When you get that ’is there anything you’d like to ask us about the role, the school, or…’ etc.
Of course, a lot depends on context. Still, here are a few things that might be worth asking about a potential EAL role at an international school. They aren’t just questions to make you look or sound good (we can all be contrived like that at times, right?). They’re more to help you better understand where the school is at with their EAL provision, hence what you’re likely to be inheriting!
1 Does the school have an ‘EAL Policy’?
IMO, any international school should have a formal (read ‘documented’) EAL Policy. It would outline things like:
⁃ the ethos towards EAL provision.
⁃ the overall aims of an EAL programme (in detail, not just ‘to exit the programme!’ Haha). Ideally, we’re talking something that’s research-informed and up-to-date with our current knowledge of additional language learning
⁃ An outline of the overall provision – the aims in practice
⁃ details of assessment practices and the rationale behind choosing certain forms of assessment (e.g. WIDA)
⁃ Screening and placement procedures
This resource is invaluable info for EAL staff and will give you a great idea of the procedures and practices you’ll be expected to follow/uphold, and why!
If the school doesn’t have an EAL policy, well, that’s pretty rudderless… And you’ll probably find yourself feeling the need to write the policy yourself if you’re there (which is an interesting experience, especially if you’re keen on working in consultancy down the line, but also more work!).
2 What type of info is provided for new EAL teachers? For example, is there an EAL staff handbook?
A policy doc might double up as a kinda EAL staff handbook. Not always though – there might be a more formal doc which sets out the stall for the EAL provision at the school, and then other docs like a more teacher-friendly handbook with FAQs very much written for practical guidance purposes. Worth asking, and worth knowing how well you’ll be guided/supported from the outset.
It is also worth finding out whether any guidance for new EAL staff has been written by someone currently working there. The Primary EAL Coordinator in my old job produced a fairly comprehensive guidance doc for new EAL staff. I didn’t refer to it much after the first few months tbh but it was always there for reference and it certainly showed that someone was taking EAL roles seriously!
3 Do you have an induction programme for EAL teachers? If so, what does it involve?
I imagine any international school is going to say they have a general induction programme for new staff, then they’ll likely mention that you’ll have a dept-specific induction. What does that entail exactly? I mean – are you straight into teaching, or can you shadow EAL teachers during in-class support first? What type of handover notes will you get on learners? Can you meet with existing teachers (whose role you’re taking on) prior to formally starting work? Will you have an intro/meeting with subject teachers you’ll be co-teaching with so you can agree on approaches? Etc
4 Is there a preferred type of co-teaching model or approach used at the school?
I do think that asking about ‘co-teaching models’ as such is useful, but can also sound a bit pretentious or put teachers on a defensive if they aren’t familiar with different models or terminology. Besides – a co-teaching model in name (like if your consider an approach to co-teaching like ‘adjunct CLIL’ or something) might not be referred to as that by teachers, yet it might be what they are practicing. Definitions vary anyway. So, something more along the lines of ‘How do subject teachers and language specialists work together in the classroom?’ Might be a safer, more general nudge for info.
Once you get past the likely ‘it varies depending on the teachers’ etc you can start to gauge how much this has really been thought through by the EAL specialists/SLT currently at the school. Guide the questioning towards working out things like:
⁃ Is there scheduled time for collaboration and co-planning?
⁃ If not, what are the expectations regarding co-planning and advanced sharing of lesson plans/resources?
⁃ How aware are subject teachers of these expectations? Is it a school-wide policy that is a requirement of the job?
Etc. Because, aside from how things work in the classroom, a general ethos of/commitment to collaboration with EAL practitioners is what you’re looking for in a school. Well, I’m guessing so anyway.
If you get too much blagging in the answer, you can probably assume:
⁃ there’s not enough of a co-planning ethos in place right now
⁃ you’ll have put in a lot of time to build that culture, and it’s a big part of the job.
5 What’s the typical profile of the learners (whole-school and on the EAL register)?
Obvious question, but look for specifics. Get info on number of EAL learners on the register as a proportion of the year group, years with highest numbers of EAL learners, typical first languages, percentage of host nationals at the school, etc.
