Doing the Distance DELTA: My Yearlong Journey to Power-Up my Teaching Practice

I haven’t had much time to write here recently, and part of that is due to the Distance DELTA.

Just this past month, I’ve gone to the moon and back with teacher development. I video-recorded three of my lessons for feedback from a teacher trainer; submitted detailed lesson plans including aims, objectives, and assessments; wrote an analytical background essay on the various uses of the present perfect; observed and reviewed 10 hours of other teachers’ classes; and spent a lot of time fidgeting with technology and having anxiety over video upload speed here in Benin. Combined with my current teaching and admin position here at the university, my schedule has been a balancing act and more. 

What is the DELTA?

The DELTA, or the Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), is a graduate-level qualification designed by the University of Cambridge. Offered globally and virtually by various training institutions, this intensive developmental program is for teachers who already have an initial teaching qualification (CELTA or TEFL) and have 2+ years of experience under their belt.

The course is divided into three modules, which can be be taken separately or as part of an integrated distance program (which is what I’m doing):

  1. The first module is called “Understanding Language, Methodology and Resources for Teaching,” which is pretty straightforward. In order to be a good English teacher, you need a strong awareness of the English language and teaching field.
  2. The second, “Developing Professional Practice”, is obviously related to developing teaching skills. Throughout the year, I’ll submit a series of recorded lessons as part of this module, as well as receive an external assessor who will come to Benin to observe my classes in person.  What I’m most excited about is the “Experimental Practice” section, where I’ll have to implement and reflect on a new technique or approach that I have never used before in the classroom. Concepts such as guided discovery, implicit grammar teaching, the silent way, and dogme all come to mind as potential projects. 
  3. The third module allows you to choose a “specialism” and dive deeper into a subject that interests you. This can result in a research project that you can use to design a future course. I plan to complete the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) specialism, with a focus on training students in self-directed learning methods. If it’s not already apparent from some of my other blog posts, I love reflecting on self-directed learning.

Why am I taking the DELTA? 

Good teaching is necessary in all professions, and I want to sharpen this skill to the highest possible level for whatever field I eventually end up in. In my past two years of ESOL teaching, I’ve worked alongside wonderful and teachers, but I never really had the opportunity to be coached and critiqued on my teaching practice. Even from my first few recorded lessons, my DELTA tutor really challenged me to question how I present myself as a teacher, why I choose certain activities or methodologies in my lessons, and how I communicate various concepts. 

Secondly, I’m interested in improving my language awareness, or as Scott Thornbury describes, “explicit knowledge about language.” Native English speakers such as myself understand our language intuitively and implicitly, but not everyone is aware of the linguistic systems behind what they say in everyday life. Knowing about language will help me better communicate with others. And as an aspiring conference interpreter/translator, it goes without saying that mastery of my “A Language” is essential

This semester, I’m responsible for teaching and designing two full courses: General English for 3rd year Bachelor’s students and Applied English (Business and Academic) for Master’s students. This is also the first time where I am in charge of teaching entire classes by myself, as opposed to being a teaching assistant or individual tutor. I just finished designing and managing a two-week intensive English course full of activities that many students reported as highly enjoyable: intensive listening strategies;  digital literacy and QWERTY typing skills; interviews on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; TED Talks with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Patrick Awuah; practicing relative pronouns for circumlocution; filling out mad libs to review parts of speech; and listening to Tupak, Miriam Makeba, and John Coltrane. 

On the flip side, the prep time required to design four hours of instruction per day took up all of my free time. Don’t get me wrong— I love lesson planning, but there is SO MUCH that goes on behind the scenes of a well-thought-out lesson. So as someone who still feels slightly under-qualified for this job, having the support and advice of other online DELTA participants (not to mention an entire online library of teaching and curricular resources) has been a lifesaver. 

The Final Day of English Camp for Master’s Students

One of my biggest question has to do with the objective of the curriculum. While the administration is very open to how the English lecturers’ courses are taught, this leaves a lot of wiggle room— such that there is no unifying curriculum in the English department. Combined with the transient nature of my one-year fellowship position, it’s quite possible that student cohorts from different years receive varying (and perhaps inconsistent) content and approaches.   

What is the true goal of the ”Advanced English” course? Some have told me that it prepares students for the TOEFL/GRE, while others say it’s to ensure students are ”good in English” for their classes. While these are both valid objectives, how exactly do they translate into course syllabi, lesson plans, and assessments? How can the curriculum be improved to be more streamlined and make sure new cohorts of students receive the highest quality instruction possible? Is it even necessary for the English curriculum be streamlined, or am I trying to solve an issue that won’t really matter in the long run after I leave?

And of course, the ethical question always remains: is this one-year fellowship program— formed on the partnership between a U.S. American nonprofit and a Pan-African institution of higher learning— the best use of time, resources, and capital for all parties involved? In our English department, my official title is the “Lead English Lecturer,” while at the same time, there are two Beninese part-time faculty members who have taught here for far longer than I have. I mean… I’m teaching my own course at the university level without a graduate degree, something which is nearly unheard of in the States. A student even asked me how I became a professor at such a young age. Well for starters, I’m not a professor at all. I suspect this has a lot to do with my privilege as a native English speaker and a college-educated U.S. American citizen, among other things.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing a lot of my reflections on the program. While I have a good feeling that my DELTA journey will directly improve the quality of my teaching and the learning experiences of my students, I can only wonder if my reflections can lead to the long-term, sustainable impact I’ve always hoped for. 

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