How to Get Through Your DELTA Course

It was during my first year teaching English in an academy in Madrid when I first heard about the Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (in other words, the DELTA course). I was fresh off getting my CELTA teacher certification, which is the initial course you need to take to teach English abroad. Before I’d even considered the DELTA course, I had already felt like the CELTA course had been tough. The DELTA sounded even tougher. 

My fellow teaching colleagues spoke of the late nights, stress, and overwhelm that they endured during the course. Some complained about the heavy workload and pressure of lesson observations. Others bemoaned the fact that their social life had gone out of the window. Some even spoke about losing their hair due to the high stress of it all!

DELTA Surprises in Store

Needless to say, as a new English teacher, these descriptions did not seem very appealing to me. “You won’t catch me doing that DELTA course”, I used to think to myself. “Not a chance!” So it came as a surprise to me, when five years into my teaching career, I suddenly felt that doing the DELTA course was the next step I needed to take. By that time I already had a lot of teaching experience under my belt and it felt like the moment to throw myself into a new challenge. The idea of studying again and furthering my skills appealed to me. So, I did the very thing I never thought I would and enrolled in the course. 

However, far from being a nightmare experience, I actually enjoyed it! For me, those nine months, whilst being challenging and difficult at times, turned out to be very fulfilling. Even my boss noticed how much of a breeze it had been for me, commenting one day that “out of all the years that you have worked here, this DELTA year hasn’t been your most stressful”. And he was right! Not only that, but I graduated from the course with a Merit, something that isn’t so easy to achieve. 

Tips for Success 

So what was my secret to getting through the DELTA and thriving rather than barely surviving? Read on to find out!

Accept That You Won’t Have Much of a Social Life This Year

The DELTA is a lot of work packed into a short space of time. The idea that you can maintain a busy social life at the same time is a delusion. During my DELTA year, I noticed that those who suffered the most during the course were those who resisted this inevitable reality and thought that they could work and play in equal amounts. The truth is, you can’t, as they soon found out when they were stressed, unhappy, and not getting the results they wanted.

Instead, it is better to follow the lead of those who accepted their unsociable fate and made their DELTA studies a priority. In my experience, they were calmer, more centred, and able to take it all in their stride. Their lack of inner resistance allowed them to suffer less and waste less energy complaining. Therefore they were more productive, got work done faster, and went out for drinks more. So it pays to accept the situation as it is — you may be able to go to that party after all! 

Make Time to Look After Yourself

Whilst it is true that you need to prioritise your studies, it is also vital that you schedule time for self-care. I have seen so many people work so hard that they burn themselves out. They end up doing worse than they would have done if they had just taken an hour out to walk in the park, meditate, or do something creative. 

When I was doing my DELTA, my yoga class was non-negotiable, as was my morning meditation practice, regardless of how much work I had. When people asked me how I got through my DELTA so well, my response was always the same: yoga and mediation!  

Whilst it is true that these things might not be for everyone, I think it is absolutely vital to engage in something every day that feeds you on the inside and keeps your inner tank filled up. That way you can get through your DELTA without the same spiritual exhaustion that so many burn out from, and, instead, get through it with a sense of wellbeing rather than stress.

This also goes for making sure you are feeding yourself adequately! Pot noodles and a diet of pasta and pesto will not support your energy levels sufficiently. Take the time to cook good meals for yourself and you will feel the benefit.

Be Authentic in Your Lesson Observations

For most teachers, the most stressful part of the DELTA is the lesson observations. No one likes feeling like they are being watched at the best of times, let alone when the person watching you is scribbling down notes every few minutes. My advice to you is this: just be yourself. Don’t try to be something that you are not or put on a show.  After all, how can you focus on delivering a good lesson, if you are trying to keep up an act? 

By all means, prepare thoroughly for your observations. You should do run-throughs with other classes and even rehearse the parts you feel most nervous about. However, on the day itself, just relax, be yourself, and try to enjoy it. The students and the examiner will notice your authenticity, which will make everyone enjoy it more, including you. So ditch the preconceived ideas of how a teacher should be and just be who you are. It will definitely pay off.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Whilst sharing resources is common practice in English teaching, during your DELTA year, make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Any kind of competition between you and your fellow classmates is only going to cause you to put more pressure on yourself, leading to more stress and anxiety.

Constant comparison will also have an adverse effect on your confidence levels, leading to insecurity and self-doubt. This in turn will cause you to be less self-assured, which could affect your performance in the classroom. Instead, just focus on doing your best, and don’t waste your time worrying about how well others are doing. Put your all into your studies and you can be satisfied with the result, come what may. Your best really is enough and it is important to remember that.

