In Part 1 of this 2-part series, I discussed how people can get their foot on the Ontario English for Academic Purposes (EAP) ladder.
In this post, I discuss ways to climb the EAP ladder. As I stated in Part 1, much of what I say will likely be pertinent to other TESL environments.
Climbing the ladder
In general, ESL work in Canada is precarious, and this situation also applies to the EAP sector. Recent research by Corcoran and Williams (2021) found that Ontario EAP programs offered more part-time and temporary contracts than any other province/territory. One consequence of this situation is that there are many highly educated and experienced EAP instructors competing for very few full-time opportunities. So, to make your mark, you have to bring your A-game.
Below are my four suggestions for situating yourself effectively for advancement.
1. Understand institutional hierarchy
A key thing to sort out early in your EAP career is if the instructors in your EAP program can belong to a union (e.g., some part-time instructors for Ontario colleges are members of OPSEU). If a union is involved, that can impact multiple job factors (e.g., seniority levels, course assignments, internal candidacy for full-time jobs), so it is crucial to understand how the union functions as soon as possible.
2. Find an institutional mentor
An institutional mentor can assist you in many ways. They can help you understand the institutional hierarchy (as discussed above) as well as the program-specific hierarchy. Every EAP program has people with official power (e.g., coordinators) and those with soft power (e.g., individuals with strong networks), and a mentor can hopefully tell you how to be visible to these people. A mentor can likewise give insight into the workplace culture (e.g., what roles and responsibilities a part-time instructor has) and how to be a good “cultural fit” (e.g., what skills, personality attributes, and communication styles to exhibit).
3. Demonstrate competence
All employers want to see that their employees can do their jobs accurately and promptly without requiring micromanagement. The EAP sector is no different. Ng (2021), a career advisor at Harvard University, states that you want others to see that you are capable, but you need to walk the line between being confident/competent and cocky/overbearing. It is crucial to ask smart questions (i.e., ones that you cannot answer after diligent research), and also reflect on feedback from students and colleagues and use it to help transform your practice. Psychologists Skovholt and Trotter-Mathison (2016) eloquently sum up the importance of reflective practice when they write: “Professional experience does not always increase expertise … The [teacher] can have years of experience-rich, textured, illuminating, practice-changing professional experience … Or a person can have one year of experience repeated over and over” (p. 42).
4. Demonstrate commitment
You want others to know that you are happy to be there. Show that you are eager to help the EAP team achieve goals, but don’t overstep the responsibilities of your role to the point where you are seen as being overly aggressive or fake (Ng, 2021). Recognize that little actions (e.g., being absent from or unengaged in meetings) can alter perceptions of your commitment. EAP directors I have spoken to have stressed that they are looking for instructors who can be flexible in the teaching assignments they accept and are open to any professional development opportunities.
A career in the Ontario EAP sector can be rewarding, and I definitely love what I do, but it is a highly competitive environment and advancement is far from guaranteed. If you want to forge ahead, signal your competence and commitment while also developing a solid understanding of how the program you work for operates on a macro and micro level.
Corcoran, J., & Williams, J. (2021, March). English for Academic Purposes in Ontario: Results from an exploratory survey. CONTACT Magazine, 47(1), 5-12. http://contact.teslontario.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Corcoran-Williams-2021.pdf
Ng, G. (2021). The unspoken rules: Secrets to starting your career off right. Harvard Business Review Press.
Skovholt, T. M., & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2016). The resilient practitioner: Burnout and compassion fatigue prevention and self-care strategies for the helping professions. Third edition. Taylor and Francis Inc.