January: Doors, Deltas, Dilemmas

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In conventional wisdom, January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of open doors and transitions. He is depicted as having two faces representing the past and present. As I  enter my 9th year in teaching next month, I look back on the wisdom of my mentors, tutors, and teacher-trainers, starting with my CELTA and what that has meant for me for the Delta and beyond.

I remember when I started my CELTA at IH Newcastle in August 2008, my course tutor told us, “DELTA opens doors.” It was the ultimate qualification of the ELT teacher bar, perhaps, an MA TESOL. Since then I had my eyes set on getting one, becoming a senior teacher, CELTA trainer, and eventually a Delta trainer/course assessor. Fast forward to January 2014. I felt like my career was stuck in the doldrums–an unfulfilling routine of present perfect and communicative activities. Remembering the words of my tutor,  I started preparing for the Module 1 exam and the extended essay for Module 3. The Delta would open the door to new positions, new challenges, and more money. By December of 2015, after receiving my results for Modules 1 & 2, I felt that that door was shut.

Just as it was true in 2008, the Delta still opens doors for many. But getting through that door is the challenge in and of itself. Despite my best effort, I didn’t quite make it. That, coupled with being the victim of racist attack, and subsequently losing my position at IH Bydgoszcz due to the severity of my injuries, spiraled me into a deep depression. I began to question whether I was cut out for teaching. As professionals (especially in the teaching profession) we take great pride in our credentials. They give us credibility and authority in an increasingly crowded and competitive industry. So what happens to the ‘failed’ candidate? Telling potential employers I’ve done the course seems misleading at best but at worst dishonest. It’s not that I had learned nothing–quite the opposite in fact (though  I still have a few misgivings about the course). The experience it seems, has left me straddling the doorway, one foot towards my goal, and one foot back where I was before.

Like Janus, I look back to where I was before and look forward to the future of my career with a new sense of purpose. This year I’ll be looking at where things fell apart on the course, as mentioned in my last post, but with special attention to specific Cambridge Delta criteria. I’ll also be looking into the future of teacher training, digital media in ELT, and old methods that have recently been given new life. So here is to opening new doors in 2016.

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5 Do’s and Dont’s of Delta Module 2 (Weeks 3-8)

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In my naïveté I thought it would be possible to update weekly on my progress through the Delta course. How wrong was I! Work started to pile up by Week 3 and I had more or less lost steam by Week 5. It’s all done and dusted now and we won’t get results until December, but to be honest I’m not expecting a pass. In any case, I’ve come up with a list of Do’s and Dont’s of what you can and should do if you want to be more successful on Module 2. These are based not only on my experience and those of the other candidates at my centre here in Poland, but also conversations from other Deltoids at centres in Greece, the UK, and Thailand.

