Oscillating wildly

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What a year it’s been. Busy, stressful, frustrating, disappointing and very much varying in quality. For those that didn’t know, I completed both part 1 and part 2 of the DELTA this academic year. It wasn’t planned, as I had originally wanted to spend a year reading and gearing up for it, but the chance was offered and I took it.

At this current moment in time my feelings about the course are mixed, but I’m not afraid to admit that they are mostly negative although I feel that it might be far too early to comment on the course as a whole. Firstly, because I don’t have the results from either module and secondly, I simply haven’t had the time to process everything and the opportunity to put it all into practice.

What I would like to talk about is the effect that doing a course like the DELTA, which is designed to take you beyond the CELTA level of teaching and “elevate your career to the next level”, had on my teaching this year. The effect was that my teaching was all over the place, ranging from barely registered interest and the need to just get through the lesson to full on lesson plan and incorporating new techniques and ideas from that days DELTA input session.  It was difficult to get any kind of rhythm going and any idea of establishing routines within my classes disappeared as soon as they were started. All I could think about was the DELTA, my essays, what hoops I needed to jump through next and when it was going to finish. I couldn’t sleep, I stopped exercising and lost the majority of my weekends to study. I’m not sure I was a great person to be around for most of the time.

Ultimately, I have been left with the feeling that I have let the majority of my students down and failed to use this year as another advancement in my teaching career. A plateau if you like, but one with no shelter and no significant point of reference in order to move forwards and upwards. Where to go next?

To begin with, back to basics. A focus on the four main skills, with equal measure. Bringing writing back in from the cold and making listening a main player. Grammar is now officially taking a back seat. While doing the DELTA I pushed myself to concentrate on the skills I was weakest in and by doing so my eyes were opened to just how neglected writing and listening were in my classes, more importantly it highlighted how my students were suffering from the lack of focus on these skills.

Grammar is the bane of the staff room where I work. All I hear is teachers talking about the grammar point that they taught and need to teach before the exam. This is interspersed with the whining about how the students still haven’t got the hang of the present perfect or the passive or what ever the hell they were being taught. And I have to hold my tongue not to shout out and tell them that it’s the first time they have seen it, give them a break! Did you really expect them to understand, process and then produce mixed conditionals in one lesson, or for that matter after 3 lessons? And yet they feel as though they need to hammer away at it because it’s coming up on the test. I have never heard a teacher in my staff room talk about a skilled based lesson, doing a task based lesson or focusing purely on vocabulary or collocation.

So my classes will be different, look different and feel different. If I can get away with barely touching the coursebook for the first few weeks, I will. Then, once we really get going the coursebook will only be a springboard for discussion and any kind of grammar sections and exercises can be left for homework. Grammar will be dealt with as and when it comes up in class. That’s what my W/B is for and that’s what I get paid to do. Grammar will be constant yet always in the background. And, when the students inevitably complain about not doing enough grammar in class, as they have been indoctrinated to do so, I will point to the W/B and say, “Behold! We were doing it all along!”

But what about the exams, I hear you cry!

“Screw the exams!” (A.Beale, 2014)

 

I will make my own exams, based entirely on what has been happening in class. The main section of the exam won’t be made up of the grammar and vocabulary covered in sequential order in the book. Vocabulary that will probably never be used again and grammar points which the students are unable to use beyond sentence level. The four skills will take front and centre. I will design my own speaking assessment, because, and you might want to sit down for this, the school I work at doesn’t actually require us to give the students a speaking assessment. In fact, I remember one of my students this year who, knowing that the end of term exam was coming, asked, “Do we have a speaking assessment?” to which I replied, “No, but I have been assessing you the whole term.” Her reaction was to fist pump and audibly breathe a sigh of relief. It was almost as if she knew she would fail. Yet, she had made it this far through the system and will continue to do so.

I feel as though I should stop there, before I rant  say too much. I’m not sure why I wrote this, but it felt good doing it and I’m glad I have laid down a marker for myself. I will undoubtedly come under some sort of criticism from somewhere and I’m likely to get into trouble at work, but as long as I can arrive at this time next year and be able to say without doubt that I didn’t let my students down and I gave them a different and valuable learning experience, I will happily take the flak.

N.B – Thank you to all of the people who have followed the blog over the last year. Sorry I haven’t been able to write as much as I would have liked. I will be breaking for the summer now but I aim to be back in the saddle come October next year. Stick with it and I will make it worth your while.

 

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13 thoughts on “Oscillating wildly

  1. Well, you are not making life very easy for yourself… But I udnerstand your concerns. I think a reasonable balance between grammar plus the skills is always an option to just concentrating on skills as opposed to concentrating on grammar only. Good luck!

  2. Hi! I found your page through ELT Rants Review’s Reflections.

    Thanks for posting this! Your comments on the teachers in the staff room brought to mind something I’d read in John Taylor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down:

    “After thirty years in the business, I can honestly say that I have NEVER ONCE heard an extended conversation about children or about teaching theory in any teachers’ room I’ve been in.”

    He was an English teacher in New York City. Though he wasn’t, strictly speaking, an EFL/ESL teacher, he was in the trenches of teaching. At least you’re hearing SOMETHING about teaching, even if it standard stuff about testing.

    You’re also right to note that learning takes time. And if the students don’t get practice, then they won’t learn it. My experiences with learning Korean have been like this: Some stuff sticks right away and some stuff doesn’t. Or for that matter, it took me years (and a second reading) to understand The Joy Luck Club. It just takes time.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry for such a long delay in replying.

