Friday, July 17, 2009

What "English Education" Means

I was reading this article, submitted to a community college dean, in which a reader questioned the wisdom behind getting an English Education degree - in this particular case, an M.A. in English Education. Reading the response, and a few of the comments, I realized that there is a tenuous grasp regarding what an English education degree actually is. I've encountered some confusion held by teachers at the university level who have never taught at the secondary (or primary) level. I'm not sure I agree that it's a "hybrid degree," since it tends to be geared towards those who wish to teach at the secondary level. There are a lot of overlapping certifications - even I don't know what they are are, but aside from elementary education and secondary education certifications, there are also certifications for Early Childhood, Special Education, Birth to Age X, etc. And the grades that are encompassed are dependent on the state. In New York secondary certification ensconces grades seven through 12, but you can teach grade six if you're working in a school (building) that includes grades seven and eight. In Illinois, secondary certificates are valid for students in grades six through 12. And then there are the Initial Certificates, Permanent Certificates, Provisional Certificates, Transitional Certificates, and so on. Each state has its own definitions. I can barely keep track of the requirements for my own certification.

And then there are the differences between the requirements of a teacher preparation program and an education degree. Universities offer either a teacher preparation program or a degree in education, not both. Teacher prep programs differ from school to school in terms of where they are housed; at Stony Brook Univ., while there was no Education Department, there was a Professional Education Program, although the directors of each teacher preparation program were professors in their own departments.As I did, one graduates with a degree in the subject (in my case, English), as well as teacher certification (assuming one passed all the state exams), no matter which level of student they are (undergraduate or graduate level). I figured that the training I got through a teacher education program would give me enough of a foundation when it comes to teaching, and that experience and networking will teach the rest. I'd personally rather be familiarized with subject matter: Expose me to more authors, more styles of writing, more media interpretation. I can observe how my teachers teach; I can analyze their teaching styles and methods and usurp those methods and decide what works and what doesn't.

Education degrees come at it from a different angle: There's more an emphasis on education pedagogy, and lesser emphasis on the subject matter. I suspect a lot of students who go into teaching don't necessarily consider the differences professional outcomes in choosing one degree over another: Education majors tend to stay in primary or secondary education, and with an education degree might more easily move up the hierarchical ladder (principal, superintendent, etc.), while not having that degree in education leaves one freer to move into college or university teaching. One path is not necessarily better than the other; it's a matter of professional choice and where one may want to stay. And it doesn't mean that with an education degree you can't make the jump to teaching in higher education; again, it depends on where you want to go - teacher training, for example, or adjuncting. I'm really a big fan of teachers who stay in the trenches before moving up to principal and superintendent.

Ultimately, defining an English education degree as a hybrid degree would be more apt if all English teachers, regardless of the level at which they taught, were required to take a number of education classes. This would help some teachers, and I'm sure on others it would be lost, just as it is for those of us who teacher at the primary and secondary levels. But that would be my wish: All new teachers, even those who teach at the university level, would be required to take teacher education classes - regardless of subject matter, regardless of level.

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