M is for Masters

27 08 2017

 

role play

MA TESOL at The New School

Now that many of us – either as faculty or alumni – are about to embark on the fall semester of a Masters in TESOL (or other closely related discipline), it’s perhaps worth asking why? Not which Masters, or when, or in what mode (e.g. on-site, online, or blended), but why do a Masters at all? What benefits will accrue – professional, academic or financial – that couldn’t be obtained by some other, less costly or time-consuming means? And, crucially, is the teacher with a Masters any better – and hence, more deserving – than one without?

I’m asking these questions partly in response to a letter I received a few months ago from a teacher in New York City. She had attended a talk I gave at The New School on whose Masters program I teach. She was interested in enrolling in the program but wondered if the outlay in terms of fees and time would ever be recuperable. And, as a teacher of some experience, she was also voicing a sense of injustice at the fact that teachers like her, without a post-graduate degree in TESOL, were being passed over for teachers straight off Masters programs. Here’s what she said:

‘While I naturally respect my colleagues in the teaching field who do posses an MA TESOL, I nevertheless feel quiet resentment towards their getting 30-45 hours a week at $45 an hour, when they are fresh out of an MA program and by their own admission had/have never taught before. … Is it really the be-all and end-all?’

And she adds, ‘I feel quite strongly that an English degree, a teaching degree, a CELTA, a MA in English combined with international experience trumps an MA TESOL with no experience or previous background in English. Naturally, this position may well be construed as professional (or unprofessional) resentment or worse, envy. However, given the chance, I think it is one students would also hold.’

teaching practice group work 02.JPG

Teaching practice, New School

There are a number of assumptions here that might be challenged, e.g. that those taking MAs in TESOL have no previous teaching experience, or that they don’t get lots of practical experience when they are actually doing the course.

On this latter point, a quick trawl around university websites where MA TESOLs are offered, demonstrates how markedly the length of the practicum (if there is one!) varies. For example (from US-based programs only):

  • University of X: TESOL Practicum. This course involves 48-60 hours of student/teaching contact time, regular peer and instructor class observations and coaching sessions, and weekly seminar-style meetings during the semester.
  • University of Y: Third semester requires 3-credit Practicum: “This is a language teaching course that provides students with an opportunity for supervised teaching experience in ESL or foreign language classes. This course can be completed during the school year or the summer.
  • University of Z: Practicum: The Portfolio includes documentation of 70 practice hours, with a minimum of 15 hours in each of the following areas:
    • Tutoring
    • Observing ESOL classes
    • Practice teaching
  • Another University: Practicum: Core courses include ‘TESOL Practice teaching’; plus ‘Culminating Experience’: includes a service project of 30 hours of ESL teaching.
  • Yet Another University: Teaching Internship, (2 months; 6 credits) Two months teaching under supervision in the United States or abroad.
  • And One More University for Good Measure: Elective. Practicum in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Practical teaching experience for preservice teachers of English as a second language. Enrollment limited to AL/ESL graduate students whose schedules permit them to observe and participate in the practicum supervisor’s ESL course.
matching task MA TESOL.JPG

MA TESOL, New School

So, I guess my question is: do MA programs equip inexperienced teachers with the requisite teaching skills any better than, say, a pre-service certificate course would, and, indeed, should they – i.e. should they be accepting inexperienced teachers on to their programs at all? And if they don’t measure up, then should their graduates be given preferential treatment in the job market – if that is, in fact, the case?

 

 

 


Actions

Information

60 responses

27 08 2017
Jeff B

This is another great topic, Scott. Thank you. I got a TEFL certificate 20 years ago and then an MA TESOL several years later. So, though there was no practicum as part of the program, I had experience prior to getting it. I am actually going to do the Trinity starting in November for various reasons.

Having taught in the university system here in Korea for years, I’ve noticed that teachers with MAs or PHDs in fields unrelated to ELT and with little to no ELT experience are given hiring preference and higher pay than those with ELT certificates or diplomas. This is done to make the university look better on paper. Some are even put in positions of leadership and tasked with observing and assessing experienced ELT professionals. This understandably does in fact lead to the resentment that the other teacher wrote about.

I can’t imagine having a PHD in ELT and taking a job in, say, a biology department and expecting to be taken seriously, let alone being asked to supervise teachers with MAs in biology and experience teaching in that field.

27 08 2017
James Quartley

I think this type of qualification inflation is occurring across many industries – a friend working in film and tv sound has expressed similar disquiet over ‘fresh-from-university’ types being placed in charge of individuals with years of experience, but without a ‘new’ qualification.
A balance needs to be found, as theoretical knowledge is not in itself enough in the world of practice. I suspect that the distinction between theoretical and practical has been lost in some countries (e.g. the ‘universitification’ of the polytechnics in the UK or the quotas for 50% attending university) and the result has not always improved performance in industries.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jeff. Interesting point you make that the hiring of ‘random’ MAs ‘makes the university look better on paper’. To what extent, though, might the requirement to employ teachers with an MA come from higher up the food chain, e.g. at ministry level? I have heard that, in some countries, a teaching post – even a non-university one – reuires an MA.