      Yes, while it’s good to have some sort of conversation in the classroom I still feel there could be more. Especially, more constructive and supportive dialogue which actually leads to change. Maybe it is just a matter of asking the right questions and getting teachers to reflect more rather than simply nodding and saying ” I know how you feel”.

  3. Hi Adam,
    Thanks for sharing this post. I understand exactly how you feel, as that was very much my experience of my Delta year too. I felt very sorry for a lot of my students who had to put up with my lessons while I was going through the downs.
    Since I’ve finished, I’ve had time for things to sink in, and there are definitely a lot of things which have changed, particularly (as you say) with more of a focus on skills. Grammar and vocabulary haven’t gone away, but I’ve shifted the way I deal with them: vocabulary is a lot more ‘lexical approach’ with more of a focus on collocations and chunks, while my grammar teaching has been very influenced by Lewis…so much so that it’ll probably be the topic of my IATEFL presentation if I can work out what I want to say about it.
    I hope that module 3 treats you better than the first two did, and that your results are what you wanted.
    If you’d like to join in with the Delta conversations series on my blog, I’d be honoured to have you: http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/category/delta-2/delta-conversations/
    Sandy

    • Hi Sandy,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad I was not alone in feeling the way I did. I’m glad to report that the feeling of negativity has lifted somewhat and I am feeling productive and already looking forward to the next teaching year. A chance to really put everything into perspective.

      I must also add a very big thank you for your excellent blog based around your own DELTA work. My colleagues and I on the course all benefitted from you sharing your work and experience, and it was invaluable to all of us. Thank you.

      • Hi Adam,
        I’m very happy to hear that you’re feeling more positive now. The more distance I have between me and my Delta, the better I feel about it 😉
        Glad to hear that my blog was useful too, and if you have anything you’d like to add to it, I’d be happy to host it! 🙂
        Sandy

  4. Wow – such openness and courage to get it all out. I appreciated reading your blog post (so glad I’ve subscribed to your blog and get the emails). When I finished my MA in TESOL, I really wanted to go ahead and do the DELTA because I felt it could give me more of a practical view into teaching. I’ve always had this impression that the DELTA can be a wonderful experience to become a better teacher, but since I started working here in Turkey, I’ve heard many negative comments about it. I’ve brushed them off because they generally come from teachers that aren’t really into PD and they’re mixed with negative feelings about politics here, but perhaps there’s some truth to it.

    Do you think having been an experienced teacher made the DELTA experience harder? Looking for a better adjective here, but what I mean is that I think I would have a harder time following textbooks or prescribed lesson plans now, but I when I started teaching it was a useful thing to do. Umm. What part of the DELTA was most useful to you?

    • Hi Laura,

      Thank you for the comment and subscribing to the blog. Sorry for the late reply, I have just returned from holiday.

      That’s a very good question. I think if you were a fairly novice teacher and did the DELTA after an initial two or three year period of experience, the DELTA would definitely feel like an extension of the CELTA. Lesson plans, written feedback etc etc. Now that I look at it I suppose that the way that I teach is quite different to what Cambridge expect of you on the DELTA and I actually found myself going back to basics in order to conform to what was expected of me, so in a sense yes it did have an effect. If I had the chance to do module two again, I would certainly be truer to myself and try to impose my personal teaching style more onto the observed lessons.
      The input sessions on module two were the most useful part of the entire course. I was lucky to have such good tutors who all bought their own style to the course.
      It’s interesting that you mention that you did an MA in TESOL as I have been looking at an MA in ELT, that has been set up by Southampton University and British Council. It looks very interesting and I am hoping to get onto the course next year. I am interested to see the difference between this and the DELTA, although I have been informed there is some overlap.
      I hope this answers your question and that you find the rest of the blog and future posts useful. Feel free to contact me with any other questions about the DELTA.
      Adam

    • Hi Laura,
      I’m going to do a bit of shameless self-promotion here (sorry Adam!), in the hope that it might help you decide about whether you want to do Delta or not. I started the Delta conversations series, where I interview people who’ve done the Delta in various different contexts and combinations, for just the reason – to help people make an informed decision about whether/how to do it.
      http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/category/delta-2/delta-conversations/
      Most of the people I know who did Module 2 found it a great experience, although if you’ve just done an MA, I don’t know whether that would still be the case.
      Hope it helps!
      Sandy

      • Hi Sandy,

        Your Delta conversations series is a far more balanced view than my own biased and singular version. I would recommend it to Laura too.

        Adam

  5. Thank you Sandy and Adam! I’ll put my jetlag to use and read those posts now 🙂 I’ve been teaching for over 7 yrs, but I haven’t had many observations (aside from the teaching practicum) and I’ve always felt the DELTA could be useful in fine tuning some parts of my teaching that I’m not too happy about, e.g., approach to teaching grammar and vocabulary.

  6. Hi Adam, and congratulations on getting through it all! I’m reading your post the day before the last day of my intensive delta course (module 3, then 2, now 1). Although I’m glad I got it all done in one go (hopefully for good) I’ve been wondering how different it would feel to do it extensively, especially as I’ve been feeling kind of negative towards the course, especially the exam, and how it relates to real life teaching practice. I’m aware that it’s probably because I’m tired of studying, and I might feel differently in a couple of months, but it’s reassuring to read that others also felt like they were jumping through hoops at times. Thanks for sharing!

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