Talking yourself into an MA TESOL

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Postgraduate study requires a willingness to share experiences. Explore your own classroom before taking the step.

Do you find yourself stalking your school staffroom at break time in search of colleagues who are willing to have a really good conversation about methodology? If so, you could be ready to take your interest in English language teaching into the rarified atmosphere of an MA course.

A desire to dissect and deconstruct classroom practice is a good indicator that day-to-day engagement with teaching languages is evolving into the kind of deeper inquiry that is nurtured and extended through academic study at the master’s level. The UK is a leader in the field of ELT research and study, with over 40 MA courses aimed at developing knowledge about language acquisition, pedagogical theory and the diversity of ELT in a global context, while institutions in other countries are increasingly opening up this subject to international participants.Advertisement

But how do busy teachers know when they are ready to make that step into academia? We asked some of the people running MA Tesol courses to help identify the signs that practitioners should look for to help them make that decision.

“One of the questions we advise candidates to ask themselves is how confident do they feel about talking about their teaching,” said Peter Watkins, senior lecturer in the School of Language and Area Studies at Portsmouth University in the UK, which offers two Tesol-related MAs. “That could be in online discussions or in the staffroom. We are interested in the teachers who are engaged in those discussions.”

Alan Waters, senior lecturer on the MA Tesol courses at Lancaster University, in the UK, points to other ways teachers can build on their classroom skills: “Teaching experience is important, but it is also good to have done some further in-service training before doing an MA. Attending professional conferences, reading academic papers in publications such as the ELT Journal, are very good ways of getting a sense of what you are letting yourself in for.”

Many teachers will still question whether their teaching experience will have prepared them adequately for MA studies. Information provided by individual courses will help them make that judgment. Many of the courses offered in the UK are designed either for pre-experience candidates or for those with extensive practical experience. The former are targeted at people with relevant first degrees in education or languages who want to develop a specialisation in ELT before starting their careers. These courses can combine both theory and practical teaching experience, but they anticipate that participants will have no more than brief firsthand knowledge of the classroom.

Teachers who are already established in their careers should look for courses that ask for at least two years’ classroom experience. At Portsmouth, Watkins says the breadth of experience of students on his courses can vary widely, but that a minimum of two years is the ideal.

At King’s College London, Nick Andon, who runs the MA Tesol course, is looking not just for experience but to bring together a student group that reflects the diversity of ELT globally. “The richness of an MA lies in the richness of experience that teachers from a variety of contexts share. The value for teachers lies to a great extent in the opportunity it provides to reflect back on their experience, share this with other teachers and find ways to build on it for the future. So it is worth considering whether other students on the programme will have the same amount of experience as you, or whether students with just one or two years’ experience (or even no teaching experience) will be on the same modules.”

But being willing and able to talk about teaching is not the only requirement of an MA. “Students also need to realise that most of their assessment will depend on them being able to write about their ideas in an acceptable academic way, as well as being able to talk about them,” said Waters. “Some students can be very good at the talking aspects but not find it quite as easy to write in an academic way.”

For Amos Paran, senior lecturer on the MA Tesol courses at the Institute of Education in London, a vital question to ask of any MA course provider is how much structured support students receive to help them develop their academic writing skills.

“Many MA students are coming back to studying after a being away from formal education for some time. They will be expected to do a lot of written assignments and this can be a challenge if you haven’t done something like this before.

“Ask to be put in contact with a student on the course, or a recent graduate. Ask them about the course staff and the support you will get for your learning.”

Source: The Guardian

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