31 08 2017
Jeff B

Yes, Scott, you are right about the issue being a matter of the “food chain”. Hierarchy and status are very important here in Korea. And experience teaching in Korea is viewed as more important than qualifications in some cases. For example, you can get a job at some universities here without an MA, but you generally have to have some experience, which could be teaching at a hagwan (teaching children at an academy). And the law regarding whether universities can hire someone without an MA seems to change all the time or at least be somewhat ambiguous. And I’ve never heard of a job here requiring a Delta.

27 08 2017
Scott C

In Australia it’s common for those enrolling in a Masters in TESOL with no ESL experience to be sent to do a CELTA. We often get them at our CELTA centre. Does that happen elsewhere?

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Scott. I suspect it does happen elsewhere, although I can imagine a candidate might felt aggrieved that the MA they had invested in doing was unable to provide basic teaching skills.

27 08 2017
Patrick Huwyler

Dear Scott,
Thank you very much for your post. I always find your posts very interesting and enlightening 🙂
If I were the employer/HR Manager, I would want to give teachers like Jeff B priority as they have clearly made a logical progression both in terms of qualifications and experience. However, as the employer/HR Manager I might very well be pressured from other stakeholders into doing things differently. And so, I think this is what really happens…

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Patrick: it does seem that many employers favour teachers with Masters – although I wonder if they are listening to their students who, surely, don’t care one way or the other, so long as the teacher can teach?

29 08 2017
Patrick Julian Huwyler

Thanks, Scott. I think a lot of students want to feel assured and that they are in the right hands… Many students that I have taught in Switzerland expect the teachers to be highly qualified. Many students do indeed want the teacher to be able to teach, and to teach well. ‘Can teach’ for many also means that the teacher is well-rounded in terms of not only qualifications but also experience, emotional intelligence and creativity….

27 08 2017
Justin Willoughby

I always thought the normal career path for an English Teacher was kind of like do the CELTA (or something similar), work teaching classes maybe 5-10 years, then when you’re sure that this is what you want to be doing, and want to learn more, you do the DELTA and if you’re still keen to keep learning and want to progress the only option is to do a MA TESOL.

27 08 2017
Patrick Huwyler

Yes, Justin. That would be my approach, too.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Justin – this used to be the normal career path, but there seems to be a trend towards leap-frogging the pre-MA stages, especially in the US, where the MA is often the entry point for many teachers. This may have something to do with the huge costs involved at each stage, and/or washback from the kinds of employment policies that my correspondent was complaining about.

28 08 2017
Justin Willoughby

Regarding employment, I did the DELTA module 1 online last year through IH London and there were about 50-60 people on the course. I would say about 80-90% were from The British Council. It would seem that you must have a DELTA at The British Council.

7 10 2017
Peter Pun

Hi Justin
I teach at British Council Bangkok. Regarding your comment about needing a DELTA to work there… not really.
Minimum requirements are usually a Celta or initial training course equivalent, plus 2 years experience. However, there are some countries where they find it hard to recruit people so they often lower the 2years teaching requirement. Normally in south east asia region it’s 2 years minimum though.
Re: Delta, trinity, etc. if you want to progress in the council to become a coordinator, senior teacher, academic manager, then yeah a Delta is a prerequisite. It’s ‘TEFL Q or equivalent’ actually, so I know some of our staff have MAs which had adequate practical teaching modules to be considered equivalent. Aside from progressing in your career, your pay band is usually capped at the BC if you don’t get a Delta so that’s another motivation. Cheers

27 08 2017
Stephanie Wimmer-Davison

Interesting topic! I have the CELTA, DELTA am a CELTA trainer with many years of ELT/ESL experience. 8 years ago I transitioned gradually into general secondary education. As I don’t have the PGCE (UK secondary teaching qualification) and my ESL/ELT qualifications are not accepted at good International and UK schools I needed to think carefully about my next steps in terms of qualifications. I chose a M.Ed in Language, Literacies and Dyslexia with the University of Birmingham for several reasons.

1) Marketability: So many people have an MA in TEFL/TESOL/Linguistics, at least where I am the market is now quite flooded. Almost everyone I know here has an MA in Linguistics or TEFL and I know that programs vary in their quality and practical components, some even don’t have a practical component. I wanted to choose a post-grad qualification which was less widely prevalent, but which also had a strong, specialist practical component and would lead to developing a new teaching skill set and qualification. The first year of the M.Ed is balanced in theory and practice. We firstly look at typical and atypical child development and how that links with theories of learning and relates to literacy in semester one. We refer to our own case study of a typically developing and atypically developing learner. In semester 2 we study assessment. Not just the basics, but we go into real depth – it’s a tough, tough module, and unfortunately, despite excellent tutor support, I don’t think everyone makes it through simply because we have to pass requirements set by an external body (to gain accreditation to do assessments that traditionally educational psychologists have done). We need to pass a statistics test with 100% and then write an analysis of a battery of psychometric tests used to help “diagnose” dyslexia. We need to understand the difference between tests, assessments, response to intervention, dynamic assessment, Wave (UK) or Tier (US) 1, 2 and 3 teaching in mainstream education; the medical and social model of testing and then write a Masters level critical analysis of testing and assessment which weaves in 3 case studies of students on whom we have carried out 3 full assessments. Each assessment takes about 15 hours, and includes classroom observations, interviews with the student, their subject teachers, parents as well as a battery of 5 psychometric tests, including tests on phonological processing, reading, writing, spelling and wide range intelligence. We need to video ourselves conducting the assessments and send them to the University so that we are assessed on our practical skills in conducting assessments in an exact, fair and ethical manner. We then need to interpret those test statistics using the various manuals in our assignment.

