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.’

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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.
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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?