This can build an interesting picture. For example, if you have a school that takes tons of new(ish) to English learners in Year 10, what does this say about a) the expectations of these learners for GCSEs within 2 years’ time b) the motivations of the school? There’s no clear answer, but these type of questions can shape your impression of the school. Is it a bums-on-seats-cash-cow? Is it inclusive while other schools around it are elitist? Who knows, but learning more about the student profile can help you decide!
6 What CPD opportunities related to EAL are offered both in-department and for all staff at the school?
It’s super important that all staff receive CPD related to EAL. That might mean subject teachers learn about strategies for supporting EAL learners, admissions staff might be properly trained to undertake/support with screening and placement, EAL teachers should know about the profile of learners and other needs they may have (and the interplay between these and EAL provision), SLT need to know about crossover qualifications for English Language Teachers to help with hiring practices, etc. So, what’s offered? What EAL training has been offered over the last X years?
Also, will you be expected to deliver whole-school INSETTs on EAL? Worth knowing. This wasn’t a prerequisite in my last role, but sometimes things just default to you (or you feel compelled to take these things on for whatever reason).
7 How do you feel about /What’s the school policy on translanguaging?
Again, this helps with gauging the overall school ethos, attitude to multilingualism, underlying linguistic elitism, etc.
IMO I think it’s too easy to say there is one answer for this. In doing so, I’d be passing judgement on your values as a teacher and language learner and how your experiences have contributed to your own views on how best to teach an additional language.
Personally, if a school were to preach about ‘English-only in the classroom’ and deny learners use of their full linguistic repertoire during the learning process, that wouldn’t be the environment for me. Indeed, this was quite a hard line from our senior leadership team in my previous role and it’s tricky to manage that day-to-day when you’re at odds with it.
However, I’m not saying you have to seek a certain answer to this question from your prospective school. Perhaps consider your own views on the topic first, read current lit, and see how well the school’s ethos aligns with your thinking.
Bear in mind – you can always subvert ‘English-only’ policies in the classroom and stuff like that once you’re behind closed classroom doors, so the overt policy of the school isn’t necessarily a be-all-and-end-all.
Well done, Pete. Damage your chances of employment by sounding renegade, why don’t you…!
8 Do the departments in your school have designated EAL advocates among the subject teachers?
I mean, there might not be a need for this in small schools – it might not be entirely relevant. Still, it would be nice to think that schools have designated ‘go-to’ members of whatever department to work on embedding strategies, share best practice, stay research-informed on EAL, etc. if you haven’t worked at an international school before, you’ll come to realise that most people have about 20 roles. It’s never ‘Joe Bloggs, Maths Teacher’, it’s always ‘Joe Bloggs, Maths Teacher, KS3 Maths Lead, Excellence Coordinator, Extra-Curricular Sports Lead, SEN Liaison Officer, Dept Tea Maker, Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award Walker (at the back of treks), etc’. So the chances of a Dept having a go-to for EAL is pretty high (read: not high).
We had one for Science, and only Science. And he was self-designated to the role just out of necessity. It made a MASSIVE difference to everyday practice, so if the school don’t have them, ask why not!
9 What experience do the Senior Leadership Team have regarding EAL teaching/learning?
I’ve just come from a school in which the EAL experience of senior leaders was a real mixed bag. It can be a real challenge in such a context to get your message across and to really be heard. So, grill your prospective employer on their experiences in EAL. That includes your immediate line manager. It’s up to you what you’re looking for. Personally, if a member of SLT ever drops in a soundbite like ‘as subject teachers we are ALL language teachers’, that would be alarm bells for me! But if they say ‘… we SHOULD all be language teachers’ and recognize that there’s a long way to go regarding ‘getting EAL right’ in certain contexts, then hey – they might have perspective on the topic!
Here’s a list of other general topics you could ask about
• The budget for resources
• Existing subscriptions for the EAL Dept
• Affiliations/memberships with in the Dept for things like ELLSA (or similar groups in your region)
• EAL specific expectations for extra-curricular activities
• External qualifications that learners are trained for alongside/within EAL provision (FCE, IELTS)
• Opportunities/expectations to teach IGCSE ESL or IB English B
• Whole organization EAL policies, if your school is with one of the transnationals like Cognita, Nord Anglia, etc.
That’s a start anyhow! Might give you some ideas. Any EAL specialists reading this – which other questions would you add?
All the best if you have an interview coming up!