How to get a DipTESOL Distinction

Oh, come on! There’s no secret formula to getting a Distinction in the DipTESOL. You know that. I know that. But people are still gonna google ‘get a DipTESOL distinction’, and someone’s gonna top the search list. It might as well be me. After all, I’m not selling anything. And somehow, who knows, I keep fluking these good marks in courses despite being a bang average teacher…

So look, here are a few things I did on the way to that Distinction. Note, not to get a Distinction. They might help, they might not. Are they generic? Meh, not all of them…

Tl;DR – skip to number 7.

  1. Do you want to get a qualification or do you want to develop?

I get it – people have different motivations for doing the course. I know people who have done it just to tick a box – for extra pay, promotion, etc. That’s fair enough, but I think there’s a lot to be said for having a genuine desire to improve your practice. I remember conversations with TESOL Toolbox when he was doing his DipTESOL training – now he is a teacher with a great attitude. He always had/has the learners at the forefront of his planning, and he is/was highly receptive to feedback. No bare minimums just to get a certificate, none of that ‘I’ll probably just do XYZ as it’s safe’. That’s the type of teacher that you should seek advice from in your staffroom! Go, find them!!! Oh, and if you come across the one’s that give you the ‘just do XYZ/play it safe’ advice… smile, nod (laugh), agree, then probably just ignore.

  1. Care about your learners

Well, this one just follows on really. In my opinion, teachers who care about developing their practice normally do so because they care about their learners. Caring about what learners need and want is pretty much fundamental, but it can get lost behind the smoke and mirrors of observations. When you plan, never lose sight of the fact that learner needs might emerge, they are not static (i.e. they’re not only what you’ve written on your plan). You’re teaching the learners, not the plan, and you need to react to them.

But what if we don’t meet the lesson aims???

I’d say in two of my DipTESOL observations the aims were only partially met. I mean, what can you do? Learners throw you curveballs. Obviously, if you’re going to go waaaaaay off on a tangent (like in most of my regular lessons) then for the purposes of a formal observation you’re doomed. But hey, if you can justify why you chose to veer away from the plan for a bit, how it benefited the learners, and how you’ll account for that in the following lesson…

Observers/examiners are on your side, you know. They are/were all teachers. REFLECTION IS KEY!

  1. Engage in all the development tasks

I did my training through TLI Europe. There were 34 development tasks to do. I did a recce first, set out estimated times and got cracking. I did! Here’s a screenshot of my old excel spreadsheet! (cue ELTplanning’s most boring image ever…)

I actually did the development tasks too. I put the time in and learnt a lot from them. A lot of the early posts on this blog, things like writing lessons using gradual approximation (slight errors in resource) were from my Dip. Using sports commentaries in class was another – I learnt a new grammar point from that. Discourse markers? That too. Etc. Looking back, I certainly put in the time, and my planning has benefitted loads from that.

  1. Read relevant methodology

I often hear DipTESOL trainees complaining about having to read academic articles or methodology books. Granted, they’re not always the most accessible, and sometimes the last thing you want to do after a days teaching is get stuck into theory/methods/etc. The development modules on my course offered some useful summaries of methods and approaches which were a good springboard for further reading. I prod DipTESOL trainees at our centre towards useful research, even for a quick skim read. I’ve recommended articles and books over the years and won’t harp on about those again. But what I would say is this:

Reading is one thing. Reading, processing, applying, reflecting, quite another. Also, it’s important to look at research through a critical lens. Just because, I don’t know, Thornbury/Widdowson/Ur/whoever recommends a certain approach, that doesn’t mean it suits your context/learners, or that it’s completely evidence-based, etc. Of course it’s fine to have your preferred methods, approaches, theories, etc – just make sure you can justify/critique them.

  1. Actually teach pronunciation during the nine months of your course

Don’t fear pronunciation! Dive in! This is still the biggest fear I hear trainees talk about, teaching pronunciation. Conquer your fears! And while you’re at it, read up on research into English as an International Language.

It might surprise you that I’m sharing this tip. However, as a teacher and former manager who has had the privilege of watching so many teachers ‘perform’ over the years, it’s amazing how infrequently I’ve seen pronunciation addressed in the classroom. Plenty of teachers fear it, you’re not alone.

  1. Conquer your fears

I just said that! But this comes back to point one – why do a training course if you don’t want to develop? I was rubbish at giving instructions, so that’s what I focused on for my self-development record. What I could have done is chosen something I was already good at, rigged it so I was a bit bad at it and had something to improve, then aced things development-wise. Possibly still a Distinction, but no integrity. I’m better at instructions for it (ha, those editing my direction lines will certainly beg to differ!).

  1. Don’t let your ego get in the way

Most people come to the Dip with a fair bit of teaching experience. I find some dip trainees I speak to have a tendency to dismiss input as ‘common sense’, academic research as ‘pointless jargon’, or observations as a requirement of the course rather than something to learn from. You might not need this tip if you’re already grounded. If not, well, look: you’re not sh*t hot at teaching, no one is. You might seem to know what’s best for your students, but you can still learn more. It’s okay to admit that you were wrong or that you’ve learnt something new – it is actually cool to improve, you know?! And it’s important to realise that things aren’t about you, it’s about what you’re learning in order to help others.

Oooof. Tip 7 was brutal. Sorry! For anyone I know taking the course right now – tip 7 is definitely not about you!

Sorry, er, these were random. What are your tips for achieving DipTESOL greatness?

4 comments

  1. Such good tips!
    Tip #7 is sometimes hard, though. I cried after my first observation was given quite negative feedback and tried to find fault in other people/the situation. It’s hard. I suppose most people go into a Dip or equivalent thinking they’re quite good teachers, the kind of teacher who is interested in doing things like a Dip to develop further. And then being told you’re not good, or not as good as you thought, can make you feel quite defensive. I think it’s really important to keep in mind, as you say, that context is key. The things you’re expected to do in your observations in a context other than your own might not actually work that well / be that beneficial in your usual teaching context. But it does mean that you have to perhaps refocus on the whole learning experience and try to take what you can from the whole Dip thing! It might not get you a distinction, but it will be much better for your mental health!

    Liked by 1 person

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