Keep Perspective

Whilst you obviously need to put your all into your DELTA studies if you really want to see good results, it’s also important to keep perspective. This is not a life or death situation (although it might seem like it at times). Yes, you paid a lot of money, so you naturally want to do well. However, to kill yourself with stress and worry is simply not worth it. Keep perspective of what is important: learning, growing, improving your professional skills, and the sense of achievement you will feel once you have finished. 

The grades and results won’t matter much in the end anyway, so why get so caught up in the details? Just focus on getting through the course and coming out the other side feeling satisfied and proud of what you have achieved.

Final Thoughts

Getting through the DELTA course is an achievement in itself. It requires courage to take on such a big challenge and I commend those who dare to do so. If you follow the advice in this article, I am confident that getting through the DELTA can be an enriching experience for you, just as it was for me. It is just a question of how you handle yourself, your time, and your priorities. Good luck!

Olivia Grundyby Olivia Grundy

What It’s Like Teaching English in Cambodia

by Edmond Gagnon

Michael CarterIn the first part of Michael Carter’s interview, he told us how and why he chose Cambodia as his new home. He targeted Southeast Asia but did not have a particular country when he first decided to come. Then, he visited a friend he’d made from Germany who was living in Cambodia. Seeing Cambodia’s gorgeous atmosphere and rich culture, he immediately applied for a job there and the rest is history. 

Here is the second part of his interview teaching English in Cambodia.

What is a typical day at your school like? 

“A typical teaching day for me begins at 7:40 a.m. and finishes at 4:10 p.m. Many schools run early evening classes as well, but not where I currently work. There is a long gap between morning and afternoon classes, between 10:30 a.m. and 1:20 p.m.). This is mainly to coincide with typical hours of Khmer schools. Most students study for a half-day at Khmer school. Students from wealthy families who can afford English schools spend the other half of their day there.”

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

The place I work employs a lot of people for various duties. There are probably about fifty to sixty teachers on staff. The day is divided into six classes — three before and three after midday. I teach anywhere from four to six classes a day, which adds up to twenty-four teaching hours per week. Most schools here use a twenty to thirty hour teaching week as a base. Notably, the afternoon classes do not have the same students as the morning.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

Teaching English in Cambodia“I tend to work independently most of the time. This is partly because I am the only one teaching the courses I do teach (i.e. sociology and psychology). But for other subjects, there are typically three teachers teaching the same thing and they often share ideas and materials. We also have a computer database where teachers can store and access lesson plans or worksheets that have been shared.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

 “Quitting time — 4:10 p.m. Reasons are obvious I would think.”

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

“I think most schools are looking for similar teaching styles, but I certainly would say it’s student-centered. We are meant to keep the TTT (Teacher Talking Time) to an absolute minimum. Group work and pair work are preferable to independent studying. Encourage learner interaction and incorporate critical thinking into the activities whenever possible. I create a lot of supplementary material and often look for short video segments on YouTube which may add another dimension to the lesson.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

One of many city temples“You can’t always stick to a lesson plan to the last detail, but you should have something planned anyway. Sometimes the timing can be tricky, but you don’t want to have flat or inactive moments.”

I always plan some type of warmer (five to ten minutes) to bring the learners on board. This doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the material in the lesson. It could simply be a short competition of some kind. The purpose is to grab the attention of your ‘audience’. Think of watching a film at the cinema — or reading a story. The first few minutes of a film are crucial to catch the interest of the viewer, just as a writer needs a ‘hook’ to make the reader want to continue. Teaching isn’t any different. Get their attention, wind them up, and then let them go.

After the warmer, give brief but clear instructions for the class activities. This is your time to teach any new material… but don’t ramble on for too long.

The rest, and longest part of the class must allow students to interact/practice etc. Depending on what you have taught, give a short (five minute) recap/review of the lesson’s key points at the end and assign extra practice (homework) from time-to-time.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes at the school? Describe the ways English is being implemented. 

“Our school is strictly English only. We don’t simply teach English, we teach subjects in English. Of course, they learn their basics of the language there as well. However, they study social sciences, history, geography, computer, sports, etc. — all in English.

There are other schools which do just teach English language as a class, though. These places usually have early evening classes that cater to young adults after work.

Our school operates a Khmer language school as well and some students study half a day at each.”

What are the standards classroom teachers use to measure the performance of their students?

