M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (3) with Martin Sketchley

Welcome to the third part in my series of MA TESOL/Applied Linguistics based interviews with ELT professionals. Today I’m discussing what differentiates the MA courses from other ELT qualifications, such as the CELTA or DELTA, with Martin Sketchley, a teacher currently based in the U.K.Picture

Q1. Hi Martin, perhaps we could start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and what part of the ELT industry you are currently involved with?

Hello Alex.  I have been involved with ELT since December 2005.  I was what you would call a “backpacker teacher”. I had very little experience in language education and hadn’t really learnt a foreign language before. I decided, due to limited employment opportunities in the UK, to relocate to South Korea with my family. I was snapped up very quickly with a private language institute and spent about a year there before deciding to undertake a CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul.  I decided to take the CELTA Course to reconfirm my desire to be involved in ELT.

Around the beginning of 2009, I returned to the UK and worked with a local school, LTC Eastbourne, and have been with them for a good four years now (with a short period in Bucharest with the British Council and teaching EAL at the University of Sussex).  Since returning to the UK, I have been a Cambridge ESOL Examiner, a British Council Aptis Examiner and developed a blog related to my experiences of ELT.  I am currently involved in curriculum and academic development and teacher training (with my current employer) as well as maintaining my links with a charity, English in the Community, which delivers ESOL for immigrants and asylum seekers in Sussex.

Q2. I think it would be fair to say you have been involved with many different parts of the industry in a relatively short period of time, at what point did you decide to commit to an M.A program in English Language Teaching (ELT) and what was the stimulation behind the decision?

Thank you. I suppose what motivated me to do an MA in ELT was that I noticed a lot of teachers in the UK had the CELTA with some having the DELTA as well.  Not many of my peers had an MA and I thought “Why not jump ahead of them (in terms of qualifications) and complete an MA?”.  What motivated me most was when I arrived at a hotel for Cambridge ESOL Examiner training (with marking done onsite), and I met some wonderful language teachers at the same time.  At lunch, I sat down with some people and they were chatting about ELT and qualifications but I couldn’t really provide much in the way of input and I thought “I must really do something about this!”.  In the summer of 2010, I applied for an MA at the University of Sussex, met the Convener and decided there and then that this was the right choice for my career.

Q3. It seems as though you have a lot of experience with both Cambridge ELT certifications such as the CELTA and DELTA as well as the MA in ELT.  In your experience, for those trying to decide which type of course would better fit their career path or goals, would you say each course is directed towards different aims?

For those that have successfully completed the CELTA (or equivalent), it can be an intensive yet rewarding course for those new to the ELT profession.  However, within those four weeks (if undertaken full-time), it teaches the basics such as planning lessons, classroom management, instruction giving, etc but there is very little time to look at other areas of teaching.  I suppose the DELTA and MA are different in a few respects:

  • The DELTA (or equivalent) is more suited for teachers, with a number of years teaching experience and only the CELTA, wishing to continue their professional development in the classroom as well as to extend their knowledge of language teaching and learning.  Language schools and institutions hold the DELTA in high esteem and it can now be quite competitive to secure employment without this qualification.  The DELTA does set you apart from those teachers who only have a CELTA and limited experience.  If you complete the DELTA, some universities do take your DELTA course into account and credits could be awarded towards an MA.
  • The MA in ELT/TESOL/TEFL can be quite academic and, if you are not used to academia or it has been a while since you were last at University, it could be a bit of a shock.  Furthermore, the MA attempts to enhance and improve a candidate’s ability to undertake action research in areas that they are interested.  In my experience, the MA could set you apart from other teachers and it does open up opportunities for PhD research, publishing or developing coursebook material but you do need to keep on top of current reading post-MA.

I guess it would be best to find an MA which offers the DELTA (or equivalent) as part of the course.

Q4. I’d like to draw on your experience of the ELT industry in both Asia and Europe now. Would you say there is a difference between the types of qualification (be it CELTA, DELTA or MA) that ELT educational institutions are seeking in Asia and Europe?

I guess that in Asia, particularly in China, Thailand, Japan and Korea, there is very little recognition with the CELTA and DELTA forms of qualifications.  Most ELT teachers in these countries only require a degree in basket weaving from an English speaking country for you to be eligible to teach.  Unfortunately, this does not do any wonders for the professionalism of the industry, but I am now aware that in South Korea, public schools that recruit native teachers require applicants to hold a certificate, such as the CELTA, including a number of hours of teaching experience, so there is hope that in Asia the ELT profession will develop to something more reputable.  In Europe, there is greater regard for those teachers that hold a CELTA, even greater regard to those that have a DELTA and wonderful opportunities for those that have completed an MA.  Furthermore, in Asia and Europe, if ELT professionals wish to teach at a University, an MA is a prerequisite – so there are some similarities between the two regions.  However, if I was unable to secure employment in South Korea (due to possible strict requirements), I would never have been able to become a professional English language teacher.  So I guess there are opportunities available for those hot off a degree course who are keen to become teachers with limited teaching experience and/or ELT-related qualifications.

