Last Monday, I had lunch with a few professional colleagues from a publisher. During the lunch, they remarked that some of the teachers they were working with on a curriculum project did not seem to have a wide enough repertoire in the methods of teaching writing. They wanted to know more about the training of ESL teachers in Hong Kong. I gave them a quick overview of the ELT methodology training in the 3 major teacher education programmes: the B.Ed., the PGDE, and the MA. I expressed my view that of the three programmes, the MA has the highest effectiveness from a teacher education perspective.
This is because the methodology course on the PGDE is only comprised of 50 hours, and this is far from enough even for scratching the surface. The B.Ed., a four-year fulltime programme, has a lot more contact hours, but as the student teachers have little real-life teaching experience to reflect on, they are often more concerned to complete the course requirements than to chew over the teaching methods they are introduced to. In any case, in my view, given our university-based, theory-laden, teacher education curriculum, there is a huge chasm between their theoretical knowledge of ELT methodology, and their competence in the informed and proficient application of methodology in diverse classroom settings.
But the MA is a very different programme. Almost all the participants are qualified teachers who have some teaching experience already. They have to pay exorbitant tuition fees out their own pockets. Their main motivation for enrolling on the MA is professional development. They generally take their studies seriously. That is why in my view, the MA is the most effective programme in terms of teacher education.
I also find teaching on the MA the most intellectually satisfying. I don’t have to start with the basics, and can delve into the more intricate concepts and issues right from the start. My own observations and insights will easily resonate with them. In class, they tune in more deeply, because they can bring the teaching ideas back into their classrooms and try them out immediately. Being used to working in teams, they mix with their fellow participants more readily. They are more sociable, and will not shy away from casual chats with me. Being experienced, they have teaching ideas to share with me and the other teachers. They concentrate more in class, and take part in the class activities actively. Very often, the only difficulty I have with class activities is not how to motivate them and get them to start, but how to stop them. Their assignments reveal much more critical thinking, and are often the culmination of much classroom experimentation. In terms of attitude, they generally take their studies more seriously than undergraduate students. They will make a point of notifying me in advance if they are not able to come to the next class.
And all this is despite the fact that as teachers of English, they are already overworked every day of the week, and are uncontrollably exhausted when they come to class in the evenings or on Saturday mornings.
Sometimes, I wish my undergraduates could sit in on my MA class meetings for once. They would then perhaps conduct their studies with more initiative and zest.
And interestingly, probably because as teachers they understand that good teaching does not come about easily, they are generally more appreciative of my effort. In comparison, undergraduates are more demanding when it comes to evaluating a course and their teacher. Of course, I’m not blaming my undergraduate students. It is just that, like they say in Chinese, you have to become a mother yourself one day before you can fully understand the difficulties involved in becoming a good mother.
For some of the teachers in my MA Listening and Speaking course, they are now coming to the last 8 days of their entire Master’s studies. I wish them all the best, and I hereby pledge that unless I will be away at a conference, I will attend their graduation ceremony in December. As for the Year One people, pump up your energy for the final assignments, and then do something to reward yourself during the hard-earned term break.