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The Tragic Story of My DELTA… promised to Willy Cardoso.

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Once upon a time, there was this middle-aged, slightly scuffed and dented South African teacher who came to England in search of some peace and quiet and a gentle little teaching job to see her through to the end of her usefulness.

After a few (read ‘loads of’) confidence-shaking refusals due to lack of suitable qualifications, one slightly less suppressed, independent language school took me on, based on my experience and – this is the best bit – my enthusiasm. For this I will be grateful evermore.

After some three years of teaching the widest, most interesting, range of people I had ever encountered, the post of DoS became available. I was a natural to take up the position because, my boss said, “you’re good with people.” Now I need to point out that this is a teeny wee school – between 7 and 9 staff, depending on student numbers, which have a limit of 18. So essentially, not a huge ask for this middle-aged, slightly scuffed and dented South African teacher.

Then the British Council reared its head. We HAD to have accreditation in order to go on a list of schools that had credibility in terms of incoming foreigners. And in order to get accredited, the DoS HAD to have a Diploma.

So off this middle-aged, slightly scuffed and dented South African went to “get the Diploma”. At the time, I had been in my DoS-ly position for four months, so still learning the rather complex ropes. Halfway through my DELTA training, I had to set up the academic department for the summer school (the second year of such a venture for the teeny wee school). I had done it the year before (and nearly lost what were left of my marbles). I had to find, interview, recruit and train a staff of 20 some teachers and set up a programme and all that insane stuff that summer schools require and that comes at you like a tsunami. Not only was this threatening to send the marbles scattering into all the available corners yet again,  The British Council was coming to inspect the summer school for purposes aforementioned. I was in at the deep end and drowning quickly and still the DELTA had to be done. 

I knew I would probably fail the assessed lesson part. I remember it so clearly. It was an unseasonably warm May afternoon, I had spent the morning weeping gently at my desk in the face of the mountain of paperwork I had to get through to send off to The Britsh Council. I had verily reached the end of my rope. But I hoped for the best.

I failed – just the lesson part, but I had never failed a thing in my life and that wasn’t the end of it. We failed to get the accreditation. Why? Because I didn’t have a diploma. EVERYTHING ELSE WAS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. I got on an aeroplane as fast as I could and went home to my mother in Africa. I needed someone to reaffirm my worth.

And that, you may think, was the end of it. I would come back revitalised, redo my lesson and pass and get my DELTA and be proud and then we would get our accreditation next time. Don’t you believe it. During my 14-day R and R in Africa, an ADoS, with a Diploma, was appointed in my absence, without any warning or consultation. Her sole purpose? To get us the accreditation. She had never taught for us, she didn’t even know we ran a summer programme, she had never run or managed a summer programme and said roundly that she had no intention of ever doing so. But because of that piece of paper that said “Diploma”, we got the accreditation.

Besides the fairly long-term damage that did to my self-esteem, it has left me with very deep suspicions about the British Council Accreditation system and what it really means – in terms of assuring a quality school. And much though I love my boss, I doubt I’ll ever truly forgive her.

PS. Although I had received a pay increase when appointed as DoS, I didn’t get one when I became DELTA’d. Go figure…….


17 responses »

  1. Great story. Failed mine too, 1st time around, way back in the day when it was the RSA Dip. Wish I could have run away, felt utterly defeated and worthless, like you, never having failed anything before. In those days you had to write 3 essays in 3 hours and I could never complete them. Took me 10 years to get back on the bike and do it again with the help of a fantastic, supportive, empathetic and gently bullying DELTA tutor, the greatest teacher I have ever worked with. Having complete it though, and having undergone plenty of other PD, including (currently) my Masters, I have to say that the DELTA was the most challenging, emotional and useful things I have had to do in my career. Great story, brought back memories!!

    • Hi japglish – Welcome to my homely blog! I can just reiterate everything you have said. I only passed most of it because of my incredible tutors – the best in the business, as they say. I failed that sodding lesson and when I look back, probably almost deservedly, but it certainlt wasn’t the worst lesson I’d ever taught! Glad you eventually got your DELTA and I have to concur once again – a nightmare it was at the time, but I’m glad I did it.
      Pop in again soon!

  2. …. and editing my Dip essays for errors of punctuation, typos etc. before handing them in was never a skill I really managed, as evidenced above 😉

    • Anthony Gaughan

      True, I failed the written exam first time round, then got a distinction on it 2nd time round. Go figure. Having a building site outside in high summer first time won’t have helped but I’ve always felt a bit odd about the “performance leap” I seem to have made. Only exam I ever failed too.

      Failed a lesson as well. Reason given: I hadn’t achieved my aims because I had made an in-flight decision to ditch the “and written” part of my aim stating that there would be “spoken and written practice of the TL”.

      Very nearly tore my tutor’s throat out with my bare teeth when I heard that (though I’m glad I didn’t, as he is a good bloke 😉 ), so I think about it more than twice when I think I have to grade a candidate’S lesson as “below standard”. Should have remembered this and wrote it over on Scott’S post about lesson aims!

      • Hi Anthony
        I passed the sodding exam! Mind you I’m a good exam candidate – just intuitively, nothing to do with being smart! I can understand your frustration about your lesson. Is it so difficult for assessors to recognise A Good Lesson, when it leaps out of the box? Surely not? I have to admit my final assessed lesson was pretty rubbish – reasons giving in post – but it wasn’t THAT bad! Anyway, the re-take went well, even though I was more nervous than I have ever been in my life for anything ever – even talking at the symposium!