In the final module we need to use the 3 assessments to plan 3 detailed intervention teaching programmes based on a reflective action research cycle of planning. We need to teach 60 hours and have detailed plans, evaluations, teaching diaries, inquiry based learning tasks to complete our portfolio. We need to send in videos of our teaching for practical assessment. We also need to look at the EGAN model or Solution Circles and then use them in staff training (and evidence that) with a view to developing awareness of learning disabilities/difficulties/dyslexia amongst our school staff. Finally, we write a Masters level paper looking critically at the theories underpinning our intervention closely linking everything we have done to an action research approach. The M-Ed is very geared towards viewing learning difficulties through the lens of a social rather than medical model (I refer to Morton and Frith and Broffenbrenner’s models fairly frequently) and ultimately adapting our teaching to be more dyslexia friendly is indivisible from good teaching practice in general.Governement educational initiatives in the UK and US now ask that all classroom teachers are SEN teachers and schools have adopted inclusionary rather than exclusionary ethos.

This all leads to us gaining specialist teacher recognition and AMBDA accreditation at the end of the 1st year. Teachers with AMBDA accreditation are recognised as specialists in Dyslexia/Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs); are qualified to conduct specialist diagnostic assessments; Exam Access Arrangements and to deliver specialist teaching programmes to learners with Dyslexia/SpLD up to and including 18 years of age.

In the 2nd year I’ll do a semester on social and emotional difficulties with our school of disabilities and then complete a special studies module where I can choose an aspect of literacy to investigate relevant to my context. Looks like this could be critical literacy at the moment.

In my final year dissertation I want to specialise in the manifestation of dyslexia and learning difficulties amongst Bi-lingual and EFL/ESL populations.

In order to be accepted onto this Masters the University asked for a minimum 2:1 in our undergraduate degree and wanted evidence that we were in employment working with young people with at least 2 years experience in this setting (in my case a secondary or high school setting). You cannot get onto this programme without being employed. It’s the toughest course I’ve ever done, you must have the support of your institution to do it, but the depth we go into and the level of practical application is wonderful and I’ve learned and developed as a teacher in ways which I hadn’t expected.

Taking this Masters is worth it for me, it is interesting, I am broadening my knowledge in a way that I can see has immediate use and value to a wide range of teaching contexts. It genuinely benefits students. It is linked to my background in EFL enough so that parts of it are quite familiar (the phonological aspects and some elements of learning theory and approaches to reading for example) But it is removed enough from EFL/TESOL that I’m really expanding my knowledge and range of teaching. It also has market – value dyslexia assessors and specialists are in high demand and my employers know it so are paying 50% of my fees!

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Stephanie, for that detailed account of what is clearly a very rigorous program. The thought that you put in to choosing an MA that suited your needs while also providing sufficient challenge would well serve as a model for anyone contemplating an MA – in any dsicipline! Good luck with the rest of the program.

Also, the point that the providers required you to be in continuous employment and working in the kind of context that is relevant ot the MA’s focus might be an option that other universities might consider, expecially if they cannot provide sufficient practical training on site. How many do this, I wonder?

27 08 2017
geoffjordan

Do MA programs equip inexperienced teachers with the requisite teaching skills any better than, say, a pre-service certificate course would? No.
.
Should MA programs be accepting inexperienced teachers on to their programs at all? No.

If they don’t measure up, then should their graduates be given preferential treatment in the job market? No.

As your whole post suggests, too many MAs in TESOL are badly-designed and aimed at the wrong people. In my opinion, Masters programmes should be clearly aimed at people who are interested in academic work and who have an eye on a doctorate. Even a degree in TESOL strikes me as questionable; would not a two year course leading to some qualification along the lines of DELTA, but less stifled by current ELT orthodoxy be the best way to prepare people for ELT?

27 08 2017
Phil Wade

Good points Geoff. I did an MA TESOL and applied for Phds. I had to enroll on a MRes/Phd as my MA didn’t include enough on research. If I had known that, I’d have saved time and money and followed that route maybe.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Geoff. I tend to agree – that a DELTA-type course (with a strong practical component) – might make a better fit with the needs of educational professionals. I do remember that – occasionally – we had former MA students on our DELTA (then DTEFLA) program at IH Barcelona, because their employeres had insisted on it.

27 08 2017
Heidi A. Karow

The currency of a Masters degree? You could write a thesis on this.

However, to answer the questions you pose: 1) in general, a strong no and 2) no. (Could it be no and then yes? Not really.)

I think I’ll go out now for a morning coffee at Starbucks; no doubt served by a barista with at least a Bachelors degree.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Heidi. You migh find that your barista not only has an MA (in Archaeology or French Literature, or any other subject equally undervalued in the job market) but is also writing a novel. 😉

27 08 2017
Marjorie Vai

Unfortunately the system in the US is not set up so that people can easily get experience without an MA. There are some certificates but nothing like the setup you have in the U.K. sphere of influence.

