There are an ever-increasing number of options for EFL and ESL teachers out there for postgraduate study with a lot of the old obstacles disappearing: location is no longer an issue with more and more institutions offering distance programmes; access to resources is at your fingertips with the vast majority of major journals accessible online; and the plethora of web 2.0 communication tools mean, even though you are learning by distance, you can still have real-time, ‘live’ contact with your tutors and course mates. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves a little. First, there are some points to consider before the whole application process begins…
Plan ahead of time“Hmmm,” you may be thinking. “What’s the point of a post about deciding whether or not to do an MA in mid-August with the new academic year fast approaching?” Well, obviously, you are unlikely to get a place on an MA course starting September 2010 now but the point is, now is the time to start thinking about whether or not you want to join one starting in the 2011/12 academic year. First, you’ll need to decide if you want to go ahead with it, then you’ll need to find institutions offering courses that fit your needs, then you’ll need all the information on how to apply, then you’ll actually have to apply and before you know it, the deadlines for applications are looming and… you get the picture. I’ll be writing more on those steps of the process later but planning ahead is a skill you’ll definitely need if you start an MA in the future so you might as well get some practice in now. ;)
Why do you want to do an MA?This is an important question to ask yourself for two reasons: first of all, the question can be considered in terms of your motivation. Do you want to enhance your career prospects? Are you looking for a source professional development? Do you want to learn some new tricks? Or refresh some old ones? We all have different reasons for wanting to do these courses and these reasons are important because they are what will drive you through the inevitable hard work. For me, it was the fact that I’d been teaching for nearly ten years but still only had a CELTA qualification and felt I was just treading water. I believed the experience I had already could serve me well during my studies and I was also looking to expand my knowledge and ultimately become a better teacher.
Secondly, this question can be looked as a way of asking what area of expertise you have or wish to develop. This is important for deciding exactly what course you want to do. If you are working with young learners for example, and see yourself continuing on that path, you may want to look at MAs focusing on TEYL. Or if you see yourself moving back into teaching adults, you may consider a general MA in TESOL instead. There are programmes available for varying strands of ELT: general English, ESP, EdTech…. You need to look for a course that fits in with what you’re doing in your regular job as well as, and perhaps more importantly, what you want to do in the future. Because I work with young learners and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future, I first looked at TEYL courses but I later decided to pursue the EdTech and TESOL path as I believe technology is set to play an increasingly major role in education and I wanted to get ahead of the game. One year on, I can tell you I made the right choice. :)
have you got the time?This is an really important one to consider. Doing these courses by distance is easier than it was in practical terms but the fact remains that you are planning to do a Masters degree and that will require a great commitment of time and effort. The tutor for my first semester course last September, Julian Edge, said in one discussion that a question he always asks new or prospective students is “What are you willing to give up?” Especially if you are working full-time and/or have family commitments, you will have to free up a number of hours for study time and something inevitably has to go. You may have to give up a hobby or private lessons or even cut back on trips to the gym! Personally, I always knew I could find time by breaking my mild (he says) addiction to computer games. Once a mighty warrior in the World of Warcraft, I have laid down my sword to pursue a more scholarly life!(I still fit the odd season in on Football Manager though :p ).
BUT at the same time, you also have to make sure you have time for yourself and those around you. It would be very easy to bury yourself in work but you should always make time to treat yourself as a reward for all that hard work and spent quality time with family and friends. Again, it all comes back to planning your time efficiently…
Well, I hope that has been useful as a starting point. Next time, I’ll be looking in more detail at making the right choice from the vast number of courses out there.