Diploma or MA? Let battle commence!

After a couple of years teaching, this is a question that pops into most people’s heads – if only to pop straight back out for most of us, until our bosses almost force us to do one or the other (or even both).

Although I finished the Dip and dropped out of the MA in ELT I started the year after, I would hate for anyone to think I am prejudiced about the Masters. I think English Teaching MAs are a great idea. If you want to work in a university, you have to start the process by paying a university. What a genius money making idea! It’s as if UCLES demanded that people spend two years taking the FCE etc. before they can go for a job interview to work in Cambridge University Press. Only PADI the SCUBA people have a better scam going on.

And it’s not just signing up with two years of your life and 5000 or more pounds of your money either. You’ll also be expected to become a true believer in your professor’s ideas to fully join the cult of the academic ELT world. While your DELTA tutor might want to just get through this part of the course syllabus to leave plenty of time to swot for the exam and so get their pass percentages up on their website, at least arguing about the ideas a little isn’t seen as a personal attack on someone’s reputation. Not that any of my MA tutors got angry about my niggling questions, they just nodded as if to say “Even if you’re right, you haven’t written a book about it, have you?” and that was that.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, many universities in the States bring this Masters joke to a whole other level by offering English graduates a one year Masters in ESOL with no teaching practice at all! That’s right, a fully qualified English teacher who has never been observed teaching a single student. Worth remembering next time someone tries to impress you with letters after their name.

For all that 4 week CELTA-type courses get slagged off for not being proper training for a teacher, I have never trained someone who didn’t teach a class better by the end of the month, including people we had to fail. From my experience, I would not say the same for people studying even a whole year of teaching theory. We had a few people taking the 4 week Via Lingua CTEFLA course who already had ESOL MAs, and to be honest most of them never got any good at teaching- with so much theory popping into their brains everytime something happened in the classroom they often just froze like a computer running 12 programs. People with PGCEs in different subjects also often found it difficult to adapt for the first two weeks or so, but apart from the over 50s their previous (practical) experience had been adapted to help them by the end of the course. I never once saw the same with people with MAs. Even grammar, which they obviously knew well, was something they overcomplicated and overexplained in the classroom.

And so if you actually want to improve your teaching as well as your job prospects, that leaves the Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults or the Trinity Diploma. You can see some of my views on the Dip here:


This entry was posted in Cambridge Delta, Diploma in TESOL, TEFL qualifications. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Diploma or MA? Let battle commence!

  1. Pingback: The Great DELTA / MA Debate - TEFL Certification,

  2. Alex Case says:

    Thanks for the comments Katie

    As you said, all British MAs I know of demand classroom experience before entering the course. Many American universities, however, accept people straight off English Language degrees who are looking to turn it into something more practical and job related. How taking an MA with no observed teaching is practical and job related is the bit I do not understand…

    To be fair, some US unis do now offer a Certificate course as part of the deal, but if the very best a further education institution can offer for practical teacher training is the much slagged off 4 week cert, maybe some of that criticism of the CELTA and its ilk should be redirected.

    Anyway, I still say that all that theory before you starting teaching is a bad thing.

  3. Kaithe Greene says:

    Don’t know whether I should admit to this or not – here goes, I did both Trinity Dip and MA voluntarily!

    Why? Because I was interested, and because I wanted to. And, also, to see what it was all about.

    I think that being interested, wanting to, and curiosity are all good reasons for doing something – particularly when the thing you’re doing, or are about to do, is not harmful to yourself or anyone else.

    Are MAs a scam? Oh Alex, surely you’re too young to be so cynical! As above, if the MA takers have their own valid reasons for doing it, and feel they’re getting what they want, then no it’s not a scam. If, as suggested by my controversial friend, Alex, one feels obliged to take a course then the question should be, not so much is it a scam? But more who is benefiting from this? And at what cost to whom?

    I think it is definitely worth (doing a lot of) research before shelling out any money for anything, and that includes courses of study. Although I personally feel that all learning is worthwhile for its own sake, one would be wise to consider what one’s aims are before committing to a, possibly very expensive, course of study. Having done the RSA/UCLES Cert TEFLA (pre CELTA certificate) I found myself teaching mainly young learners, and wondering why bosses actively encouraged teachers who were teaching mostly young learners to do a further adult teaching qualification..! For me the Trinity Dip made more sense because it addressed young learners and ESP as well as adult teaching. Maybe I just got lucky with my tutor because not only was it all very useful, but I actually enjoyed it!

    Talking of spending loadsa dosh, which most of us aren’t earning, I found that the British Open University offered a reasonably priced, modular MA, with the option of paying by instalments, and possible bursaries for the low waged and resident in the UK – check it out.