When I was Chair of The New School program I would have considered this woman’s experience to be excellent, better possibly than someone with most US MATESOL degrees. I’ve known other heads of ESOL university programs in NYC who feel the same. I don’t think this woman would have a hard time getting hired provided the person hiring her was aware of the benefit of very practical CELTA plus experience and an MA in a related field.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Marjorie. Having worked in both contexts (i.e. the US- and UK- spheres of influence) I tend to agree with your analysis. The same separation between academic scholarship and research, on the one hand, and a more practical and experiential orientation, on the other, is reflected in the two big conferences associated with each context, i.e. TESOL and IATEFL. Witness this quote (from 1969!): ‘From the beginning, TEFL in the States has been closely tied to developments in linguistics, so closely that in the States we assume this relationship or collaboration. This does not universally seem to be the situation in Britain. Indeed, linguistics seems suspect among people in TEFL there.’ (Womack (1969) cited in Rixon, S. & Smith, R. (2017) A History of IATEFL. Faversham, Kent: IATEFL.

27 08 2017
Andrea Vitali

Being in the process of completing a part-time MA in TESOL with ICT, I have found this post quite thought-provoking since in the last two years I have repeatedly asked myself some of the questions that Scott has raised. In my case, the typical one would be: “is it really worth spending my evenings and weekends bent over books and journal articles?”. The ultimate answer to that question would be “definitely”, but let me better articulate my thoughts.

First, I need to clarify that although the university where I am studying also offers an MA TESOL programme for inexperienced teachers, the MA in TESOL with ICT is only open to experienced ones. Therefore, my fellow students and I have at least three years of teaching experience.
Looking back at the last two years, I strongly believe that the effects that MA has had on my teaching are clearly positive and that they will reverberate in my future teaching career. In fact, I have never thought of my studies and my teaching as two unrelated things, but I’ve always tried to transpose what I’ve learnt on books to the classroom. Furthermore, it seems to me that doing an MA has completely changed my teaching perspective. Indeed, good teachers know what works and what doesn’t work, but backing up your practical experience with a sound theoretical knowledge it’s empowering since it can give you the necessary confidence to defend your practices, especially if they are controversial. For instance, as I teacher I have always thought that a judicious amount of L1 in class can be beneficial for the learning process. However, this is a debated topic in ELT and I have found myself in the middle of heated discussions on this. After reading the work of Guy Cook, Macaro etc. I know that many respected academics and a few empirical studies back me up on this. It’s not just my common sense anymore or an anecdotal suggestion heard in the staff room. Another interesting example of this kind is Dogme. Long before Scott’s article in 2000, many teachers used Dogme-like pedagogies anyway. However, although they could see that the approach was successful, they probably did it with a sort of “sense of guilt”. Now, mainly thanks to the work of Scott and Luke, whoever want to used Dogme can find out that it has solid theoretical foundations based on language pedagogy and SLA.
In conclusion, although having an MA is certainly not enough to be a good teacher, at the same time, an MA can equip good teachers with powerful tools to innovate and improve their practices without having to rely on guesswork or hearsay. Let’s also not forget that having an MA can put you in a better position to conduct empirical research and disseminate your finding. In fact, it can give teachers a more authoritative voice to contribute to the academic debate on applied linguistics.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Andrea, for your very well argued comment. This, in particular, resonatd with my own experience of doing an MA: ‘Good teachers know what works and what doesn’t work, but backing up your practical experience with a sound theoretical knowledge it’s empowering since it can give you the necessary confidence to defend your practices, especially if they are controversial.’

27 08 2017
shahram

A great topic rarely discussed, In some societies, a good deal of importance is given to academic rationalism. Many teachers are identified with their knowledge and publications (presentations, articles,…), which are mostly theoretically based. Besides, they make incessant attempts to improve their their status by delivering as many works as possible. These achievements appear in the academic bios given at the beginning of most research papers. Although short, these biographies represent the identity and status of many academia. Whether or not this theoretical knowledge is of practical concern is open to question.

It is argued that having high university degrees and a good deal of theoretical knowledge does not make good teachers. In addition to appropriate theoretical and pedagogical knowledge, Zehm and Kottler (2005) emphasize the human dimension of teaching and strongly advocate the view that teachers must be equipped with a set of relationship skills to deliver quality teaching.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Shahram. I think you are right, and I wonder if the drive towards academic credentials is a reflex to the ‘shame’ often associated with the low status in which English language teaching is held in many contexts. Does an MA confer a sense of professional self-esteem?

28 08 2017
shahram

I agree with you to a great extent. In my context there are two main reasons why teachers would like to obtain higher degrees. 1. Improving their status 2. Gaining financial benefits ( an increase in salaries).

30 08 2017
IELTSTeacherMelanie

” Does an MA confer a sense of professional self-esteem?”
Heck yes. ESL (and all other acronyms) is a bizarre profession where complete incompetents can earn a good living simply by having the right passport and face, and being willing to live far from home.

I can see the shift in people’s faces; if I say I teach English, they smile in a slightly patronising way, but when I work my degree (and the very good uni it’s from) into the conversation, their reaction is far more respectful and positive.

