Continuing professional development is necessary in every career nowadays, no more so than in teaching. Pedagogy is constantly in flux with regard to new teaching practices, new technologies in the classroom, an increase of non-nationals in the student body, and the development of special needs education – to name just a few of the current issues.
The most popular postgraduate development programme for teachers is the taught Master of Education (MEd). Available from several universities and teacher-training colleges nationwide, the MEd is a two-year part time programme.
According to Professor Jim Deegan, Director of Postgraduate Studies in Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College, the profile of MEd students has been steadily getting ‘younger and younger’. Increasingly, young professional teachers are viewing the MEd as a natural progression of their teacher training, rather than an added bonus that might be undertaken a number of years down the line.
In an interesting reflection of the commonly held view that teaching represents more of a ‘calling’ than a straightforward career choice, Professor Deegan believes that the majority of MEd students are ‘fundamentally motivated by continuing their study and professional development’, rather than ‘getting a foothold on the promotional ladder’.
That’s not to say the MEd is not beneficial to the career prospects of an ambitious young teacher. According to Professor Deegan the programme provides the student with ‘additional and focused training in issues around leadership, curriculum development, the changing contexts of schools regarding special needs, issues of diversity, advances in pedagogy, and all of those things that would give you confidence going into an interview for principalship, the schools inspectorate, moving into academic life, and so on.’
A MEd is not a purely academic pursuit; it has real benefits for the teacher’s performance in the classroom. ‘Whatever they learn with us is focused on workplace realities’, says Professor Deegan, ‘we help them not only to theorise their own teaching and learning experiences, but also to develop action responses. There is very much a connection between what they’re learning in college, and what they’re realising is possible and useful in classrooms, schools, and communities.’
While the MEd broadens and deepens the students’ knowledge generally, the opportunity also arises to specialise in a particular area of teaching – not least through the programme’s strong research element, which involves a dissertation of about 25,000 words in length. And this initial research experience frequently serves to whet the students’ appetite for further knowledge.
‘Increasingly we find that another new pattern is developing whereby students are progressing from the MEd to the PhD – they see the MEd not as a terminal degree or the final step in professional development, but as a step towards the PhD,’ says Professor Deegan.
Alternatively to the MEd, teachers who feel that their research skills are up to the task, and who already have a specific specialised subject in mind, can apply for the research based MA or MLitt in Education. These programmes usually involve a 60,000-word thesis on topics selected from fields such as the sociology, history, or psychology of education; and are also available in a part time format from universities and teacher training colleges around the country.
Some teachers may be seeking a more targeted taught postgraduate course than the MEd, and they will find a wide range of opportunities in higher education providers around Ireland. For example, guidance counselling is of growing importance to all second level students, confronted as they are by a bewildering array of learning and training opportunities after completing the Leaving Certificate. Full time, one-year Postgraduate Diplomas in Guidance Counselling are available from NUI Maynooth and UCC, while the University of Limerick and DCU provide a two-year part time option. Trinity College Dublin enables MEd students to specialise in guidance counselling with a part time module that runs on Fridays and Saturday mornings.
Graduates of all these courses, except (for the moment at least) the Dublin City University programme, are entitled to apply for membership with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (www.igc.ie).
Teachers who aspire to, or currently hold, management positions in schools can improve their career prospects with a postgraduate diploma/masters in subjects such as education management, leadership or administration. Course providers of this type of programme include the University of Limerick, University College Cork, NUI Maynooth and St Angela’s College in Sligo.
Other career paths that might be facilitated by a postgraduate qualification include subject specific programmes such as Religious Education, Music & Drama Teaching and Science Teaching. Developed jointly by the Athlone Institute of Technology, Waterford Institute of Technology and the cutting edge research body CALMAST (Centre for the Advancement of Learning of Maths, Science and Technology), the Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Science Education accepted its first students in 2007. This two-year, part time course is designed for the professional development of science teachers in primary schools, and was created with the input of scientists, educationalists and practising teachers.
ICT (information communications technology) is one of the fastest growing areas of professional development for teachers. The National Centre for Technology in Education is a government agency concerned with the provision of ICT in education, and they provide a range of courses to 11,000 primary and secondary teachers every year, focusing on the use of ICT in teaching and learning. Several higher education institutions now recognise these courses as part fulfilment of certain postgraduate courses. Visit www.ncte.ie to view the complete list of participating colleges and the relevant courses.
Jerome Morrissey is Director of the NCTE and he believes that Ireland’s history of involving technology in the classroom has been ‘hit and miss’. Nowadays however, ‘ICT is totally ingrained in everyday life, so it’s very important that we should try to harness it. You can source all kinds of rich resources and images online for example – so therefore it brings a richer learning experience to the classroom.’
It’s not just about internet use though. Audio and visual technology can also add greatly to the learning process. Morrissey mentions the highly successful FĺS initiative as an example of this. Currently rolled out in ‘hundreds of primary schools’, FĺS allows children to get involved in every stage of the filming process: storyboarding, script writing, operating a video camera, and art & design.
’When you use technology like that, to meet the learning objectives of the various subjects on the curriculum – well then ICT is really imbedded into the process of teaching and learning, and that’s where we want it,’ he concludes.