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From Teacher to Manager

March 02, 2006

Is it possible for teachers to make the transition from the classroom to management?

Hello again,

In answer to that question I would say of course it is; many of those currently in management positions have teaching backgrounds. By recruiting managers from the teaching team, the school has the advantage of already having a working relationship with the appointee and benefiting from that person’s existing knowledge of how the school is run. In addition it helps establish a career progression for teachers. However, it is not necessarily a straightforward process . . .

. . . Firstly, the teacher turned manager needs to have a good overview of how the school works as a unified organization. Even more important, the teacher must be confident in his/her ability to maintain harmonious teamwork. In a school with a “them and us” culture, teachers who cross to management could be viewed as traitors by their colleagues and could find face resistance and lack of cooperation.

It is also important to understand the skills needed by teachers and those needed by managers so that an audit can reveal which skills from each category the candidate already has and which need to be improved. Clearly many teaching skills are valuable to managers in that both activities require the effective handling of others. Teachers and managers need to be clear communicators, good listeners, good organizers, good motivators, and to be able to deal fairly and equitably with people without allowing personal bias to enter the relationship. They also need to enforce disciplinary procedures when needed.

So far, so far good. But are there additional skills that a manger needs? A manager certainly needs to know how to delegate to be able to plan ahead and to innovate. However, perhaps the main difference is that a manager needs to understand the commercial imperatives of the school as a business. In other words, the leadership role and the responsibility of the manager are probably bolder, riskier and more pragmatic than that of the teacher, so those wishing to develop their management potential need to be sure they can take these on.

Many practical activities undertaken by mangers need specific training: budgeting, timetabling, marketing, application of laws. But that should not be a problem. Just as teachers are expected to be trained for their posts, so managers should be equipped with the competencies they need.

All in all, I would certainly encourage schools to look for management potential among their teaching staff and for teachers who have some solid experience under their belts and who wish find a new career path, I would say go for it!

Do let me know what your experience is or what you think.

Bye for now,


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  1. Lee Says:

    Hi Brenda,

    I've made this transition a few times in my life at different private ESL schools overseas I have been associated with over the years. There and back again. My experience has been that the transition is often painful in both directions.

    Naturally, the ambitious often desire promotion, recognition and job-security, but the extra job-responsibility often creates distance between the teacher-turned-manager and his "former(?)" peers/friends. Perhaps everyone on the School team is a colleague, but there aren't many teachers who will confide their concerns to a member of management over a beer in the pub the way they would to a fellow-teacher.

    Some of the best transition models I've seen are where the lowest rungs of managment still have their foot in the door by maintaining a small teaching load. This helped to keep the "street credit" alive with the other teachers.

    As an extreme example of this, I know of one ESL school where the owner and all managers are required to teach at least one class per semester. In this model, all teachers share the administrative responsibilities (reception, sales, personnel, quality-control,customer-complaints and lost&found, etc.) on a rotating basis and all administrators share the school's teaching load. By default all employees are both instructor and administrators, even the owner. They all ate, drank and complained together. Obviously, there wasn't much of an organizational chart for these fellows: the owner ran things in totalitarian fashion. Oddly enough, the turnover rate at this school was quite low because the "workers" like their job. It seemed more like a kibbutz than a traditional academic setup.

    This was a rather interesting model, have you ever seen anything like that?

    Best wishes,


  1. PVS Says:

    Hello, I am working to educate myself about beginning a small ESL program at a private university. I have years of teaching experience, but would like to network with others who may have done this, that is to learn about the possible pitfalls and what ifs.

    We have intermediate and advanced learners who need a semester or two of work to get up to speed while they are taking their own courses in their majors.

    Any help will be appreciated,

    Dr. PVS

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