    Don’t the English say something like “Horses for courses”?

    What did I get out of doing an MA? As much as I put into it perhaps? Just a thought!
    Seriously though, having done a certificate course and then a diploma, and having several years classroom experience the theory made sense, it was rather like looking at a map of a journey I had made and understanding how I got from A to B; and then having the deeper knowledge to think about how to modify and/or adapt the route depending on who was going on the journey with me, overnight stops, interesting or useful detours, etc., – take the analogy as far as you want, you get the picture.

    And the research was incredibly interesting – I did a project on the role of language in thinking which had extensive implications for the use of L1 or target language in the EFL classroom, and gave me huge amounts of information that changed my thinking pair work and group work activities, not to mention informing me about how people learn and learner autonomy. Another project involved working with a group of teenagers taking an FCE course over two years which again had a great deal of very useful and practical impact on my classroom practise.

    My final thoughts – look into it very carefully before parting with any cash, and realise that, like so many life situations, you’ll get back according to what you put in. I do think, though, that the MA is for those who are going to be involved in Education/TEFL for a long time, and for those involved in training those who are happy to learn from the mistakes others have made, rather than making their own!

  4. Alex Case says:

    Thanks for your very even analysis of both, Kaithe. Your MA does indeed sound interesting and rewarding, and of course I will never know whether I would’ve got to do such fascinating and practical original research if I’d just stuck with it and churned out the “write 2500 words to show you were listening” essays at the beginning of my course.

    I think your case illustrates several points for an optimum MA taking experience.
    One- take the Dip first.
    Two- wait a while after the Dip (I knew at the time I shoud’ve done this but was trying to make the most of being in London).
    Three- don’t feel any pressure to take it, either directly from your boss or indirectly from an overcompetitive job market.
    I also suspect number four and five are true for you too
    – work somewhere where you can get some financial benefit from having the MA without being forced to take a non-teaching job
    – don’t do it on your first year in a new country

    If all those are true and we get a good tutor on a good course (OU is a great recommendation) we certainly have more to gain (knowledge, satisfaction, better classes) than lose (time, money). But I still say before taking the plunge it’s worth remembering that the ones who gain most from the existance of MAs in EFL are the universities themselves, and the existence of an MA programme in a particular university can show nothing more than the existence of a market for it.

  5. Kaithe Greene says:

    You’re right Alex, definitely take the Dip before the MA, and use some time between to process what you’ve learnt.

    You’re right about getting some financial benefit too. Working for the British Council, if you’ve got a Dip (which gives you an extra point on the pay scale) the MA puts you up a point on the pay scale for teachers; but if the MA doesn’t have an observed teaching element you must have a Dip to get the extra for having an MA. This arrangement further promotes the view that theory is no use if you can’t make use of it!

    If those leading INSETT in any school/language centre have this level of qualification, and presumably knowledge and expertise, then surely there will be a cascade mechanism for passing on knowledge and skills..? If this isn’t happening in your teaching context, I suggest you ask for it. Now that would be value for money, wouldn’t it!

  6. Alex Case says:

    Although you can never rule out them thinking up a ‘no MA bonus without teaching component or Dip’ law originally as a cost saving measure in these days of budget cuts, I must say it sounds very clever indeed. In my school it’s pay rise for Dip or MA (no difference), and no further pay rise if you’ve got both.

    Another good point I would agree on is that teacher trainers do need to be more qualified than the people they are training, or at least have examined things at a more theoretical level. I think one weakness of my Dip course was, looking back, the fact that neither of my trainers had post-Dip qualifications and so couldn’t answer if anyone asked “But why is that so” to something we had to learn.

  7. Kaithe Greene says:

    I do agree with you totally, Alex, that teacher trainers should be more qualified and experienced than those they are training. Having said that, I have gained a lot from actively seeking to find new or different knowledge and inspiration when attending compulsory INSETT or other training which turns out to be based on a book I have read – and this had happened to me more than once!

    If your DELTA trainers had no post-Dip qualifications and so couldn’t answer if anyone asked “But why is that so” to something you had to learn then I hope you both found an answer elsewhere, and mentioned it in your post course feedback.

    One thing the MA did for me was enable me to find answers to questions I couldn’t answer of the top of my head – very useful that! Also, as an OU alumni associate (if that’s the correct term) I still have access to a certain sections of the OU website including discussion forums and the open library. So I don’t have many excuses for not keeping up to date. That’s one of the great things about knowledge, it isn’t static, and it is ever growing and developing.

    Oh yes, it’s worth mentioning that this seems like good value for money too, don’t you think?

  8. Pingback: Can There Even Be An M.A. / DELTA Debate? - TEFL Certification,

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