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Degree in ESL (or other) or Not?

June 21, 2005

In a recent poll of readers of my newsletter I asked whether English teachers should have a degree of some type..

Hello readers,

In my recent poll, approximately 64% of the responders thought they should have a degree for teaching ESL: quite a high "yes" because, as always, there were some "don't knows" meaning that the "no" camp was very small.

I am generally in favor of teachers being first educated to degre level. This is not some arbitrary snobbery or elitism. Teaching requires a trained mind. A teacher has to be analytical, methodical and able to reason. By following a first degree, a person is required to flex all these mental muscles. This is not to say that people without degrees do not have theses abilities but the degree is at least a tangible piece of evidence to show an employer.

Then a teacher needs to be mature. Dealing with students is not always easy and an immature person could be overwhelmed by the pressures. By setting a degree as the pre-training threshold for teachers, we also by default ensure the teacher is not too young.

It is possible to train to teach English in just four weeks. By requiring teachers also to have a degree, we should be ensuring that the person has some intellectual furniture. Teachers need to be well informed to command respect. So, yes, on balance, I think that English teachers should be educated to degree level.

But, I hear the opposition say, what about people who have all these quailities but never had the opportunity to study at university? Well, I am happy to accept that there will be exceptions. If a person can demonstrate that his or her capabilities are equal to those of a person who has completed their higher education, then that's fine by me. But let them remain exceptions. I don't see why we should hesitate to set high standards for the profession as the general rule. After all, nearly all professions today require a degree, don't they.

Any comments?

Bye for now.


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  1. Pringle Says:

    You are very correct nearly all professions today require a degree. One day soon, when everyone has a hydrogen car, a degree will be REQUIRED for flippiing hamburgers. In the mean time there is a transition going on. Like every generation, there is transition. I hate to see the transition today, that is a ego,me first, and Im better than you. It is a time where many are judgmental as well. I would hope, that more than english, one would teach, " We are all equal and have a purpose in life.
    Granted the above would get a failing grade in College English. The spelling is probably terrible, But even at 25 yrs of age. I helped some slow learners, learn a "new math." I helped them learn, because I had a hard time learning, and still do. But dont leave this uneducated old guy, and those like me, out to dry quite, just because we dont have a lamb skin. Hell, one can get a degree on line most any time. And might even teach ya to be a poet.
    May the sprits be with you.

  1. Pam Says:

    I agree that a BA is required for most positions. Like said before trasitions take place all the time.
    | am in my 40's with no BA. Teaching ESL to most young students should not need a BA if the person is able to do the job, in some cases much more proficient than that of one with a BA. My meaning is just because someone holds a degree does not always make them better for the job. It takes people skills and common sense as well as knowledge. I can honestly say this from experience.

  1. seth Says:

    Don't forget about the degree exceptions too. Sometimes you'll run into people who are not capable of doing exactly what their degree is in. Using a degree as a qualifier would be drastic mistake.

    In some cases they may be excellent at studyinng and passing tests, but when it comes to practical applications they fail miserably.

    I value proven ability more than a degree.

  1. Couv Says:

    I would imagine that I may be one of the exceptions! I would like your feedback to determine if I may be an exception to the old rule that requires a BS degree to teach.

    I have been teaching adults for the goverment for over 15 years. I am a certified Instructional Technologist. Which means that I have formal training and evaluations in the entire ADDIE process.

    I have developed and implemented training to production operators, maintenance mechanics, electrictians, riggers, crane/heavy equipment operators and various engineers.

    My development and implementation has inculded subjects such as the National Electrical Code, biohazards, electrical equipment operation/ repair, heavy equipment operation, various computer software programs, quality assurance, biohazards, remote handling techniques due to explosives and/or radiation, vaccuum equipment and many many others.

    I have received our presidents award and a few vice presidents awards for my performance.

    I could go on and on; but I would like your opinion. I am presently seaking a rewarding teaching position which may include overseas work.


  1. Cliff Says:

    In some third world countries (e.g.Kenya), there are very limited places at university level, meaning that very many bright students do not get a chance to do their degree courses.
    Hence I find it hypocritical to use a degree as a gauge to one's ability.
    This should be on merit and skill basis.
    By the way, I have a Diploma in Science Education, and I am an author of 8 Maths Text Books and many children stories.

  1. Carol Says:

    As a teacher manager at a variety of different schools in Beijing, I've come to find that the best way to find out if a teacher will be good in the classroom or not is to observe a demo class.

    Within 15 minutes, you'll know if they have the skills it takes to deal with a class. Do they give equal attention to all students? Do they stand up in front of the class and babble or do they make the class interactive? Do they exude confidence or insecurity? Are they able to answer the students' questions well? Can they set up an activity with ease?

    Though I think that a B.A. is often thought of as a ticket to a job, I've found that some of the best teachers I've ever hired did not have any teaching qualifications; they were just men and women with a passion for teaching.

    Furthermore, if you're good at what you do, most people can be trained on the job. Though certification can be a plus, I think that personality and passion are most important. As Seth mentioned, there are many people with a degree or teaching qualifications that don't deliver.

    At the same time, I have a B.A. and a CELTA and am looking at pursuing a masters in ESL because I want to learn more about the field. It is frustrating to see schools hire teachers who don't show any promise as a teacher- and hire them because they are simple English speakers. While I do believe that some people are simply naturals at what they do, I do believe that schools should respect those of us who have chosen the ESL field as their career and make the screening process more thorough.

  1. Edna Says:

    A certificate in ESL/EFL will help but a bachelors degree and/or a masters degree in ESL/EFL will give the teacher credibility and an aura of confidence where ever he goes. I mean,because it's his field he knows what to do in and out of the class.I agree that passion and personality are factors that make a good teacher especially the trainable ones but the reality now is that schools simply hire someone because he is an English speaker but how long can he lasts?.

  1. Ron WILLIAMS Says:

    Very interesting comments from most.I have been a teacher of English in Thailand for nearly eight years.I don't hold a degree in ESL, only a certificate in ESOL.I have taught all levels, from nursery,kindergarden,primary,high school and research scientists at doctorate level.
    I am a vocabulary teacher first and foremost.I teach my students to speak English,both formal and informal.
    I have worked with people who have degrees but are short on common sense and have no real passion for teaching.

  1. Ian Says:

    Both a degree and experience are very powerful. However I agree with a couple aforementioned responses that degrees are essentially no substitute whatsoever for passion and experience. Furthmore common sense is the most useful "degree" of all. Many degree-holders have absolutely no common sense and could use one more course in compassion and empathy before prep for the classroom. I think how one uses a degree is most important. In the West degrees are becoming more commonplace like counterfeit currency, thus devalued. (However maybe I've lost sight of how many people don't have one.) Yes, one day in the not-too-distant-future flipping burgers will require additional "higher level" qualifications....
    I hope I'm safely retired by then.

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