How was the Dip?
A personal reflection on the DELTA
The letter was lying on the kitchen table, and the postcode said Cambridge and when I opened it I finally found out that the Diploma was over.
Long before that, though, I'd gone through a round of summer school interviews on arriving back in the UK, and the one question that was always asked was "How was the Dip?" And (strangely?) the tone of voice wasn't one expecting a positive answer, although it seemed to be one with a genuine desire to know.
I haven't really had time to reflect on my answer until now, so I developed a stock answer that started "It hasn't really changed my teaching much, but........." So now I begin to ask myself "Has it actually changed my teaching?" and "If not, can there actually be a but?"
"Has it changed my teaching?"
- I now always write my aims on the board.
Aside from that, it's more changed my attitude to teaching:
- Trying to cram all that stuff into 60 minutes has made me realise I can definitely do more with 90 than I did before by simply considering it two 45-minute periods.
- The whole process of researching a lesson, doing it and feedbacking on it has given me more of an analytical approach to lessons I don't think went right.
- Writing class profiles has made me look more closely at how individual students are doing in class.
- I polished up my knowledge of the language and got more into the habit of referring back to "..........." etc. with any doubts.
- I have more confidence.
And while I'm looking on the bright side,
"What were the best parts of the Dip?"
- The pre-reading I did, most of all Sound Foundations. I had many a happy hour on my balcony going "aaaaaaeeeeeeoooooouuuuuuu", trying to make an original vowel sound.
- The extended assignment, where you test and analyse a student's language needs. I put this off for the whole course and then liked it most of all. Since then the whole approach has come in useful, especially in 1 to 1 classes.
- I did a couple of my lessons on Cambridge exam classes, and I really enjoyed analysing them in detail. I now feel really confident in saying "This is what you need to pass the exam."
- Researching and writing essays (Part Ones), especially when I got on a roll. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of it, and it was that experience that has prompted me to write this - my first article.
- Meeting a great bunch of teachers.
"And what were the worst?"
- Being always told to "make your Part Ones less theoretical". Were we supposed to be learning something or just rehashing what we knew?
- Little credit or encouragement being given for experimentation. It seemed possible to justify and churn out your top five lessons and pass.
- Waiting so long for the result.
- Not being prepared for any of the things people usually actually do after the Dip, i.e. teacher training and EFL management.
- Similarly, as a Director of Studies I would wonder what the value of someone doing the diploma would be to my school, as what you get is a stressed out teacher and little in the way of lasting improvements to the school.
- Most of the handouts we were given being from the 1980s. Hasn't EFL learnt anything since then?
- A couple of topics, such as "International Englishes".
- Reading books on testing (or trying to).
- Not enough time to exchange teaching ideas with the other teachers.
- Cutting essays down to size (especially when I'd been on a roll).
And surprisingly bearable....
- The stress. It was just enough to motivate me, but without any actual grey hairs. IF I'd failed a couple of things early on, though, I guess it would have tipped into unbearable.
- The exam. You don't need to know everything about the language "in case it comes up". It's quite possible to analyse the language on the spot, so it's well worth practising this skill. Learning stuff can't hurt, of course.
"Would you recommend it?"
Certainly, in fact it can't have been that bad because I'm thinking about doing an MA. Here though are some words of advice...
Some words of advice for Dippers and prospective Dippers
- Do as much pre-reading as you can. Vital reads are Sound Foundations and About Language, as well as a book on Discourse Analysis.
- Make sure you study these books, not just read them on the bus!
- For this, start with a good book on how to study, e.g. Use Your Head.
- But if you don't have time, don't panic, because all you need will be in your notes and handouts.
- Generally, don't panic. Just put PLENTY of time aside. Reckon on every Saturday or every other weekend, plus time for revision. If you get ahead, give yourself some time off.
- The best time to do the Dip is when you're starting to coast and you need something to give yourself just a little boost of interest and motivation (which it does). If you are struggling with your teaching spend a year pre-reading, peer-observing and going to every conference and course you can.
And while I'm at it,
Some words of advice for course providers
- Make sure the materials are up to date.
- Emphasize the importance of pre-reading, and rank the recommendations so that the really busy know what the top 3 or top 10 are.
- Ask for (written) feedback. This will be my first, and that makes me disinclined to recommend the centre where I did mine.
- Better not to give a course timetable than not to stick to it.
- You could try organising extra days (and space) where teachers can get together to swap concrete teaching ideas, for Diploma observations or lessons in general.
Some words of advice for the examiners
- Speed up the results process. If IELTS results can be given so quickly, why not ours?
- I think the DELTA needs a website where people can swap ideas and advice. I don't see why it couldn't even have a database of lesson plans from previous Dippers.
As the title suggests, this is only a personal reflection but I hope somebody finds it of use. I also hope that a forum does emerge where views can be asked for and shared.
© Alex Case 2001Alex Case has worked as a Teacher, Teacher Trainer and Director of Studies in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, UK and Japan; and runs the TEFLtastic blog.