For the record, I started as a slightly-competent ‘teacher’ and fell in love with the job. I’ve since done the CELTA and an MA-TESL, and am now trying to decide if I want to go into teacher-training.

31 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Melanie. It would seem to that an MA confers ‘professional’ status more than any other qualification or attribute – in a profession that is keen to be considered as such. One hopes that the providers of MAs take this professionalization role seriously, such that the bearer of said degree really is well equipped to take on any educational responsibility, whether teaching, teacher training, curriculum design, etc.

28 08 2017
Angelos Bollas TEFL

Hi Scott,

I find this post really relevant to what we experience as trainers and as students ourselves.

When I had to make a decision, I chose to do a CELTA and a Delta first. The reasons were clear to me: I first needed to learn how to teach (CELTA), get some classroom experience, then learn the why’s of how to teach (Delta), then get some more classroom experience, then focus on academic issues related to teaching and learning (MA in ELT), then start training, and now focus more on salient features of language (MA in Applied Linguistics). So, the distinction between professional qualifications (CELTA, Delta) and academic ones (MA) is clear: one focuses on the actual job of teaching, the other one has a clear academic and research focus.

One of the problems I have experienced as a trainer and academic manager in different institutions is that I receive CVs from people with MAs in TESOL/ELT/EFL/etc. but no experience. I see how/why MAs accept people with no experience to their courses: as I wrote before, MAs are academic in nature so it is not the experience one should have but the academic potential. The problem is with the graduates of those MA programs who do not seem to understand the importance of hands-on experience. How many times have we encountered a trainee with MAs and PhDs but no teaching experience who cannot teach a class effectively but thinks they can because of their qualifications?

To go back to your question, I think MAs with no Practical component should accept people with no experience but the ones that have a Practicum, shouldn’t. Let’s think about the following: in the UK an MA is a Level 7 academic qualification; a Delta is a Level 7 professional qualification. To be accepted in a Delta course, one has to have teaching experience as well as some kind of initial teacher training. Why, then, MAs don’t have the same pre-requisites when making decisions to accept students in their Practicum component?

Thanks for your post, Scott. It is always interesting to see what colleagues think about these issues. 🙂

Have a great week,

Angelos

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Angelos. You make a good case for doing an MA (or two) but only after prior experience and/or pre-service training. I’m surprised/impressed that you are taking on 2nd MA – was the first so lacking in an ‘applied linguistics’ thread? Or is this the first step (following Geoff’s advice above) to doing a PhD?

29 08 2017
Angelos Bollas TEFL

Hi Scott, thank you for your response. My first MA was focused on English Language Teaching only and some modules related to language or SLA were waived because of my Delta. There was good focus on materials development, political dimensions of methodology, and research methods. I wanted to do a second one so as to focus on issues of Discourse Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis, and Sociolinguistics which will all help me with my PhD. It’s a bit of a sidestep instead of a step forward but – I hope – it will help me in the long run.

28 08 2017
Mike Harrison

The question of doing an MA (a MA?) is an odd one for me. There are two competing notions (perhaps three) related to this.

The first is that (at the moment at least) I have so little desire to do any ELT-related Masters. Now that’s not to say I’m unhappy being in English language teaching – far from it. I still love teaching and enjoy helping my students get further down the road wherever it is they’re going. Perhaps this feeling is a little anti-study: after doing the DELTA, I definitely felt less enthusiastic about doing any other formal ELT course. That’s also not to say that I don’t try to keep up with things. I still go to conferences, read up when every now and then (though access to resources as a non-academic is another matter for another post and comment), I still try things out in my classes, and I still change up what I’m doing.

Juxtaposed with the first is the seemingly essential thing that having an MA has become, in terms of applying for certain jobs. A significant number of the tutors I’m working with on a presessional EAP programme have Masters (one even just defended his PhD). Browsing other EAP job ads, it does always seem to be ‘MA and/or DELTA’, so having a Masters does make you more employable.

So I’m looking to pursue a third way: further studies in a non-ELT discipline. In an ideal world I’d love to do something like a Photojournalism MA, but am held back at the moment due to a lack of funds and the need to build up a better photographic portfolio. I’m currently looking to enrol on a part-time course to make some steps towards this.

I get to the end of this long-ish comment and realise that I haven’t answered your question. I don’t think I have an answer to that, so let me leave it to echo comments above in saying thanks for a thought-provoking post and that I’m looking forward to what others have to add to the discussion.

28 08 2017
Angelos Bollas TEFL

This would be great and quite refreshing, Mike! Goldsmiths has some interesting MAs re Photography! 🙂

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mike. I don’t think you are alone in feeling demotivated by the thought of taking on yet more professional training of such a scale. On the other hand, the idea of doing further study in an unrelated field makes perfect sense. Sadly, I don’t have a hobby like yours that rates as MA worthy. Blogging? 😉

28 08 2017
Gemma Archer

In my own experience working abroad, in particular in the Middle East, Masters qualifications and PhDs were what was wanted, Diploma/DELTA was not seen as an equivalent. Teachers with less experience but a Masters (in any subject) were paid a lot more. However in the UK i’ve found it to be the opposite – schools, universities etc. want a DELTA/ diploma, and I’ve heard on more than one occasion comments such as ‘A DELTA/diploma proves you can teach, a Masters does not’. Having done both, I’m more inclined to agree with that sentiment – while my theoretical understanding improved immensely from doing a Masters, the diploma really sorted out my teaching. The observations are so crucial, as hard as they were, and my teaching, and my self-awareness, are so much better because of it.
As someone who now interviews perspective teachers, I’m always far more assured by the presence of a CELTA/DELTA/DIP on a CV than an MA.

