In the Hot Sauce - Facing up to The Dip

Despite the at times frantic workload, the online component of the Dip would turn out to be the easy part. It offered the chance to discuss and share teaching experiences and theories. It offered the chance to engage with tasks and regular guided reading, applying ideas and self-observing aspects of teaching and learning going on in my own classroom's on a daily basis. It was spread out over several months. And finally, Unit 2 research projects aside, it was without the pressure of assessment.

That would all change though when it came to the crunch of the face-to-face component of the course - 3 weeks of high intensity, high pressure, high stakes, one assessed component after another, a brief respite of a week off and then the dreaded language exam in all its three-hour agonizingly hand-written dread!

At least, I had the backdrop of one of the most alluring capital cities in Europe for those rare moments of downtime:

The view from the river...
It was in a word brutal. I left battered and bruised, having passed the three assessed components I went there for but with the feeling that I was perhaps not quite the teacher I thought I was...

First of all, I should point out that none of this is a reflection on the face-to-face component of the course. As with the online part, that was well-run and a very good job was done of supporting and keeping us on track in a very tight time frame. From the constructive criticism and wisdom of David Young to the infectious enthusiasm for risk-taking a flipping lesson ideas on their heads of Sinead, and from the cool but calm input of Sean to the much-appreicated peer support between my fellow Dip candidates, I got a lot out of it.

But it was brutal.

Having spent the majority of my career teaching kids, teens and exam classes, here I was teaching general English to adults.... General English to adults from an L1 background I had little familiarity with... I only had five lessons of sixty minutes each to make my mark and show what I could do... Sixty minutes to focus on a particular language point, reach a 'communicative outcome,' seamlessly integrate aspects of pronunciation, and show overall cohesion between this class, the previous ones and the ones to come.

I should acknowledge my role in this brutality. Looking back, I did not familiarise myself with the assessment criteria well enough. I should have ensured I knew exactly what Trinity was looking for and how I would go about demonstrating it.

But this was part of the problem for me... I don't think the teacher I am is a good fit for the assessment criteria. As I mentioned in my last post, I place high emphasis on learner training these days. I want my students to not only learn English from their lessons but also learn how to learn so that they can continue to develop as language learners beyond the classroom walls. That does not fit in well with the assessment criteria. In my mock observed lesson, I spent time working on writing skills and error correction. I feel this is beneficial for getting students to raise awareness of their own language output and self-assess their strengths and weaknesses as learners.

I went for the long view when something more immediate was required.
In post-lesson feedback, I discussed this with my tutor and we agreed that these were important areas to focus on."But not here and not now," I was told. "Not enough to show a communicative outcome today. You'd be sailing close to the wind if this were an official observation."


I tried to go for more of a typical 'TEFL' style lesson instead. Something with lots of moving around, speaking to different partners, reporting back to the class, and matching up bits of paper. "A cookie-cutter lesson" I was told. "Seen it a million times."

Double gulp (thankfully of some of that lovely Czech dark beer).

Now, I'll admit that neither lesson was great. So used to 90 minute lessons or working on longer-term academic goals rather than short-term communicative ones, my timing and pacing was off the mark. Realising time was running out my 'communicative outcome' activity and my 'integrated pronunciation slots' were rushed and not hitting the mark.

However, I found myself struggling for ideas of what to do. I was trying to keep it simple but the five-page lesson plan pro-forma and all the minute details it required meant it was all too easy to over-think things. I ended up playing it safe, like a cricketer trying to just defend the crease, pick up the odd single and play for a draw.

Sums it up in a way - at times I felt like the clueless knight sitting in the wrong place, and at other times I felt like the horse!
It worked and I passed with a solid if not spectacular score in the end. However, I could not help but feel that an opportunity had been missed somehow. I went back to my regular teaching work and I went back to helping my teen learners develop their academic presentation and writing skills. I also devoted time to working on raising their awareness of how we learn and encouraged them to engage with English outside the lesson. We spent some lessons, as we always had, in discussion about topics of interest completely unconnected to any particular language point and with no clear communicative outcome. However, there were outcomes in terms of their thinking skills. For the teaching practice, I had to abandon that. The teacher I was there was not the teacher I am as I go about my daily interactions with students.

