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Perspectives on further development: the DELTA, or how I got out of a rut I didn’t know I was in

change v1 Perspectives on further development:  the DELTA, or how I got out of a rut I didnt know I was inLooking back at my own career it’s struck me that there were a number of turning points that enabled me to take a fresh look at what I do, to feel I’m starting on a new path and moving in a new direction that will keep me from getting bored and jaded. Those turning points varied widely: moving to a new country (in my case USA to Japan to Hungary); taking on a new position (from EFL teacher to teacher trainer to department manager to coursebook writer); and pursuing further training in the form of a training course–in my case namely the Cambridge DTEFLA, now the DELTA. While changing countries and getting a promotion is not within the immediate reach of every English teacher, pursuing further training is. And as a one-time Diploma candidate and a trainer on the course since 1995, I can say why it is that the DELTA can influence one’s career more than almost any other step one can take voluntarily.

When I did my Cambridge Diploma course, I had been teaching for a few years, had taught in three countries, and was still madly enthusiastic about teaching.  I felt that I was a good teacher and my students seemed to think so as well. I was completely unaware however that I was functioning in an extremely narrow range when it came to methodology–I was doing the same thing in the same way, because that’s what I knew, because it felt good, and it seemed to work.  I thought I was in a groove but I was in a rut, or at least heading that way.

Then in my second year at IH Budapest, where I’d come to teach in 1991 after a few years in Japan, some of thesenior people (the Director of Studies, the Head of Teacher Training, etc.) gently suggested it was a good time in my career to do the Cambridge Diploma course (then DTEFLA, now DELTA).  IH Budapest was then setting up its Diploma programme, and I signed up on the very first course here.  The trainers and the training process did more to broaden my views and understanding of teaching/learning, as well as my repertoire of techniques and approaches, than any other step I’ve taken in my career. And it’s not hard to see why.

One component of the Dip is being observed–not a circumstance that every teacher relishes but one that can have a dramatic effect on one’s teaching, particularly when the observer understands teacher development.  My trainer took the approach of validating what I did (“That was good/great” or “That worked really well”) and then offering me an option or two (“…and you could also do it this way or that way” or “…Sometimes I like to X instead…”).  Those options were seeds he planted in my head, seeds that grew organically into my teaching– He wasn’t trying to fit me into a box or get me to tick boxes or the like.  The Cambridge DELTA, even with its detailed criteria for Dip-level teaching–the criteria one needs to meet to pass an assessment–  maintains a view of successful teaching that focuses on learner progress and achievement, and there are many ways that a teacher can promote that progress. The training promotes reflective practice that enables one to develop rapidly and dynamically. DELTA training is about learning options, different ways of promoting learning; it’s NOT about doing things in a particular way.

In addition to being observed, we also met once a week for ‘input’ (my course was an extensive, run over an 8 month period).  Spending three hours a week discovering new ideas, being challenged, and learning about language learning in the company of 11 peers in the profession and under the tutelage of an experienced trainer (and teacher) was refreshing, stimulating and very often fun. The sessions involved demonstrations of techniques and approaches that were new to us all, often heated discussion and debate about the learning process and how the teacher can influence and guide this, and reflections on our own developing practice.

The DELTA as it has evolved requires a considerable amount of work from the candidate, in the form of reading, research and writing, along with lesson planning and teaching.  In any format it has the intensity and much of the content that one would find on a Masters course, with perhaps greater emphasis on the practical side of things.  A DELTA candidate comes away from the course with a broader repertoire of techniques and activities and a better understanding of the theory and ideas that inform those techniques and activities.

I’ve spent most of my 25+ years in ELT as a trainer, and much of that focusing on in-service training in the Cambridge DELTA framework.  I’ve seen hundreds of candidates undertake the training, most not only surviving but flourishing both on and after the course. One of the most interesting things to me is the shift in demographics in terms of who takes the course. In my first few years it was nearly all IH Budapest teachers, most of them native English speakers. As time has gone by, we’ve seen more and more non- native speakers (and more non-IH teachers) on the course, to the point where most candidates fit the latter profile.  What’s most interesting about this is what it has meant for candidates’ careers post-DELTA:  where once it was almost solely a key step up the career ladder in the IH network, a prerequisite to being a Trainer or a Director of Studies (or perhaps a Senior Teacher at a British Council English Centre), now a great many candidates use the DELTA as a springboard to other kinds of positions. We’ve seen our recent ‘graduates’–again, mostly non-native speakers–move on to exciting positions all over the world, working on ministry-funded projects in Malaysia, becoming a trainer on EAP courses in the UK, working as an advocate for equality in the profession, moving into a university position in the Middle East, and yes, becoming a Director of Studies at one of the many International House language centres.

No, the DELTA’s not for everyone. One needs to be open to being challenged, one needs to have the capacity for a significant workload of reading and writing, and one needs a level of dedication and commitment that will get one through the tough bits. It might not be for you… but perhaps it is.

Steve Oakes

 

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