagues it can be an enormously satisfying job.

Tim Julian got on a bus bound for Italy in 1982, armed only with a scribbled address, a preparatory teaching certificate and 100 pounds to tide him over. He has worked in Hungary and Spain as well as Italy, and for many years he was the Director of Studies at International House La Spezia in Italy, where he still works part-time as a teacher.