28 08 2017
Angelos Bollas TEFL

I cannot agree more, Gemma. That’s exactly what I look for when interviewing teachers 🙂

28 08 2017
Andrea Vitali

Good point, Gemma. However, if I had to choose among a group of teachers with MA, I would also look at their grades and at their topic of their dissertantions. The difference between merely scraping a passing grade and getting a high distinction is pretty huge. As for the dissertation, it can be classroom-based action research and therefore very practical. However, I think that it all depends on the teaching contexts and on the job position. In fact, the proper answer to Scott’s question might be “it depends on what you intend to do with your MA”. You also say that you might favour a Celta over a MA, but we must recognise that as the CELTA can be extremely limited if not taken with a pinch of salt. In my opinion, its biggest shortfalls are its decontextualised approach, as if there was a one-size-fits-all methodology universally applicable (in my experience a succession of communicative PPP and TTT approaches), its disregard for today’s international role of English as a lingua franca, and its fixation on monolingualism. A teacher who did a Celta 10 years ago and has kept using it with little variations since then might be experienced, but she’s certainly not an expert teacher.

28 08 2017
Gemma Archer

Oh absolutely. And I agree with everything you’re saying re: the CELTA, especially that of the ELF input. But at the end of the day, if a decision has to be made over which tutor to employ, for me personally a combination of CELTA/DELTA (not just a CELTA from 10 years ago and nothing further) *might* inspire more confidence in me, rather than just an MA. But obviously in reality it is rarely this straightforward, and many factors, as you mentioned, could influence this.

28 08 2017
delphapdx

I believe that the issue at hand is largely a North American one. CELTA and DELTA are basically unknown in most towns and cities in the middle of the US. Private schools are completely unregulated, but federal laws for adult education require that instructors hold master’s degrees (we are talking those who teach immigrants and refugees in community colleges — by far the largest segment of English language teaching going on in the U.S.). Adult education courses are mostly taught by adjuncts (like me) who work on contingent contracts (they account for 70-80% of instructors). They are burdened with $40,000 or MORE of educational debt, but will likely earn less than that in one year unless they work at multiple colleges, so it’s easy to understand this woman’s anxiety. Here, the drive to get an academic credential is simply to ensure that one qualifies for the most commonly available jobs. Even with experience teaching English abroad (usually in a developed country like Japan or Korea), many of us adjuncts working in adult ed. contexts are still not prepared for the work we do. The populations I work with now are low educated adults, who may not even be literate in their own languages. Neither my time in Turkey teaching the wealthier members of society, my master’s degree in TESL, nor my DELTA prepared me to serve many of my refugee and immigrant students who have incredible obstacles to overcome. To be honest, I’ve relied most heavily on materials and educational training content from the K-12 context in the U.S., where there is more of a focus on establishing basic “literacy” skills.

28 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Delpha – it’s salutary to hear – in some detail – how these issues play out in the workplace, and how individual teachers like yourself are affected. As I suspected, the requirement that teachers in the public sector have an MA is one that is imposed from above. Those of us who offer MAs need to be cognizant of the nature of the (typical) ESOL teaching context (as you describe it) and seek to address it, both at the theoretical level but, very importantly, in the practicum component. (I have to add that those doing the practicum on-site for The New School have access to large groups of immigrants as part of our ‘outreach program’ – although teaching these groups doesn’t necessarily prepare teachers for EFL contexts such as Japan and Korea. Apropos, it’s deeply frustrating to me that there isn’t a source of good quality videos of classes in these contexts, which would at least provide prospective teachers with some exposure to them):

30 08 2017
IELTSTeacherMelanie

I think this may reflect on the blind application of minimum standards to particular jobs. Those deciding on what qualifications will be necessary are not always those involved in or experienced with the teaching situation, leading them to demand something that looks good, but may not be useful.
For example, I was unable to work at a centre teaching adult immigrants in Canada because I lack a B Ed. So, having an MA TESL+ yrs of experience with adults was inferior to a degree in teaching English-speaking children with very little research into second language learning. This was not the centre’s decision–it came from the government department that funded them! The centre would have liked more freedom to consider multiple qualifications as well as experience, but no.

29 08 2017
Matthew

Scott said: “Apropos, it’s deeply frustrating to me that there isn’t a source of good quality videos of classes in these contexts, which would at least provide prospective teachers with some exposure to them)”.

So true! Here are a couple of the rare sources of ESOL/literacy classroom video I’ve found: 1) https://www.youtube.com/user/MLoTSAdultEducation/videos 2) http://www.newamericanhorizons.org/training-videos

Somewhere recently (can’t remember precisely where for the life of me right now) I saw someone including classroom observation hours under a ‘practice teaching’ heading (or something to that effect) on a CV type thing. I remember doing an instant double-take before recognizing the clear sense in that. I’ve actually always found observing lessons *just about* as valuable as being observed! But I’m not sure that the value of well-scaffolded observation (whether live or with video) are always appreciated in ways that perhaps they should be?

