Monday, 30 April 2012

One year on: My post Delta life

Board Work: Must dust down my action plan...

Last April, I embarked on a nine month journey towards ELT enlightenment: the DELTA course. Just over a year later seems as good a moment as any to reflect on how this experience has shaped me and my teaching.

Last April, I travelled to London to take part in the two week DELTA distance learning orientation course at International House. I have never felt as much of a yokel as I did on that sweltering spring evening at  Kings Cross Underground Station, tears welling up in my eyes as I struggled to figure out the Oyster card vending machine. 

I remained on the verge of tears throughout that first day in International House, as my cohort and I were subjected to what seemed like an endless barrage of acronyms: none of which I’d met before. LSAs, RSAs, LPs all sounded meaninglessly in my head. Everyone else seemed to be nodding knowingly, and making erudite contributions which hinted at years of experience in exotic locations at prestigious institutions.  Oh, what had I done? 

Day Two was an improvement. Although the many acronyms still baffled me, I began to feel the benefit of all the pre-course reading I had done before leaving Shetland. My cohort was fantastic, and the small teaching group I worked with, asides from being great fun, were the most supportive and generous people I could have hoped to meet. By the time my first observed lesson was in the bag, I was beginning to think that I might just get through the two weeks alive. Unfortunately, it was not just a case of surviving the fortnight.  What came next was infinitely harder: returning to “real life” in Shetland, and suddenly being faced with the task of reconciling an almost weekly deadline to family life and my day job (well, evening job in my case.) When I closed my eyes at the end of a long hard day, the course time table seemed stamped behind my eyelids: deadlines looming large and stretching to infinity. 

The distance diploma course is equivalent in length to a pregnancy, and the Delta was similar in many ways to my own ante natal experience. In the first three months I felt sick and fairly crabbit for a lot of the time. In my second DELTA trimester, I worried constantly and scanned the forums anxiously, seeking consolation in airing and sharing my doubts with peers.  Sleep eluded me, and I got into the habit of fixing myself midnight snacks.  On the homeward run, December the 7th (my exam date) assumed a mythical significance in my brain: it would be the end of a journey, but also the beginning of a new one. Afterwards, there were cards and flowers and people telling me my life would never be the same again. 

Well, I can honestly say that embarking on the DELTA journey was well worth the effort despite the curve it has added to my spine, courtesy of all these hours spent hunched over a computer.  When I started out, I’m not sure if I realised how life changing it would be. My teaching has improved immeasurably: my lessons have a focus that was missing before, and my ability to answer learners’ questions on language has increased ten fold. Most importantly, my DELTA year afforded me the opportunity to assess my teaching values. The year enabled me to pin point not only the areas in which I needed to improve, but to recognise my strengths, and to affirm my belief in the whys of my teaching practice.

While I am one hundred per cent convinced of the many benefits that the DELTA has afforded me, I have to be wary of what Thornbury has termed as returning to my “default setting.” I am an untidy, chaotic person, and this is reflected in my board work. My local tutor repeatedly flagged this up in observations, and I smiled, nodded, and in the heat of the next  lesson,  forgot all about it- until the final (scary) external lesson observation where I concentrated on the board work to such an extent that I was almost in danger of ignoring what was going on in the class! 

One year on is, indeed, a good time to take stock of all I have learned. It may also be time to blow the dust off my final RSA and revisit these targets!

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