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

Teaching ESOL from Experience

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLI wonder how you found this page? Perhaps you found it by Google, by social media sharing, or by mere coincidence. Good for you! Either way, I bet the only way you’ll keep reading after this is if you truly care about teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages. Even at that, because I said the word “experience” you are probably in need of such, AKA “teaching ESOL from experience.” 

Right now I’m on Year 7 in teaching languages. I’m always improving my teaching craft. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a certain way. Yet as I handed in my lesson plans this past Tuesday, I realized that teacher jargon doesn’t explain what simple experience can. And yet so much of the way I teach and have been successful from Year 3 onward is because of… experience — that is, “teaching ESOL from experience.”

I originally started this article with a list of teacher advice, but quickly realized you can find that anywhere. Instead, I think it’s best to reflect on the four institutions where I’ve actively taught ESOL and what each ESOL school taught me… through experience. I’ll list each school as “School A, B, C and D” for the privacy of each school.

School A: Finding Your Place as a Professional in School

For Pete’s sake, if you are a new teacher DEMAND A CURRICULUM. You’ll need one to stay organized, maximize learning, and follow the natural flow of language acquisition progression. Furthermore, set boundaries on students. Don’t accept their Facebook requests, don’t let them use their native language in class (even if it is the other language you teach and love) except for emergencies, and if any student starts to cross professional boundaries you must immediately but respectfully set them straight for the sake of your classroom control. Also, especially if you are a young teacher, you must especially look professional at all times.

Professional in School

School B: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

Now that your demanded curriculum is in hand, ask the director/principal specific questions about the curriculum or the school they might be too busy to explain. Make sure to ask questions such as “When does the semester end?” or “How long is the book to be used for?” As much as you love your students, don’t be afraid to correct their English. However, know the goal of each activity and make your corrections specific (like adding a preposition).

Give general critiques (like encouraging students to add more information) so the students aren’t overwhelmed by their mistakes. Again, make sure you set professional boundaries. You love your job, but don’t work for free — make sure you are fairly compensated for your time. If you are not paid on time, immediately contact HR. And finally, always overestimate how long it will take you to arrive to class so you can breathe when you get there.

Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

School C: Use Your Own Experience When Teaching

Own your cultural identity and what it can bring to the classroom. I was the only white teacher in my ESOL department at School C. I owned it. At the beginning, I demanded my intermediate level students only speak in English. I made my students weird American things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I taught them how Americans butcher Hispanic names in English and hate kisses on the cheek.

Make sure to hand the mic over to your students every once in a while. Let them voice both their cultures and the saddening situations that brought them over to the United States. Let them use Spanish… but only in emergencies or during non-instructional time. And finally, as important as that curriculum is, do not underestimate the importance of authentic cultural material that is relevant to the topic. Bring in the country music, clips of The Office, and Super Bowl commercials.

Experience Teaching

School D: Give Yourself Structure and Take Time to Learn

As an unorganized person, having an organized curriculum pre-planned for me each class helped me see just how learning can be maximized with the right pacing and assessment. I tend to get off task, but staying on topic is crucial for the learner. However, the ability to learn and quickly memorize facts about each student builds a good rapport with students. Finding a balance between staying on task and learning about your students should be found. Finally, students need to hear ways to improve their English. Working with a Chinese crowd at this school, I found it helpful to study common mistakes Chinese English Language Learners make, identify them in the student, and quickly address them with go-to examples. 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

I don’t think there isn’t a day where I’m not learning from my experiences. Just tonight, an argument broke out between two students over a political issue (Venezuelan dictator Maduro seizing and selling homes abandoned by Venezuelans fleeing) and a personal issue (these two students did not get along). After resolving the argument and further discussing with another Venezuelan student about the emotional state of those fleeing, I would like to do some further reading about helping refugees process their emotions. Situations like these help shape my responses to future tense situations. After every day that I teach, I make sure to do a nightly reflection. This helps me know what I’d like to repeat for next semester but also steer away from.