Having recently handed in my MA dissertation, I got chatting (virtually, that is) to Martin Sketchley, aka ELTexperiences to you Twitter folk, about his postgrad studies which finished around this time last year. That led to the idea for this guest interview in which I ask Martin about why he chose to do an MA, what he got out of it and what has changed in his career since - useful insights for someone like me wondering ‘what now?’ and also for any of you considering upgrading your TEFL qualifications.
Sundial Korea by @Victoria52 via eltpics
Dave: You started your course in 2010 after a few years teaching EFL in Korea. Why did you decide to do an MA at that point in your career?
Martin: When I first arrived in South Korea, I had no teaching experience and no qualifications to match. The only course that I done was completing a weekend intensive course in language teaching. It was an eye-opener and introduction to the world of language teaching but very little can be taught as well as learnt in a couple of days. Nonetheless, after teaching one year in Korea, I decided that to undertake a CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul to complement my experience. After two years in Korea, I decided to return to the UK and teach. However, I quickly noted that I had no experience teaching multilingual classes and felt that I was back in the same position of my first year in South Korea. It was wonderful experience but felt that after a year in the UK, it was time again to develop professionally and decided to undertake an MA in English Language Teaching.
Dave: Why an MA and not a DELTA?
Martin: Whilst I was teaching in the UK for the first year, I noticed that a number of my colleagues had a DELTA but none had an MA. When I looked at studying towards an MA, I approached a number of universities in the UK. I noticed that not many of them offered any practical teacher training course such as a diploma level qualification, apart from the University of Sussex (Advanced Practical Teaching) as recognised and accredited by the British Council. Thus, I would have been able to complete a DELTA equivalent as well as an MA in ELT and received two certificates after graduating: one for my MA and the other for the Diploma level course.
Dave: Many people say a DELTA is more desirable than an MA due to the practical teaching aspect. What is your view on this?
Martin: There is always going to be a debate about the distinction between practical training versus academic training. I suppose if teachers, or other educators, are willing to commit a year towards studying an MA, that in itself is admirable. However, it is also admirable for those that make the financial and professional commitment towards completing a DELTA course. I was very lucky to complete an MA course that also had a practical teaching aspect and I would always recommend those that are wishing to complete an MA to possibly seek a course that has a practical teaching element included. Of course, some of the students on the MA course held a DELTA and were seeking to develop professionally as well. Personally, an MA or a DELTA does not make a teacher great, but it does offer opportunities for those that are willing to develop.
Dave: After several years as teacher, how did it feel to be back in the student’s role?
Martin: I was never a very good student when I was young and felt that I missed a lot of opportunities. I suppose I was a late starter: I never took any A-Levels and flunked my GCSEs but I was given the chance to take a BA (Hons) after a few years in the RAF, as a mature student. Anyhow, it was a wonderful experience to be a student again and to be studying towards my highest ever qualification at a prestigious university. After teaching, I learnt that if students were given the space to learn at their own pace and were supported, they would be able to achieve something highly respectable. I was honoured to be present with other professionals and we all received support from our lecturers. I enjoyed every minute of my MA course and being a student again.
Dave: What was the most challenging aspect of the course?
Martin: During the Autumn term, there were two courses: one related to Second Language Acquisition theory and the other was related to grammar. I found the course related to grammar, lexis and phonology incredibly tough. Grammar was being analysed with the use of grammar trees, we looked at some languages and had to break down phonological patterns as well as looking at the ambiguity of vocabulary. It was incredibly tough and I found it too mathematical. This aspect of the course was the most challenging but I was determined to complete the MA and fortunately passed the module without any hiccups.
Dave: What led you to choose Dogme ELT as the focus of your dissertation?
Martin: During my Advanced Practical Teaching course, my experimental teaching focused on Dogme ELT. Just a few months before hand, I received a copy of “Teaching Unplugged”, which I reviewed on my blog. During my practical teaching course, I thought about Dogme ELT and suggested to my tutor that I wanted to focus on this. He was very supportive and we decided to film the class with me teaching unplugged. I looked at one activity in “Teaching Unplugged” and wrote a lesson plan (perhaps guessing what might or might not happen during the class). After completing the teaching, we had the usual sit-down and discussion about how things worked and how things could be developed but received some very supportive comments from my tutor. A few weeks passed, after the end of the Spring term, and I was still thinking about Dogme ELT and teacher, as well as student, uptake in the classroom. I realised that I should research this and complete a dissertation in Dogme ELT and approached my tutor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dave: What was the main benefit you got out of doing the course? Was this something you were aiming for before the MA or was it something that emerged during the course?
Martin: Before starting the course, I thought the main benefit of completing the MA course would suggest to possible employers that I was dedicated to language teaching and made the commitment to support myself towards professional development. However, after completing the MA course I still found it difficult securing any permanent work in the UK. Some employers were less willing to employ those with more respectable qualifications, than those with very little qualifications. Was it related to cost of employing someone with an MA compared to the cost of a teacher with just a CELTA? I am not sure. Nevertheless, the main benefit that I discovered was that I was interested in researching language teaching and language acquisition. I have some ideas of future studies/research and would like to undertake these in the next few years at my own pace. Anyhow, I found myself being able to complete my research at ease (perhaps because I enjoyed the topic), and enjoyed meeting other teachers and students. It was a wonderful experience and being able to network with local schools raised my profile as a language teacher in my local area in Sussex.
Dave: It has been a year since you completed your MA. What kind of impact has it had for you, both in the classroom and in your career in general?
Martin: It has certainly been a very busy year since I completed my MA. After completing the course, I was requested to teach in the language department at the University of Sussex during the summer of 2011 and more recently in 2012. I have had the opportunity to work with some wonderful teachers in the UK as well as abroad, with my recent posting with the British Council to Bucharest, Romania. Within the classroom, I have become more aware of language learning at work. When I look at students that are conversing naturally in English, I find it incredible: this is genuinely language learning at its best. Anyhow, I have learnt a lot during the MA and was able to put it into action. I guess it has made me a better teacher.
Dave: What’s next? Any plans for further study?
Martin: This is a broad question. More recently, I completed a TYLEC Course at the British Council Bucharest. I would never say no to further study and would be happy to complete a Doctorate but I guess this is around 5-10 years away, and I would have to be supported financially or receive sponsorship. It is a tough commitment and I have no idea what I would be researching. Currently, I am trying to write up a chapter in a research book related to Dogme ELT. It is being co-authored by a number of language teachers and I have just completed my research. Around 50 teachers completed the questionnaire from around the world and I am starting to write up the results of the survey. Nevertheless, my wife is starting an MA in Korean Translation Studies at the University of Durham this October, so we are looking at the possibility of moving to the North East of England. Once she completes her MA course, we are considering moving to South Korea so that my son is offered the opportunity to become a more confident bilingual user between English and Korean: his English is the stronger of the two languages at the moment. However, a lot of these are ideas and nothing concrete has been planned so, I suppose watch this space.
Dave: Thanks once again Martin for sharing your MA experience and insights.
Martin Sketchley has been teaching English for nearly seven years with experience in South Korea, Romania as well as in the UK. He currently teaches for the British Council in Bucharest, Romania, but is returning to the UK in September to support his wife for further education. He is also a Cambridge ESOL Assistant Marker for the FCE and BEC examinations. He currently holds an MA in English Language Teaching, a DELTA equivalent, a CELTA and this year completed a TYLEC at the British Council.
Make sure you check out Martin’s blog: www.eltexperiences.com