Master of the Universe

An average day in 2010 when..

I receive an email with my MA TESOL diploma attached. Woopeee me thinks and after about an hour of disbelief I decide to tell me boss. Will it entitle me to a pay rise/promotion/serious praise/an embarrassing hug I wonder?

“Hello, I just got my MA diploma”

“Oh, you finished?”


“I didn’t know that.”

“Er, no,…So, does it mean I can apply for a pay rise?”

“No, but you can send it to the admin department anyway but they’re closed”

Balloon deflated!

Since this event I wouldn’t actually say it’s helped me directly. It does make me eligible for the famed British Uni EAP jobs but even though I fill the criteria there seems to be something else I don’t have. Actually, if you look at a lot of MA TESOL tutors/teachers very few have a PhD and some don’t have the DELTA or some do but don’t have an MA in TESOL/TEFL (because they’re still new topics). What they often do have is good experience and that seems to beat the qualification in some places. However, I have applied for similar jobs and now the majority of unis do demand a Phd or you to be doing one.

Was it useful?

I work outside the EFL industry so to speak so being English and having a ‘certificate’ is enough, anything else confuses people but when I was in Asia you HAD to have an MA but in anything. In fact, having one in teaching English was not seen well as it wasn’t a subject. Teachers would ask me “what’s your field?” and I’d say “teaching English” and the reply was “but what subject do you teach?”.

What the MA has done for me is just give me an extra that some people don’t have and it shows you know what you are talking about. Having an MA also makes me eligible for Asian jobs if I ever decide to go back, or at least a higher pay rate/flight reimbursement.

Honestly, I don’t remember a lot of what I studied on the MA, probably as I did it intensively in about 14 months distance. But now I’ve started looking back and realising what was actually useful and wondering how it can move from ideas to practice.. Yes, there were some great practical stuff but there were so many courses and they were so long that it was hard to transfer everything to my teaching.

Would I recommend people do an MA in TESOL?


Is distance learning effective?

Very much so if you have the time and are in a place to do all the research.

As a matter of fact, I’d say I benefitted more from it being distance as I did all the mini-tasks, research activities and dissertation on MY students which was invaluable.

If you’re thinking of doing an MA TESOL I’d really look around to find one that’s exactly what you want and affordable. Look at the options, schedule and decide if you can take a year off or do it distance and still squeeze it into your life. It’s not easy and you will have to sacrifice your social life, Twitter, FB and a  lot of sleep. For me the courses were easier to manage as I studied intensively and then took my time on the assignments or split my studying between mid-course tests/assignments/projects. However, when I was writing up my research I was working 6 days a week until 6/7 pm which meant I had very late/early nights/mornings and wrote most of the paper in the bathroom as I kept everyone awake typing.

With these kind of challenges and sacrifices the main question is ‘will it help you and your career?‘.

Last thoughts

What I find interesting is that many big EFL names don’t have an MA. For many the DELTA is enough and for many schools it is so. Yet,  I think there has to be a secret to why these people get to the top, given that some may even have less experience than people reading this. What is their ‘secret ingredient?’. I really feel it’s that they work on their teaching, they read, they experiment, they live the ideas and principles. What we read on my course remains just ideas or text to many of us but these people put it into practice. This is why my reference sections always have lots of ETp or ELTJ or BESIG journal references and less and less academic books and conference papers. However, a sure fire tip for any MA paper is to include a Scott Thornbury quote and the newer the better. When I did this it blew tutors for six because they were still reading old books so a 2010 quote from his blog was the newest thing they’d ever seen. Try it!


Would you, did you, have you, will you do an MA TESOL?


7 thoughts on “Master of the Universe

  1. Hi Phil. Interesting as always. I’m totally unqualified at present. I came into this teaching game late, and only did so as it afforded me the opportunity to travel to Asia and have a job at the same time. I could comfortably get a job here without ever getting a specific qualification.