Q5. Something a couple of other people have commented on is (as you have also highlighted) the theoretical nature of an MA. Some people feel perhaps this makes it hard to apply what you are learning to your classroom, is this something you would agree with?

The theoretical nature of an MA course is part-and-parcel of any academic course.  If you went to see a doctor, I would feel rather uncomfortable if their course only included just theory or just training.  I think a balance has to be struck between the two, which is why many doctors now complement theory with practice.  If teachers are able to combine the theory of ELT with their practice, it benefits the student (who can sometimes play their part of a patient with our experimental teaching practice or action research).  However, I can see how there is little regard with an MA and its suitability or applicability within the classroom.  Yet the same could be said for just a practical course such as the CELTA: what benefit could this course provide if you only learnt the practical aspects of language teaching?

Q6. So would you say it is necessary for a teacher to take both courses and combine elements of both?

Fortunately, for most English language teachers, they are not going to find themselves performing thoracic surgery.  The life-cycle of the teacher is dependent upon the qualifications and experience gained.  For those starting out on their career, a CELTA is usually enough.  Teachers may find that they are stuck in a rut or doing the same thing “year-in and year-out” so they may decide to supplement their experience or move away from their monotonous routine by undertaking a DELTA.  I suppose this would enhance practical and theoretical knowledge of the classroom.  Yet, there might be a few teachers that are asking “How does a student learn English? What is the best way to learn a language?” and may find an MA course would benefit them – this would be the best opportunity for teachers to learn more about the theory of language learning and teaching.

At the end of the day, it is much related to the case of the individual.  We can always debate about the practical advantages of the CELTA/DELTA opposed to the theoretical and academic theories of an MA in ELT until the cows go home.  In a very TEFL answer, it depends on the teacher and what their aims are in relation to their career and life-cycle.

Q7. Lets bring it back to focusing on the MA, what advice would you give those starting a language teaching related MA to help them take full advantage of the experience?

For those starting their MA course, it is necessary to develop rapport very quickly with your peers and tutors.  The tutors will be the people marking your work and although it is meant to be anonymous, they can quickly find out who is writing based upon their interests, research, etc.  I have always found that if you keep your thoughts to yourself, work and study hard and support your tutors, you are more likely to receive favourable marks.  Furthermore, have a coffee and a chat with those other students on the course.  They may be able to open doors and provide opportunities for you which would have been closed.  I met many people that I quickly realised were able to assist me in my career.  However, it is more than just taking from others, you need to be able to support your peers: listen to their thoughts, suggest ideas for their career and work together.

With regards to academic study, get a reading list early on and start reading.  You are bound to learn more about linguistics and language acquisition theory, so why wait? Buy that book before you even consider applying for the course.  If you are put off by the reading, how could you consider studying the subject?  You need to really enjoy the subject, start a blog, write your ideas down and share with others.  This was one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place.  If you are studying full-time (face-to-face), consider taking time off work to complete your MA. Although you may turn up to lectures two or three times a week, the rest of the time should be focused on reading and studying.  You really won’t be able to commit to any work during your studies.  If you are unable to give up your work commitments, you could look at part-time courses (some are long distance courses while others are face to face in a physical university).  Part-time courses expect a commitment of around once a week and you should be able to juggle between work and study.

Q8. Finally, is there any advice you would give those who are just finishing their MA?

Nearer the end of your MA, you will be focusing on your research.  Don’t worry if you find yourself a month away from the start of your dissertation/thesis with no idea what to do.  I was in the last term of my course before I realised what I was going to research about.  During the research period, you should try to take a month off to write up your dissertation and analyse your primary and secondary research.  You will have to say goodbye to your social-life for a bit but it is worth it.  When I was nearer the end of my MA course, I sent my wife and son to Korea for five weeks otherwise I would have been distracted and been unable to achieve 80% for my research.

Once you have completed your course and graduated.  You could then start to look at career opportunities.  There are numerous opportunities including: authoring coursebooks, publishing research in journals, attending and giving talks at international conferences, promotion (DoS or Academic Manager), etc.  I suppose the first thing that I did was attend the Glasgow 2012 IATEFL Conference a few months after graduating to share my research on the application of Dogme ELT with teachers.  I really enjoyed having the chance to voice my research with others and meeting like minded professionals.  If you attend conferences and put yourself out there, you are more likely to meet people who are able to help you with your career.  You do need to be patient with your career and realise that the opportunities don’t just happen straight away but you do need to pick yourself up if things don’t work out and carry on.  It is the loss of those that don’t believe in you but I always follow the mantra: “Short term gain, long term loss”.  I would finally recommend anyone to commit and complete an MA.  It will improve your employability and it demonstrate to current or potential employers that you are willing and keen in this profession.

If you would like to hear me from Martin he runs an extremely informative blog over at ELTExperiences which I highly recommend keeping up to date with.

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12/06/2013 00:10

Thanks for this interview series – it is really interesting to find out about other experiences in the TEFL field. Sometimes reading about courses, commitments and requirements can be daunting but understanding how other students have handled the pressures and managed to fit their lives around the studying process is really encouraging.


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