Open Thinkering


Is a degree enough?

There are some very intelligent people in the world without any qualifications. There are also some people who, shall we say, we wouldn’t want on our Trivial Pursuit team or to be assigned with for a team-building exercise. That being said, there has, historically, been a correlation between ‘intelligence’ (whatever that is) and level of education. I fear that may no longer be the case… :s

This is not a post bemoaning degrees in surfing or golf. No, I’m more concerned with the rather 19th-century idea of degrees being ‘of a standard’ and that these can universally be broken down into 1st class, 2:1, 2:2, etc. If this were the case, then the necessity of having met such a standard should be a necessary and sufficient condition for entry onto a postgraduate teacher training course such as the PGCE in the UK. I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that some degrees are easier, some harder, and some provide skills more and some less relevant to teaching.

In that case, why should a degree plus a short-course, vocational postgraduate qualification be enough? Surely there should be a requirement, more than merely an expectation, that teachers work towards at least a Masters level postgraduate qualification in education? Or, if compulsion is not a feasible option, why not at least explicitly recognise further qualifications with pay rises? I believe this is common practice in most places in the US, and whilst there are many things about their system I don’t think we should import, this is one I would welcome with open arms.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I hear you cry, “you’re doing an Ed.D!” This is true. But how did I come to be doing this qualification? By choosing my PGCE carefully so that it was the first year of an MA; by continuing to a level where I could switch to the Ed.D. course, and then continuing my studies. Apparently, I’m the first person to do this at the University of Durham. I can’t see why it shouldn’t be a heavily-suggested (and rewarded) path for the majority of teachers.

OK, so theory doesn’t always lead to amazing practice – I know that. But surely such a scheme couldn’t be a bad thing? Look at Finland, a place where the top graduates end up in the teaching profession. Where does it come in international rankings? Oh yes, pretty much top every time… :p

What do YOU think? What would you change about the current system?

(Image credit: Out to Lunch with Audio R8 by Gregor Rohrig @ Flickr)

6 thoughts on “Is a degree enough?

  1. In theory, that's a great idea. More qualifications = better at teaching. Only problem is, as you yourself point out in the first half of the post, that equation doesn't always stand up to closer inspection.

    Firstly, I was overwhelmingly disappointed with large chunks of both my undergraduate degree and PGCE. Some parts were fantastic, but as a rule of thumb I'd say I learned more that's been useful to me as a teacher though the work I did with the Student Media and Students Union during my degree than my degree work, and I've learned far more about teaching though blogging and the schoolhistoryforum than I did through my PGCE. My time is precious and I for one would rather spend it researching, trying ideas out and blogging about it, than having to research and write essays that someone else is telling me is important.

    Now if I could get a qualification for that, then we'd be talking…

  2. I don't think that more (official) study and having more letters after my name would make me a better teacher, nor would finding the time to pursue it in an already hectic life. Further study is not for everyone – some are not inclined towards that sort of thing, and for some it is not practical.
    When I was young(er) and started teaching, it was as much as I could do to keep sane enough to teach to the best of my ability. Then I went into middle management and had paperwork too. Family too takes time. I'm not saying that you neglect any of these if you take your studies on further but for me (and I suspect others) a decision has to made on priorities – and that's not one of the highest for me if I want to maintain my identity as ME and not as simply a teacher.
    That's not to say that I've let my brain stagnate and am coasting along content with my current level of knowledge – that would be wrong as I'm always looking for new ideas and want to learn all the time, and I'm constantly reflecting on how I teach as I work with others who are starting out on language teaching.
    If experience and good classroom practice were recognised more highly, there would be reward for anyone who is a good teacher – with or without further qualifications.
    If you were to paid by qualification, a few years ago I'd have driven myself into the ground to gain a higher degree – now I don't think I would. For me – money is great but I'd rather have a happy family , enjoy my work with the respect of others (both within and without the school) and have a life outside teaching.

  3. We needs teachers that are enthusiastic and passionate about working with young people and their subjects. Completing a PGCE gives teachers a good grounding in educational thinking, but I feel that the classroom is the place for teachers to really learn.

    Looking back at my own degree (B.A. in Primary Education), I learnt how to be a teacher when on practices. Theory is important, indeed, but there's so much more to teaching than theory. Would giving teachers more time to observe excellent teachers teaching help them to better themselves. I would think so. Would I learn how to be a better teacher by completing further study? Possibly. Having said that, teacher training institutes are, in some ways, out of date some of the time. How can tutors that haven't themselves taught for many years, tell students how to teach in, let's face it, an enviornment that is constantly changing.

  4. I think teachers who are life long learners have the most impact on their students. Sometimes this translates into advanced degrees. I don't think anyone becomes a worse teacher by taking more classes but the two are not essentially correlated.

    My MA in EdAdmin and master's classes in theology have helped me to be a better principal and teacher but I would say the bulk of my learning has come from my own PLN. Reading the journals and saying abreast of those who have powerful innovative ideas has been a second education worth its time spent in front of the computer.

  5. I can only just remember back to my degree and PGCE ( no we did not use quill pens!) some would say that but they would be very cruel!(PH BSc PGCE DipHE) I would equate coming out of University all shiny and new with going onto the road first after passing your driving test. Sure you know all of the theory , however you know very little about the practicalities of driving, which of course comes with experience.
    It is as Lisa suggest a shame that classroom teachers are not rewarded more for excellent classroom practice, but seem to gain kudos more in the eyes of the powers that be, by climbing the greasy pole and pushing themselves to become more qualified. Unfortunately this route also has a tendency to lead you out of the classroom, for many the whole reason for entering the profession in the first place.
    It comes down in the end to personal preference, I know that personally I would very much prefer to be a lifelong learner who is constantly challenged and develops along my own 'learning journey' independent of organised academia, however I can also see that for the 'younger generation' (oooh I sound old!)having those additional
    qualifications may be seen as a good insurance policy. However I still think life experience will win out over qualification in the end ( well, I would say that wouldn't I?)

  6. Thanks for the comments, people. Without wanting to belittle any of the great work and self-reflection that goes on in the edublogosphere, a lot of back-slapping goes on at times. :s

    The most popular bloggers are the most self-reflective ones, and therefore probably the ones least likely to benefit from formal courses anyway. Those who don't blog are, to make a sweeping generalisation, less likely to be reflective practitioners, and therefore more likely to benefit from formal programmes.

    Ideally, I'd like to see people do both. Formal and non-formal learning are not mutually-exclusive. They (can) feed into each other very well… :D

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