I trawl YouTube for clips of teachers teaching in various contexts. It can be extremely helpful to view varied approaches in action. For example, these videos of Don Cherry’s Silent Way-based instruction: https://www.youtube.com/user/donaldecherry/videos

Apologies if this post runs slightly off the larger main topic. I do think I’ll be back to attempt my own answers to the questions posed above and thanks for yet another excellent platform for dialogue here on your blog.

29 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Matthew – I’ll check out those links. In my experience, hunting on YouTube, most clips of classroom teaching are poorly recorded, not always audible, and/or you can’t see (or hear) the students, and/or the teacher is ‘showing off” (and hence it is all rather teacher centered) or – and I hate to say this – the teaching is just plain bad. By that I mean, it is a string of display questions, mindless drills, or, worst of all, nothing but the teacher at the board ‘explaining’ grammar. Also, there is often a lack of background information, necessary to situate the lesson.

But I agree with you that the experience of observing other classes is hugely formative, especially if it is supported by reflective discussion, e.g. with the teachers themselves and/or a supervisor. It makes a lot of sense to count these observing ‘hours’ in one’s portfolio/CV.

29 08 2017
shahram

Dear friends
How would you define experience? Experience can’t be defined in terms of the number of years of service. Clearly there are many teachers, regardless of their educational level, who have been working for years. However, they lack the standardized characteristics of experienced teachers. Tsui (2003) argues that the concept of teacher expertise is culturally specific, being conceived of inconsistently in different countries. Teaching expertise is often defined in number of years of teaching experience. However, it is a simplistic view of teaching expertise. There have been many studies which compare novice vs. expert teachers. Based on the findings obtained, expert teachers are characterized by the possession of better improvisational skills, autonomy in decision making, the ability to anticipate problems, more efficiency in lesson planning, and the ability to use a more extensive knowledge base, to name just a few.

29 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Shahram. You rightly characterize teacher expertise (e.g. improvisational skills, etc) but you leave open the question as to how such expertise is acquired. Clearly it is not simply the incremental product of lots of teaching. Nor (I would guess) is it attempting to emulate expert teachers (e.g. by improvising more). Most of the literature on teacher expertise would argue that there must be an element of ‘reflection on practice’ – Amy Tsui, in the reference you cite (2003), is emphatic: ‘Reflection and deliberation are characteristic of expertise… I characterise expertise as constant engagement in exploration and experimentation, in problematising the unproblematic, and responding to challenges’ (p. 277). It is this ‘constant engagement in exploration and experimentation’ that is the mark of a good practicum – to bring the topic back to the discussion of MA programs.

29 08 2017
patrick

This thread really has produced some interesting insights, but I think the question itself presents an unnecessary dichotomy between CELTA style training and MA style education, and ignores both the many other routes into TEFL and the diversity of TEFL situations that teachers might face or need to be prepared for.

Specifically re MAs and costs, I may have misunderstood the New School website, but it seems to work out at USD 45,000 for the MA (@USD 1,500 per credit * 30 credits). This is for a degree which “does not by itself certify an individual to teach in public or proprietary schools in New York State”. (Sincere apologies if I have misrepresented New School’s course.)

An alternative might be the distance learning MA ELT at Uni of East London at GBP 3,000 (less than most DELTAs), probably the most cost effective, or Birmingham’s Diistance Learning MA TESOL at around GBP 9k – I’m sure no-one here needs reminding of Birmingham’s pre-eminence in certain areas (both sets of fees are the same for domestic or international students).

But back to the original dichotomy, it kind of implies that prospective teachers are like sausage meat passively processed into better or worse quality product by the training organisation, but IMHO it’s the course that’s the product and the student teacher that makes the difference.

The few hours of practical teaching on both proposed routes can only provide a taster.

29 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Patrick. And you are right – there is a huge variation in the cost of an MA. There’s equally huge variation, I suspect, in quality – but cost doesn’t necessarily equate with quality. What’s more, opinions of the quality can vary even within a cohort doing the same MA. In fact, I find it very difficult to answer the question ‘What MA would you recommend?’ (which I am constantly asked, by the way) because they are so many factors to consider – not only the cost, but the convenience, the specific focus (if there is one), the reputation of the teaching staff (which might not necessarily correlate with their teaching ability!), the teacher-student ratio, the syllabus and core readings, the library facilities, the assessment procedures (is there a dissertation, for example) and so on. And of course all this can change from one year – even one term – to the next. ‘Ask around’ is all I can (pathetically) advise.

30 08 2017
pgs1705

Having employed many people over the years I try to employ the person and not the paper. However, the British Council applaud schools with an above average number of TELFQ staff and DoSs/Principals are put under pressure to hire/retain at this level. Likewise I have been criticised for employing a teacher with real classroom “talent’ because their training was not technically fully compliant with BC requirements. On the other hand, I have got rid of many CELTA teachers who were just not suited to teaching! My question is do BC accreditation rules play a part in the qualifications we like to see from our teachers and does it then mean that accreditation might make you select a teacher for the WRONG reasons?