    However, I fell in love with teaching so I will do my CELTA, DELTA and probably MA at some point. I’m not really planning on doing an MA to improve career prospects. It’s more a case of my own teaching development. To be honest, I feel simply reading blogs such as yours, Dale Coulters, Scott Thornbury’s, Chiew Pang’s and Brad Patteron’s (amongst many others) has more influence and impact of my everyday teaching.

    I suppose, for me, planning to do the MA is both a vanity thing (look everybody, I have an MA) and a way to stop myself being lazy. I think I am one of those people who will do educational and development courses of some sort until they have a few marbles rolling around in their head.

    • Thanks for the comment Barry and glad you like the picture.

      Yes, I saw that in Asia too. People used to come up to me and say “speak English?”. That was the only qualification needed so why bother wasting money on courses when you’ll get the same pay? Well, that’s what some people said.

      Personal development? That’s exactly why I did it. I was stuck in a rut and had so many questions now I just have more though but feel that I can find the answers.

      Wow! I’m honoured you’d put me in that list and I definitely agree that I get more from those blogs and the comments than I would from an article or book.

      Hope you find one that suits you and good luck.


  2. As I approach the end of my MA, the situation you describe at the start of your post worries me… My contract states that employees ‘may be given a pay rise in the event of attaining relevant higher level qualificaitons’. The two words that bother me are ‘may’ and ‘relevant’! I know of one former employee who had an MA in TEFL but was refused a higher salary because it was general TEFL with no YL specialisation. There was also another who had an MA in Early Childhood Education (one gained without having to write a thesis) and got a pay rise before the course was even done. It all depends who you ask it seems….

    Anyway, money aside, will this MA have been worth it? It has certainly made me a better teacher – I know more ‘how to’ stuff about educational technology (and my employers certainly cannot deny the direct ‘relevance’ of that to the work I’ve been doing recently!) and, perhaps more importantly, I would now describe myself as a ‘reflective practitioner’. Through the MA, I have learnt to reflect on my lessons and my general beliefs as a teacher on a level much deeper than I ever did before. Reflection and self-development have been the main things I have got from the MA so far, which is why my thesis will most likely be based on them. Sometimes I think, like you, that I should take the chance to do some organised in-class research, however… I potentially have the chance next year to investigate how/if an unplugged approach can benefit young learners preparing for one of the Cambridge YL exams.

    What do you think? Reflective practice through blogging? Or dogme exam prep for kids?

    • Oh yes, been there done that. There is also the old ‘promise and forget’ where they promise pay for this and that and then suddenly forget or change the policy when you are eligible.

      I also had the issue with my PGCE as I did an English specialism but not the whole thing in English. Some places said they’d take a PGCE TESOL as DELTA equivalent but others not. I also get told that “you have ….exp/quals but you don’t have them from here”. What an excuse!

      I definitely think you should continue. The MA is just the start. In fact, I’d like to do some more research but the PhD is a bit too expensive. In-class research is certainly important, I was lucky to be able to do my dissertation on a course I made and then research the students and teachers. This really helped me a lot.

      Unplugged and Cambridge exams? I normally teach IELTS unplugged and it’s pretty useful IF you know the exam back to front. Reflective Practice thru blogging sounds good and so does dogme for kids but I’d run these by your tutor. If he/she doesn’t pass them then forget it. I chose a subject (CBI and debate in Chinese Unis) that not many (if any) of the teacher had experience of so 1)Resources were scarce 2)The guidance I got was mainly on writing and not the topic. Same for the DELTA EA (Business English Blended Learning) which really surprised me. What I got out of both was that I had to do everything, in the DELTA they even didn’t have a reading list so I had to make my own. I did prefer this though as it all made me autonomous.

      So, I’d say do something that will help your development and that you won’t get fed up of half way. I did my dissertation over about 4 months from research to hand in and I’d had enough by 3.


    • No prob Brad, she was a real sourpuss but I do think bosses in English teachings schools/depts should at least have the CELTA and also know about the other quals when hiring people. But, as you know, France is all about French qualifications so it’s a tough nut to crack. Maybe we can petition the EU for EFL qualification standardisation. I’ll start the movement, it has to involve lots of striking and drinking and eating in cafes from what I’ve seen. Well, I half way there.

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