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?




F is for First Lessons

4 07 2010

Students doing pair work in the first lesson of the beginners group

The Methods course that I am teaching this summer has just embarked on a short round of teaching practice classes. To help the teachers plan their first lesson, I pulled a few old favourites out of the drawer. They are roughly divided into those that have a mainly interpersonal function (such as forging a collaborative group dynamic) and those that are primarily diagnostic (identifying strengths, weaknesses, interests, and styles). Feel free to post variants, additions – or attributions (apart from the few I dreamed up myself, such as the star warmer, I have no idea who invented the rest).

1.         Interpersonal

•          My name is… and I like… A memory game. Go round the class: the first person completes the formula “My name is …and I like ….” (Or “…and I’ve always wanted to…” or whatever seems appropriate for the level).  The  next person reports this (“Her name is …and she likes….”) and then adds their own name and something they like, and so on, each person reporting on what everyone else has said, before adding something new.

•          Five-pointed star: Learners each draw a five pointed star. On the first point they write a person’s name that is important to them; on the second a place name; on the third a number; on the fourth a date; and on the fifth a sign, symbol or logo.  They then get into pairs or small groups, show each other their stars, and ask and answer questions about them.

•          Find someone who…: Students circulate, with prepared questions, and then report to class. A useful variation is where everyone (anonymously) supplies an interesting fact about themselves on a slip of paper: these are then collected and one student dictates them to the class (“This person has been to Hawaii…” etc). The dictated sentences are then used as the basis for the Q & A milling activity.

•          Teacher interview: In open class, question a selection of students individually re jobs, English learning experience, mainly, about 5 minutes each, very conversational. Ask them to do same to you, but first to prepare questions in pairs (writing). Check questions; write erroneous ones on to board. Class check. They then ask you questions. In pairs/groups they write up a summary about you. Monitor writing and share any interesting errors. (If there are several teachers – as in the case of a shared teaching practice class – each can be interviewed in rotation by different groups, and then summaries compared).

2.         Diagnostic

•          Topic ranking: students in groups brainstorm topics they are interested in and would like to talk about in class. Feedback on to board in the form of a list.  Re-group students, and each group has to choose a short-list of, say, three. Feedback on to board. Then have an open class vote (show of hands) for the final three.

•          Questionnaire/survey: Prepare a questionnaire/survey about students preferred learning styles and activities. E.g. Do you prefer to work a) individually; b) in pairs; c) in groups; d) as a whole class; e) doesn’t matter?  Students complete individually, then discuss either in groups or open class. (Students could also prepare the questions themselves, working in pairs or small groups).

•          Activity smorgasbord: Prepare a sequence of short activities of different types, e.g. game, pair discussion, group paragraph writing, listening task (eg. describe and draw) etc. Each activity should last no longer than 5 minutes. Then hand out questionnaire listing the activity types and ask learners to rate them (e.g. like, didn’t like, neutral). Then compare findings in small groups and report.

•          Free discussion: generate an open class chat about a theme of common interest to all (e.g. the best/worst things about this town). Using your best dinner party host skills draw students out, and keep the focus off heavy correction. If/Once the discussion gets going let it run. Then put sts into pairs/threes to write a summary of what was said  e.g. as if for an absent class member. Monitor and correct. Note any interesting language stuff that emerges.

•          Discussion cards: Prepare some discussion topics on cards. For the first day, these could focus on language learning experiences and preferences.  Number the back of the cards. Place these face down on the floor at the front of the room. Students form groups: a representative from each group takes a card, returns to the group; the group discusses the topic until it’s exhausted; then they take another card. Groups report on their discussions at the end.