Again, I have nothing but praise for the onsite tutors who helped guide me towards ticking all the boxes for those key assessment criteria. They also gave extra support ahead of the phonology interview and the written exam, which was much needed. I also left Prague having expanded my professional network and with new ideas from the teachers and tutors I got to work with.

Also sums it up in another way - a harsh experience that leaves a lasting impression!
I think there is an issue though with what Trinity is looking for in a Dip-level teacher... The course is very much rooted in the world of EFL and in particular the 'general English adult' section of it. All bar one of my colleagues for the face-to-face course worked with kids or teens. We all worked in EAP skills in some way or other and adapting to this different environment was a struggle. It seemed the teacher who coped the best was one who had done the Trinity Cert just 3 or 4 years before - perhaps it's better that way while all the ideal EFL input is fresher in the mind! Nevertheless, I think more needs to be done in the Teaching Practice unit to reflect that more and more teachers work in varied contexts these days. 

We do get to discuss what we do in these contexts beyond open and closed communicative lessons when writing essays for the exam, doing research for the projects, and describing activities for the phonology interview. In fact, w are encouraged to do so... Why not incorporate that into the TP as well? (Of course, not every TP centre can cater to all those contexts but the option to teach high schoolers with a focus on building learning and language skills would have been nice!)

There is also the idea that a lesson must be centred on  a particular language point or lexical area and must have that communicative outcome. Does every lesson really have to be that way? Can't we justify more long-term goals through the parts of the lesson plan and post-lesson discussion which focus on how this lesson fits in with the others? I am not saying that new language points and communication should be abandoned but nor should they be a must in every lesson.

Sometimes, you reach for the moon but you just can't quite grab it...
So, advice to Dip candidates? Know the assessment criteria as well as possible. Plan your timing carefully. Don't try to pack too much into one lesson. Don't worry about the lesson being perfect - if it has flaws, you have more to talk about in the assessed post-lesson interview! Don't come with 'lessons my students always enjoy' especially if you are not teaching general English to adults. Do listen to the advice of your tutors... but adapt it to your style and your class.

Advice to Trinity? Broaden the scope of the assessment criteria for different contexts and allow for more diverse teaching styles.

Advice for me? There's always something to be done better. Strike a better balance between catering to the students, adapting to your own style, and adhering to external expectations... And enjoy the view...


  1. I feel so lucky that the OxfordTEFL Diploma was run in collaboration with the school I work in. Although we still did the Teaching Practice component in three weeks, my colleague and I were able to be assessed with classes we had been teaching for the previous eight months. However, I can still empathise with parts of your post - at times the lessons did feel incredibly atypical, with task-types which were ticking the right boxes. And it was still brutal, even with the comfort of familiar surroundings, supportive colleagues and a wonderful partner who helped me through it all and didn't mind that everything else went on a back-burner for those three weeks.

    1. Alas, while I am sure the assessors would have liked the chance to come to Gabon and watch me teach, I am not sure I could have covered their expenses!

      Still, it must have been familiar but stressful, especially as you might have done things is an atypical way or had to force in activities not because it was the natural place for them but because you needed to showcase them before the official time was up...

      Still, it sounds like you ultimately had a positive experience (as did I) despite it all. :)

  2. I think that's one of the problems with Diploma courses in general, both Trinity and Cambridge: they were designed with private language schools in mind, and they reflect that in their assessment criteria. The industry is severely lacking a Diploma level qualification in teaching young learners and teens, and there is a lot of box ticking. It's sad that you can't be the teacher you are the rest of the time in order to meet these requirements. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. I think the approach works for the CELTA/Cert as language school + general English + adults is a common starting point. However, the higher levels definitely do need to recognise specialisation and the different aims that come with them.

  3. Hi Dave, I'm new to your blog and I started my DIP about 3 weeks ago! A lot of self evaluation at the moment. Knowing that people made it through the other side is a bright spot I must say! Do you have any advice about what to focus on in the projects or, how you got to your topics and the exam! Oh wow, that exam looks dreadful! Thanks, Drew

    1. For Unit 2, I would say consult with your tutor and focus on areas relevant to your own interests and your immediate context - that will make the whole experience much more useful and sataisfying.

      The same applies for the exam essays - find moments from your own experience that match the question types and think about how to make changes and improvements. Most of the time, that is what the exam wants - something related to your experience with consideration of how to implement new ideas in the future.


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