Sunday, May 26, 2024

The next level

How to decide if a Master’s degree is for you and, if so, which one, with guidance from Melanie Butler

With the most recent cohort of graduates from British universities panic buying Master’s courses this summer, according to The Observer newspaper, should recent graduates be looking to sign up for a TEFFL-related Master’s?

The short answer is no. While there’s no doubt that jobs that require a Master’s pay better on average than those that don’t, almost all of those jobs require experience. And, in most countries, you need a teaching certificate to get your first job, even a cheap and cheerful four-week one will get you a visa, at least if you’re a native speaker, a Master’s without a ‘cert’ may not.

It’s true that there are a handful of British universities that offer the standard four-week courses as part of the Master’s package. King’s College London offer a CELTA option, for example, and Manchester Met offers Trinity. These add-ons are mostly aimed at international students who are graduating from a first degree in an English-speaking country and think, correctly, that a Master’s in language teaching will help them compete against native speakers for teaching jobs back home.

In the US, by contrast, where Master’s degrees used to be the basic starter qualification for Americans looking to work abroad, more and more big name universities are dropping their ELT-related Master’s altogether, and offering shorter and much cheaper certificate courses. Such certificates are now available everywhere, from Ivy League colleges like Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, to half the members of the University of California: Berkeley, Irvine, UCLA…

The problem with a Master’s for beginner teachers is that most base-level EFL jobs pay so little that it’s not worth investing in a Master’s, but if you want climb the  ladder, you might need one later on. The quandary is summed up in a comment I found about education in general on “Having a higher degree gets you a higher pay packet, but it doesn’t get you the pay packet in the first place.”

Of course, there are some countries, mostly in East Asia, where a Master’s is accepted as an alternative to a certificate even when it comes to teaching kids – and remember, under-18s make up 80% or more of global enrolments. There is one sector, the universities, where it can be hard to get a job teaching English without one. But if you’re looking to teach in the private language school sector, and most teachers begin there, signing up for a year-long course before you’ve even dipped your toes into the world of English language teaching to see if you like it is probably a case of learning to swim before you can paddle.

Moving up the ladder

For those with a cert and a couple of years of teaching under their belt, the question arises: “Do I want to stay in this sector and, if so, how do I get a better job?” The answer is, to get a better job, you probably need a better qualification and, traditionally, the choice has been between a DELTA-type teaching qualification or a Master’s.

Outside the UK and Europe there isn’t really a choice at all, because almost nobody outside of the British-owned language schools really knows what a DELTA is. Actually, it’s a great, solid, teaching course which teaches you all the things about teaching you wish you’d known all along, but it’s expensive, time-consuming and schools pay little if any extra money to teachers who have one. Now even directors of studies (Dos) in accredited UK schools don’t need dips (and, anyway, UK Dosses make peanuts, as we report on page 6). Unless you have a good job, the spare cash and are looking to be a better teacher, dips are probably not worth the investment. If your school needs a dip teacher, they can pay for you to do one: after all, the British Council, IH and (sometimes) Bell all do.

So, you have two real choices: stay in schools, but switch to mainstream – in which case you could consider an iPGCE (see page 22); it’s the same price as a dip, but the jobs you can get pay double. Or you can choose to do a Master’s and aim for work in, for example, universities, teacher training or management. This is the point where doing a higher-level degree really can get you a higher-level job in any number of fields.

Choosing a Master’s

For any teacher considering a Master’s, the first question is: can I afford to take a year out of employment or do I have the staying power to do one online while I work? It’s not a question anyone else can answer for you, but the good news is that there is a lot on offer in both modes of delivery.

When it comes to an online TEFL-related Master’s, the UK and Australia have the most to offer. If you’re thinking of a job in the university sector, it’s the research ranking of the department of the university rather than the university itself you need to think about. For applied linguistics, for example, Lancaster in the UK and Maquarie in Australia are both in the top 50 in the world.

If you’re looking more towards teacher training or perhaps school management, you might lean towards one with a practical bent and an emphasis on the classroom, such as the one on offer in Australia at the University of New England or the hybrid course which mixes online with an in-person summer school at the School of International Training in Vermont. There are even online courses with a bewildering choice of specialisation at Scotland’s University of St Andrews and – in hybrid form with an optional DELTA – the Norwich Institute of Language Education in the East of England.

For those wanting an on-campus option, the geographic choice is wider still, whether in Ireland at Trinity College Dublin or in New Zealand at Victoria University. And beyond the Anglo-Saxon world there are several great courses in Singapore and Hong Kong. Always remember, however, that a US Master’s and many Canadian ones take two years, not one.

Do your research. If you want to go the university route, check which department the Master’s is in and search under that subject area on the QS global subject rankings. Nottingham and Birmingham have two different Master’s in two different ranking departments: education and English. Check out the student websites, ask around and for goodness’ sake look at the course details and the research interests of the staff who teach it.

Don’t worry if you make a mistake, though, A Master’s can change your life. At least one friend of mine wanted to focus on grammar teaching, with a plan of going into publishing afterwards, and ended up at a university which had a heavy emphasis on language testing. Luckily for him, there is a world shortage of language testers and he now works for a major exam board.

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Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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