  1. DON’T do the the pre-course tasks. This sounds counter-intuitive but they in no way prepare you for your assessed coursework. This may be nominal requirement from Cambridge. These are usually a series of language awareness/analysis tasks. While well-intentioned, your tutors were probably not involved in crafting the pre-course tasks, they probably don’t know what they entailed, and the material will most likely be covered in an input session anyway (which you are not assessed for). The best way to prepare for your course is to have a look online for previous LSAs (Language Systems/Skills Assignments) to get a sense for the style that Cambridge want and also what will be required of you (Check out Academia.edu they have a large database of essays you can access for free). Depending on how much time you have, you could try writing a few drafts to get a feel for how to get your point across effectively given the word count.  The other thing is start writing lesson plans. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a Senior Teacher, DoS, or teacher-friend who can go through it with you. At the Delta level, it’s not enough to just do something that kind of makes sense for 60 minutes. You’ll need to show a critical awareness of why you’re doing what you’re doing (think Lesson Aims and Stage Aims) and also the students will need to leave having learned something worthwhile. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a battery of “go-to” lessons that just “work.” You’ll probably not have a lesson plan for this though. Make one. Do a post-hoc write-up of what you’ve done and try to fill in those aims.
  2. DON’T compare yourself to others. This is a trap quite a few candidates on my course fell into. To get onto a Delta course you have to prove that you belong there. As such, there will be some very strong candidates in your cohort. They just get it. They know how to write good aims, they know how to manage a class, they’re always on top of things. Just remember, it’s not a competition. You aren’t being ranked by Cambridge and your tutors (if they are as professional as mine were) won’t compare you to the other candidates either. You’ll see ways of doing things you never thought of before and if you’re like me, it can make you feel wholly inadequate. The best thing to do is to learn from and support everyone on your cohort. Have lesson jams, share ideas over lunch, read and critique each others lesson(s) (plans). But remember, you got onto the course for a reason. Observe others, learn from them, but be yourself.
  3. DON’T be afraid to ask for help. Even “experienced” teachers could stand to be knocked down a few pegs. There are a lot of things we didn’t know we didn’t know about. As a matter of pride, asking questions or for help might be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not. At the end of the day this course is down to your own development. Take full advantage of the resources at your centre. This isn’t just the school library, it includes your tutors, the other candidates, your learners, and possibly other Delta-qualified teachers at your centre. This is a unique opportunity to “Ask all of the questions you were too afraid to ask” and experiment before you go back to wherever it is or whatever job you came from. Your tutors may be cold and stand-offish, the other candidates may be unfriendly, but you’re paying for this experience, make the most of it. As the Geordies say, “Shy bairns get nowt!”
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  4. DON’T fall behind. Good time management is absolutely essential. Again, good time management is absolutely essential. You will most likely have to attend the input sessions on your course, and these will sadly eat up the better part of the day which you could be using to do your planning or writing your LSA. Between all of the assignments flying around and the accompanying (excessive!) paperwork, you’ll need to account for just about every waking hour of the day (and sometimes sleeping hours as well). On the intensive course, the workload can be downright unreasonable–especially given that there are no allowances for slips in quality. If you’re the old-fashioned pen and paper type, get a planner. If you’re more MacBook than workbook, use applications like iCal to manage your workload. It’s easy to spend too much time on lesson planning– 15-30 page lesson plans in addition to your LSA is normal, at the expense of just about anything else really. So, whatever you use, staying on top of things is first and foremost.
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  5. DO take care of yourself. If you’re doing the intensive 8-week course, it will probably be the most stressful 2 months you’ve done in your entire career. At least once a week, make a point to do something you enjoy, or explore the city where you’re doing your course, or just nothing. You’d be surprised by how many candidates forget to breathe after Week 3. But again, not comparing yourself to others and managing your time well, will keep stress levels in check. Stress leads to errors in judgement, oversights in planning, and bad rapport with the other candidates and your learners. All of these you can’t afford to let happen. If you ever feel yourself being overwhelmed, remember why you’re doing the course in the first place and breathe.

If you’d like further reviews of the Delta course, you can find some insightful reading herehere, and here.

Did you have a similar experience on the Delta? Is there anything else to add to this list? Comment below, it’s free!

11950835_10101888177045093_568277467_n From my LSA4 Writing lesson, students wrote an online review of a restaurant and “posted” them on Yelp. Afterwards they read each others and “liked” their favourite.

Delta Module 2 Week 2: The Going Gets Tougher

Dzień Dobry, Wrocław calling!

11695785_10101823046477273_5051946845036992849_n We’ve just finished week 2 here at IH Wrocław and things have definitely reached a more frenetic pace. I have been told and reassured however that after this week, things get more manageable. During this week we have completed or Professional Development Assignment (PDA) Stage 2, Finished all of our Developmental lessons, and been tasked with our first Language Systems Assignment. If it seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. During the day there are input sessions from 12-3 and we’re observing our colleagues from 4-6 (or 6:15-8:15 for group 2). So there’s really not a lot of time to focus on incorporating the input sessions into your actual lessons just yet, I hope the idea is that we’ll have time before our first assessed lesson next week but we shall see.

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So far we’ve had input sessions on lesson shapes (TTT & PPP), clarifying and analysing target language, and phonology. Fridays are our 1-1 tutorials with our tutors to discuss our LSA’s and general feedback.

I have to say the workload is overwhelming. I haven’t had to write anything academic since I finished my MA 5 years ago, so switching gears is a bit of a shock to the system. Fortunately all of the candidates are supportive of each other, and we spend some of our (very) limited down time sharing lesson ideas, journal articles, and resources with each other. And of course there’s always the moral support over a glass of wine at the end of the day. It’s nice to be in a community of professionals who are passionate about learning and teaching!

I was asked last week by @anthonyash “What were you expecting?” To be honest, I thought it would be more experimental and lesson planning would be more hands on. I imagined lesson jamming and really pushing the boundaries of teaching. The lesson jamming hasn’t happened yet, but my boundaries have been pushed in other ways. The course is really more about making you a solid, proficient teacher. I was expecting to have to come up with lessons á la Thornbury or Judy Gilbert, but that’s simply not the case. Like I mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time on the basic lesson shapes, so the idea is to have a good pedagogical grounding rather than collecting more bells and whistles (though sometimes there are bells and whistles!).