Reflections on my EAL role

I’ve just finished a stint working in English as an Additional Language (EAL) at an international school. It’s been a really interesting experience, and one that has changed my direction in both teaching and writing.

I know many teachers (especially in this part of the world) who are moving/have moved from EFL roles at places like British Council and into international school EAL roles. Here are a few things I’ve learnt or reflected on after making that move. Some are general, others more subjective and relate to my specific role at the previous school.

From soft- to hard-CLIL

Teachers moving from EFL into EAL should prepare for big changes to the content you’ll teach. Some of us TEFLers will be used to teaching ‘CLIL in name only’ or using coursebook resources of that ilk – theme-based, general, vehicle for language instruction more than content, etc. However, EAL is about helping learners get to grips with deeper academic content across subjects.

As a secondary EAL teacher, I was supporting learners in accessing content for GCSE Science, Economics, Business BTEC, and most subjects at KS3 level. Unless you’re already an all-rounder, you may need to up your knowledge of content across a curriculum. Your school’s approach to EAL provision may help you do that in practice (I’ll come onto that), but you may still need to invest time in reading around a lot of subject areas.

Note that I’ve mentioned hard-CLIL here rather than just saying it’s an English as Medium of Instruction environment. EAL is not just about accessing curriculum content, it’s about helping learners build communicative skills, language learning strategies, language knowledge etc, but as driven primarily/shaped around core content. It’s kinda like you’re shifted far more towards ‘content’ than ‘language’ (like an 80/20 swing) but the need for language development is still there of course. Right, back to that ‘schools EAL provision’ bit as it’s important now…

Getting into ‘the content classroom’

I’ve shared experiences with lots of different EAL teachers who work at various int schools. Something all of us have agreed on is the importance (read ‘necessity’) of in-class support. About 50% of my timetable involved being in subject lessons and supporting learners alongside the content teacher. The rest of my timetable were extra EAL classes for KS3-4, in which the input was built around the learner needs we’d identified during those subject classes.

It was a good balance and I think it was effective in the context. However, the in-class support is the essential part for me. The ‘extra’ provision is a bonus and can be really effective focused support, but understanding learners specific challenges is the key, and that involves getting into their subject classes.

When I started my EAL role, I was surprised that this type of support wasn’t seen as a given. I had some minor input into the nature of EAL provision at our school, and I pushed for the in-class support as a priority. However, there were times when (often due to lack of EAL staff) I had to make do with being in a subject teacher’s Google Classroom only, and establish (either through predicting or through feedback from subject teachers) where the challenges were for the learners. This was hit and miss, and involved having a good level of rapport/collaboration with subject teachers – not always the case.

The first question I’ll ask at my next EAL teaching interview will be about how the provision plays out in practice, and the balance between in-class/pull out/maybe sheltered instruction as an approach/etc. I can’t say based on one context what my ideal model would be, but having EAL practitioners offering in-class support is a non-negotiable. Still sounds weird to think that’s not guaranteed to be honest.

The standing of EAL

It’s fair to say that few people in my context knew much about language teaching specialists. Qualifications like the PGCE rule – it’s a ‘what’s good for the English system should work in a British International School too’ type attitude.

That’s fair enough in some ways. PGCE and QTS is a benchmark, it can be important for visa purposes, and it’s safe for people to stick with what they know.

That said, it can prove tricky to deal with perceptions/attitudes from colleagues who aren’t open, aware, or welcoming of those practitioners with different skill sets or educational backgrounds.

At first, I felt the lack of equality among staff in my context a tad jarring. I had some teachers assume I was a trainee teacher, some thought I was completely unqualified. Some were a bit ‘oh you were teaching EFL…’ which was usually a loaded comment – they’d then reveal some stigma towards the industry as the convo continued.

This could be annoying, and added to my impostor syndrome in the early days. But in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal. It got to me less and less, as I started to invest more and more in colleagues who were receptive, reflective, and collaborative.

There were plenty of staff who would seek support from us EAL teachers, and would readily admit that supporting EAL learners was an area of their practice that needed improvement. Obviously, with EAL teachers supporting in loads of different subjects, we have no choice to accept our areas for development. When other teachers willingly do that too it builds rapport and opens the floor to constructive dialogue.

Other reflections

I’ve been blogging a bit about these experiences already. Here are a couple of the more interesting posts IMO:

A connected curriculum?

EAL Science and CLILing it

Some regular EAL activities

There are just a few take homes from my last few years. I’m really looking forward to seeking out more EAL roles next year and perhaps taking on more responsibility – maybe coordinating or being in charge of CPD within an EAL dept. Let’s see!

Categories: General, reflections

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