“Testing mainly. I personally think students are tested too often but this is what the Cambodian parents want and expect. We also make a part of their score based on speaking from day-to-day class activities. Once a month they are given a project or assignment connected to what they’ve been studying. A mark is given for this as well.

At the beginner levels, we stress fluency. Once they’ve attained that, the higher levels base their scores on both fluency and accuracy.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

Stone Masons at work

I’ve probably touched upon these already, but in a nutshell:
  • Critical thinking skills. Students need to be able to both think and express their ideas and opinions. It isn’t about simply remembering a lot of facts and formulas.
  • Social skills. Cambodians tend to have tightly-knit families. Unlike in most western countries, teenagers do not go out or just hang out with friends. They almost always go out as a family unit. Group work at school affords them an opportunity to interact with non-family members. Social media is perhaps changing things a bit, but not necessarily in a positive way.
  • Confidence. Unlike some schools, we do not automatically pass everybody in order to continue collecting their money. Pushing a student to a higher level when they are not ready is wrong. Students will soon realize their skills are inferior to others and this will kill their desire to participate. Getting good grades is something wonderful for younger learners to show their parents. Giving some verbal praise from time-to-time can do wonders, especially for older, less confident students.

Looking back at the first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since first being in the classroom this year?

“I have been teaching for around twenty years and for about the first fifteen of those years, I didn’t teach anyone younger than the age of about seventeen or eighteen. It was almost exclusively young adults under thirty. This was both in Indonesia and Cambodia. I now teach kids as young as eleven and twelve and up to the age of seventeen or eighteen. One thing I’ve had to adjust to was having patience dealing with young, wandering attention spans. My partner is Cambodian and we have three young children together so I have become used to this fairly naturally.

Something I’ve known all along but continue to practice is changing up the way I conduct my lessons. Yes, I could replay what I’ve done in the past, though I would find that boring. Keeping things fresh is a key to retaining job interest. Nobody likes a mundane job.”

What It’s Like Teaching English in Cambodia

As you are reading this, Michael is seeking shelter from the 37°C temperatures that don’t normally come until at least a month from now. If you have any questions about teaching English in Cambodia, or the country itself, please don’t hesitate to ask.

How I Traveled to Cambodia and Stayed to Teach

Harold Michael Carter(Harold) Michael Carter was born and raised in Stratford, Ontario. He studied journalism and discovered at an early age his affliction of wanderlust. Michael furthered his education in life by backpacking his way through Europe. The most important thing he learned from traveling was that he needed to do more of it. 

I met Michael through extended family, when we visited Stratford, home of the Shakespeare Theatre. When he wasn’t working as a manager or bartender in town, he shared photographs and stories of his travels abroad. We bonded over beer, wine, good food and tales of far away places.  

He left Canada for Cambodia in January, 2000, using Phnom Penh as a base from which he could explore Southeast Asia. In 2005 he left for Indonesia, where there was plenty of work back then. He managed to travel and visit home in 2006 and then returned to Cambodia in 2007. He still resides, teaches, and travels from Cambodia today. 

I interviewed Michael Carter to offer an insight into how traveling and teaching abroad can turn into a life lived abroad. 

 

Why did you choose to teach in Cambodia?

“I didn’t choose this country in particular, but I did target Southeast Asia. The main reason was that I wanted a base for traveling in this part of the world. I had previously visited Thailand and initially considered moving there. However, I came to Cambodia to visit a German friend who was living here at the time. I applied for a job just for the hell of it and the rest is history.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?

“This was my first teaching job abroad. After roaming the globe for many years, I decided I wanted to base myself some place other than Canada. I was inspired by a writer from Montréal whom I met in the Czech Republic. He was writing and teaching in Prague. I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I want to do — write and travel and be able to financially support this lifestyle.” I had recently severed a relationship and no longer felt ‘tied down.’ I returned to Canada to work for a few months and by the end of the year I was Asia-bound.”

What did you think teaching would be like? Where are you teaching now?

“I thought teaching would be an ideal venue to interact with local people. It was a new venture and was somewhat exciting in the early days. I probably followed the script in the beginning but soon developed my own style. I am currently teaching in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I reside with my family.”

Carter Family

How did you prepare for your teaching job? What steps did you take?

“I knew I would need some sort of certification and so I bunked with a friend in Toronto and took an evening and weekend TESOL course. If giving advice on the matter, today I would suggest taking a month-long CELTA course. TEFL is accepted in Cambodia but the best schools are now looking for CELTA certification.”  

