We had a meeting about our MA program last week; there's a new colleague directing the program, a colleague who very much wants to be a deanling and so approaches everything as an administrator. They really wanted to present their idea, have us all nod obediently, and move forward.
Instead, people started asking questions. And the best question asked us to think about what the MA program is trying to do. It's a great starting point for rethinking our program. (I've blogged before about my frustrations with our program, how weak it is, how much of a disservice I think we do for students who should be encouraged to go elsewhere.)
So the question of the day: what should an MA program try to do? Or, to put it another way, why should someone get an MA in English?
(Note: we're a regional comprehensive with the only MA in English for 100 miles in most directions.)
Our history MA at what I thinks is a similar school serves teachers (continuing education), people who want to retool or dip a toe in before applying for phds (non-majors, returning students) and then things that I don't think would apply for english-- govt and public history jobs.ReplyDelete
And one thing that means is that all our grad-only required classes are in the evening.ReplyDelete
I think the best reason to get an MA in English is that you're a high school English teacher and can get a pay bump for it. (IMO, having more content knowledge in the subject they're teaching also makes people better teachers, and I'm not at all convinced that having a master's degree in education makes people better teachers.)ReplyDelete
Wanting to find out what grad school is like before committing to a PhD program is an OK reason, although I don't think it's worth going into debt for. A lot of our students, however, seem to want to apply to MA programs for other, less-good reasons. Some of them think they need a graduate degree to get a job that pays well, even though they don't have a very good sense of the differences between different types of graduate degrees or a plan for what they're going to do with this one. Others plan to teach at a community college -- which is not impossible to do with an MA in this part of the country, but it's also not a career that pays enough to live on.
Totally agree. I think having an MA program that is directed mostly at HS English teachers is a good idea.Delete
I agree with Fretful Porpentine. Most of the people in my cohort for my MA were teachers going back to get a credential and a pay bump.ReplyDelete
There are other reasons, though. When I started my masters, it was because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to get a degree in English after burning out on music in my BA. I started my undegrad degree as an English major, but got sucked in to music. So I had a useless (to me) degree, and felt like I wanted to do something with the thing I didn't burn out on -- literature. It just so happened that I did figure out what I wanted to do with my life during my master's -- teach Shakespeare -- because of one dynamic, incredible class. So it can be a good clarifying moment in a student's life, too. I know it's expensive sometimes, but for me it ended up being worth it. Eventually.
An additional factor is that so many of the financial deadlines are in the fall while the applications don't even get imagined for many students until well after New Year's! Whether returning for additional qualifications or throwing it in right after Teacher's College, our students usually feel place-bound which doesn't help them if they do want to pursue doctoral work (they can either move over to our faculty's interdisciplinary Ph.D. but then opt out of mainstream academic jobs or they have to finally pick up and move elsewhere).ReplyDelete
Alas, the bump for teachers pay that some folks have mentioned has been eliminated here in the Northwoods, so many of our programs aimed at teachers have experienced serious declines in enrollment, including ours.ReplyDelete
I have started talking to my community college students about the benefits of thinking about an English major as critical in our content-heavy world. I talk to them about the ways my own skill sets have been valuable outside of teaching (report writing, marketing, etc.), and I encourage them to think about what other subjects that would pair well with English (all of them, of course, but especially perhaps business, web design, etc.). I don't mean to say that I'm trying to drink the "college is only about jobs" kool-aid, but I think English is quite a versatile degree. But that versatility requires some careful thought and contingency planning. Unfortunately, I, myself, am not as educated as I could be about how to think about these things. I've been working on it though, and I want to get better and helping students understand the various ways in which an English degree prepares them for a rewarding professional life.ReplyDelete
I realize now that my reply is a bit off topic.Delete
Further thoughts after my morning walk: My first master's degree was an M.Ed. in Counselor Education. People could follow three tracks: community mental health counseling, school counseling, or college student development (student affairs/services). I was on the third track. In this program, we spent a lot of time learning content (theory, research methods), but we also spent a lot of time getting to know the profession as a whole: options, obstacles, etc. We even took a course on issues important to the profession (we covered licensure debates, debates between counselors and psychologists, etc.).Delete
Several years later, when I started my M.A. in English (at a regional school), I was shocked by how little professional issues and opportunities were discussed. Granted, it was an academic degree rather than a professional degree, but in my first program, we had to do poster sessions, and we were mentored for submitting papers to conferences (and were encouraged to do so). In my English M.A., there was none of that.
Because of the current job climate, we warn students away from grad school (or at least warn them about the realities of it and the job market), and it *is* important that we be honest. But a lot of students are going to start M.A. programs anyway for the same reasons many of us did it: they are following their bliss.
If I were running the M.A. program I went to, I would work on meeting students where they are while also showing them what is possible. For example, my M.A. institution is a top polytechnic school, and the current CEO of their Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has an M.A. in English (no business degree). Granted, he was one of the first 10 employees at Amazon, but that's because he kept his eyes and options open. He is a good friend of mine, and it's his English-major type skills that have made him successful. His wife (who has a B.A. in English) does marketing for a publisher. Recently, I did some pro bono marketing work for a friend, and she said that my writing blew her marketing team's work out of the water (I've never done marketing, and I'm not a great writer, but I've got English-major skills). I've had other business people tell me English majors make the best marketers.
Anyway, if I were leading the M.A. program. I would do research about job market needs, I would find English majors doing interesting things, and I would (ideally) add a course to the curriculum called "Professional Issues and Opportunities" or something like that, covering not only the pros and cons of PhD work, but also of how to learn about and plan for other pathways.
Thanks for this thread, Bardiac!