31 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Good questions: clearly, large recruiting organizations such as the BC do have a large influence on how different qualifications are perceived in the ‘market place’ – see an earlier point about the BC favoring DELTAs. But I also have known some absolutely brilliant teachers who could never hack a DELTA because of the academic literacy skills it requires.

1 09 2017
pgs1705

I think you have missed my point Scott, I am not talking about the British Council as an employer, I am referring to Accreditation UK, the British Council’s accreditation arm. The more TEFLQ staff you have the more likely you are to get a strength in your report and this is a massive aid to marketing a school. The proportion of TEFLQ staff is seen to reflect on the school and teachers with an MA or even a PhD are seen as parent pleasers and a good indicator of a quality BC accredited establishment. My question is does that mean our recruitment and retention policy and judgement is altered by our desire to please our accreditation masters rather than just to put damn good teachers in a classroom regardless of the paperwork??

30 08 2017
IELTSTeacherMelanie

I’m very happy with the Masters program I did. I feel it made me a more thoughtful, reflective, and confident teacher, and it has come in handy in the classroom with belligerent students. (I don’t like using it as a trump card, but sometimes, needs must.)

What I think is not made clear is the limitation of various MA programs. For example, some institutions will only hire a teacher whose MA included observed teaching–a problem for those of us who took a non-teaching MA that required earlier teaching experience. Or, they will hire such a teacher but at a lower pay rate, regardless of teaching experience. (I’m looking at you, British Council…)

In the UK, some MA programs will allow you to teach in the state sector, some not. In Scotland, independent schools will soon be forced to follow the same qualification rules as state schools, which will be a problem for those wishing to teach EAL as the PGCE/PGDE programme doesn’t not offer qualifications in EAL, and MA’s are not usually accepted.

So from the point of view of recouping one’s investment, before even looking at the MAs on offer, a prospective student needs to think ahead 10 years, and work back from there. Not always possible–I had no idea when starting my MA that I’d ever be teaching in British boarding schools!

31 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Melanie. That’s an interesting point about the relative acceptability of different MAs. It certainly behoves the potential student to ask lots of questions – and demand straight answers! The question as to whether the MA allows you to teach in the state sector might be one of the first to ask. I know that this is a vexed issue in the US, with different states having different requirements, such that an MA may be valid in one state but not in another. Ask around!

30 08 2017
Lina

To me, it seems quite logical that many people go for a Master’s in TESOL with no prior teaching experience since they expect being taught how to teach during the programme. Don’t they?..

However, implementing teaching practice into the programme is a different thing. For example, I’m choosing between Delta and PG Cert/Dip. I want a programme with a decent practical element, and I don’t think many PG programmes have it. It was nice to see that some Master’s programmes do have it (I hope it’s the case for PG Cert/Dip programmes as well) but anyway, for now, I feel like Delta might be a better choice. It doesn’t equal MA but still, it’s also a Level-7 qualification and provides similar content. From my point of view, MA is for those teachers who want to make their way into academia and research teaching. I’m a practical type and just want to teach rather than research.

30 08 2017
pgs1705

Dip vs. DELTA – I always advise teachers looking to take the next step to think about the long term credibility of the centre of study. It may not matter now, but further down the road…? Added to that, in my experience, I have always been more impressed by Dip teachers…

30 08 2017
IELTSTeacherMelanie

It also depends where you want to teach. I’m in Scotland, and local schools won’t even sniff my MA, and they wouldn’t care about a Delta either. I would need a PGDE or PGCE for either state or independent schools–despite the fact that neither of these qualifications will offer ESL/EAL as a teachable. I’m left with language schools (low pay) or further education–and there aren’t many jobs going there!

3 09 2017
Jeff B

Regarding the Dip vs. Delta, I actually applied to both programs this past summer. As I indicated in my post at the top, I got a TEFL 20 years ago and a TESOL MA a few years later. I am currently teaching at a university in Korea, where having a TESOL MA is very helpful when trying to get a job. But I want to relocate to Russia or Europe. Plus, I’d like to improve myself, specifically by being observed by professional trainers. I’m sure I have some blind spots and bad habits.

Anyway, with those things in mind, I applied for the Distance Delta Blended Program, which has a 6-week intensive Module 2, the observed part. I was accepted into the Delta program but told that I would need to do the extensive version of Module 2 (9-months long) as my TEFL certificate was not recognized in Europe and my sample lesson plans did not demonstrate an inductive teaching style. I accepted their decision but did not like the fact that I wouldn’t be observed as I would have to do Module 2 here in Korea where there are no Delta trainers.

So, I then applied to the Trinity Dip TESOL, which has an observation portion for all participants. I was accepted into the program. The 6-month online portion begins in Nov., I’ll be doing the face-to-face part in Spain next summer.

I realize that this is not the most orthodox career path, but I’m looking forward to the program.

31 08 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Lina – your comment reflects a number of previous comments, including Geoff’s (above), i.e. that, all things being equal (which of course they never are!) then a DELTA might give the best bang for the buck, unless you are planning to pursue a doctorate at some point (and that’s a whole other discussion!)

1 09 2017
Lina

I totally agree with everything said above. I especially like the word Melanie used, ‘teachable’. It’s exactly what worries me: while Dip/M programme provides deeper theoretical knowledge does it provide any practical – teachable – content? And we’re back again to where we started from.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s