What are your perceptions of Cambodia during your time there?

“Cambodia is an interesting country as it is evolving so rapidly. While many things have improved, many aspects of the country endeared me more when I first set foot here twenty years ago. To be honest, if I just arrived for the first time today, I doubt I would choose to live here. I now have established a family here and so now I will always have one foot here at least. Where would I choose instead of Cambodia? I suppose if I were single and starting over with Southeast Asia in mind, I would choose Vietnam.”

Angkor Wat Cambodia

What are your goals while you are abroad?

“Life long goals continually change. Travel opportunities would have been my initial answer to this. I now have a Cambodian partner and we have three children together. My goal now is to establish a reasonably secure base for them before I retire. At that time, I hope to pick up with my travels again. (With Cambodia as my base — health permitting). I have taught here and in Indonesia and was a whisker away from taking a job in Azerbaijan. However, I no longer have the desire to take a job in another country.”

What has been your most difficult time there?

“Tough question. I really haven’t experienced too many difficulties. I suppose becoming a financial prisoner is the main issue. Teaching pays well in some countries (such as South Korea & Japan), but the cost of living can be high in those countries. The cost of living is relatively low in Cambodia but the average rate of pay for teachers coincides with that. Most teachers can live here comfortably so long as they don’t expect to have any money left over to move on. It’s sort of like collecting a welfare cheque — it pays the bills with not much leftover. The other issue that could become a difficulty is health care. Cambodia is lagging behind other countries in the region in this department. This is not the place to be if one has health problems.”

Royal Palace in Phnom Penh Cambodia

What has been your best experience?

“Although I might not have thought so at the time, I suppose it was when I took on the task of being an adviser to a Cambodian senator who was overseeing the ASEAN conference his country was hosting. That is my best memory from a professional point of view.

From a personal point of view, I would have to say that collectively I have met a lot of interesting people here. This experience has shaped and reshaped my ideas over the years.”

How do you feel about the culture there? Do you feel you have immersed yourself into the culture?

“Cultural differences and cultural sensitivity will always be an interesting, yet sometimes challenging part of the relocation. I lived in Indonesia for a little more than a year and seemed to fit right in. In Cambodia, I found it more perplexing in the beginning. I suppose I will never fully be immersed in this culture because differences always come up with child-rearing strategies for example. My partner and I are often at odds as to how to raise our children. Essentially we have the best interest of the kids in mind but we have very opposing tactics as to how to achieve this. Cambodia is predominantly a Buddhist nation and Buddhism allows for tolerance. It is pretty much live and let live here — even though my ways may seem curious to others and vice-versa.”

Mekong River Phnom Penh

What advice would you give to other participants about their first year? What are some of the things they must do, and things they absolutely must not do?

Bousra Waterfall Cambodia

“My advice may differ from some you might hear, but here goes. Try to find out information about the schools first and then try for a job at the BEST possible school. (Not necessarily best paying, but one with a good reputation and proven record of longevity). Some people might suggest going for any job and making rookie mistakes at a lesser institute and using that as a stepping stone. Bull to that. All you will do is acquire bad habits. Work with the best or don’t work at all.

Arrive with enough money to sustain yourself for at least two to three months. Schools usually pay once or twice a month. Even if you land a job immediately, you won’t see money for at least a month and you will have initial expenses to deal with.

Finding a School

Most reputable schools are not interested in fly-by-nights. Get a place to live as soon as possible — not just a guesthouse address. Many new arrivals have the attitude they will stay in a cheap guesthouse until they find work. My advice is to look like you are serious about staying and provide an address for your potential employer. If you are only looking for a six-month stop-over to collect some travel cash then you could do better looking at a lesser operation with a guesthouse address. But if you seriously want to spend some time in the country, then present yourself as someone who might stick around. No reputable place of employment wants a high turnover rate of employees.

I’ve taught in two countries in Southeast Asia – Indonesia and Cambodia. In both countries, local transportation is relatively cheap but distances between potential employers are often far and quite spread out and transportation costs while job searching will add up quickly. If you have money, consider getting a small motorbike. If not (as was my case), pick up a cheap, used bicycle. You can get one in Phnom Penh for around $35 US. If you’re old school like me, sling a briefcase over your shoulder with your CVs and go from place to place.”

Stay tuned for Edmond Gagnon’s second interview with Michael Carter on how he traveled to teach in Cambodia. They will be sharing more great adventures with his experiences at his school. To find out more about Edmond Gagnon, visit his website.

by Edmond Gagnon