  3. It’s a b***er really, it costs a fortune, almost drives you to the brink of despair and is required for most, if not all managerial jobs in TEFL. The Dip will send you dippy doing it and then paying for it, and on top of that you’ll still be paid peanuts!

    But Monkeys with Diplomas are required at summer schools. I remember the big language school I used to work for came up with a plan to get out of having Dip qulaified DOSSERS on their summer school programme.

    The called the DOS TC (teaching co -ordinator) and had one floating Dip qulaified DOS for several centres…. that was the year I was TC.

    The Diploma, silver medal of TEFL teaching only to be outdone by the MA……


    • Hi Leahn – nice to “see” you again! Concur totally with all you have said – and that is exactly how my boss “got round” the Dipped DoS. She just arbitrarily employed a Dip AFTER the summer school had finished, (who didn’t even stay until the next one) and during the next BC board meeting (8 months after the first “failed” attempt) in review, we got accreditation because we now “had a Dip” in the management team. Sucks….really it does.

      And as for the money? Don’t get me started!

  4. Hi Candy,

    As you say, a tragic story, and thanks for sharing it… I alternated while reading it between thinking “Oh God! Poor Candy!” and “There but for the grace of God go I, because I expect that would be me, too!”

    Sad that you had to go through all that, but if it gives you any comfort, it makes me feel that my decision not to do the DELTA a few years back was the right one.

    Interesting that on Willy’s post, Luke commented that you both did your DELTA because somebody or other demanded that you had that bit of paper to prove you could do the jobs that you were already doing! (presumably to your employer’s satisfaction). In other words, the tail was most definitely wagging the dog!

    The other thing your story illustrates is how easy it is to fudge these things and rope in a hired hand to get around the problem until the inspectors have finished ticking their boxes and ridden off into the sunset.

    Perhaps there’s a lesson in there, and maybe a lucrative career opportunity waiting to be exploited, too… Rent-a-DELTA: Get the accreditation you have always dreamed about, today! 😉

    • Anthony Gaughan

      That, Sue, is a very shrewd business idea…

    • Sue – thank you for stopping by and for your comment. I am going to start a Rent-a-Dip agency in the morning. It is honestly that simple. Any Dips wanting to sign up – contact me here. Fees arranged on application.


  5. Thanks for that, Candy!

    And… erm… sorry about your dreadful experience.

    I used to think ‘unfortunately’ – but now I see that fortunately, in Brazil there aren’t accreditation bodies (gate-keepers) in ELT. I managed 200+ students and 20 teachers at any one time for three years, sometimes with an assistant, but mostly as the sole responsible for everything ‘teaching and learning’, plus recruitment. And, yeh, never had to show anyone any kind of paper; I had to show results, which I did.
    Nonetheless, my main difficulty was managing teachers, you know, the day-to-day burden of team-building, communication, motivation, coaching – and oh, talking to teachers that missed lessons and were always late or whose students complained about them ‘smelling funny’, using phone and copier for idiotic personal matters, and the list goes on.
    I almost had a heart attack the first time I had to fire a teacher, who was also a good friend, and the first and only time I had to fire my ADOS, who’d just bought a car, because of economic crisis.

    How I learner that? I don’t know, by doing, I had to, I loved the job more than anything

    • Willy – you inspired all this! Thank you for that and for giving me a reason to blurt out my DELTA story, which has been waiting for years to be told!
      I find have had to “fire” three teachers – to be fair they weren’t really “fitting in”, so to speak, but that makes it even harder. I mean if they had smacked a student, or come to class drunk, or slagged off the management, it would have been easier. But to have to say to someone “you don’t fit the profile” is just excruciating, especially when they have all the relevant qualifications and apparently (according to CV evidence) loads of experience cannot understand why. I have yet to be able to bring myself to tell a teacher it is because we have had consistent complaints from students….how does one do that?
      Have a great day and thanks again.

  6. I did the old Dip TEFLA back in 1988 and I remember it as just a chore and a bore rather than as the nerve jangling experience people relate here. The BC should be ashamed of that action: if someone is good at their job and seen to be good, why be so strict?

    • The BC seems to be a fairly ok organisation except for this insane bureaucratic accreditation nonsense. I appreciate that because of the well-documented and generally accepted shysterism that takes place in EFL, some “quality control” needs to be in place, but surely to God, accompanied by some sort of common sense? A non- Dipped DoS who has put together, organised, run and managed an entire summer school – flawlessly, I may add -SURELY demonstrates more ability to “do the job” than a Dipped AdoS who wasn’t even employed at the time, never mind DOING anything! Madness: and whoever is responsible needs slapping.

    • Anthony Gaughan

      Lots of people I’ve spoken to note this RSA DipTEFLA vs. DELTA difference of experience. Would make an interesting little study to uncover what makes courses with ostensibly identical aims such contrasting experiences for the participants…

      • Hmmm – care to get some more anecdotal evidence? I have heard there’s something in the TESOL v. CELTA of the same ilk. Wonder what it might be? Quality, quantity or just individual experiences?

  7. Hi.

    I’m reading your blog months after you wrote it. It just re-affirms everything I thought. I have an MA Applied Linguistics, am doing an EdD at Bristol, was in management on a large EAP programme witharound 5,000 students, am mega-enthusiastic, am an IELTS examiner, but I cannot get a job with the B.C. as I don’t have a CELTA or a DELTA.



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