Friday, December 23, 2011

MAT Degree - Is It Worth It?

Currently, a MAT degree, or Masters of Arts in Teaching, will bump up your prospects as a teacher-increasing your opportunities for leadership positions in your school, and most likely raising your pay at least eleven thousand dollars. Most Education universities offer programs that allow you to earn your teaching license and MAT at the same time so you can kill two birds with one stone and meet state requirements while making yourself more marketable. The MAT degree is meant to broaden and deepen teachers' knowledge and instructional skills. MAT degree programs are designed to help new or experienced teachers hone their classroom skills, advance their careers, and refine their pedagogues, and bring teachers up-to-date on advancements in technology, theory, and methodology in the field of education.

So what's the problem?

Studies show no correlation between advanced degrees and student performance. The current conversation about education reform is to link teacher's pay to performance and not to credentials. Research professor Dan Goldhaber explains that research dating back to 1997 has shown that the students of teachers with master degrees show no better progress than students taught by teachers without advanced degrees.

Arguments are made that the Education colleges do not focus enough on experiential instruction, which makes a difference for the success of beginning teachers. Some argue that it isn't enough to say "the more education, the better the teacher."

Patrick Welsh, English teacher at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., believes that credentialing has become an "absurd process," that plagues schools who have to follow rules that don't improve them. He sites personal examples he has seen of teachers or administrators without credentials that were better at their job than others with them. He calls the system of today, "A charade that confuses taking mind-numbing education courses with being a "highly qualified" teacher and has ended up filling schools with tenured mediocrity the kids don't deserve."

Katherine Merseth, the director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has even made the statement that of the nation's 1,300 graduate teacher education programs, only about 100 were competently doing their job and the rest could "shut down tomorrow." Historian Diane Ravitch called teachers' coursework "the contentless curriculum," and writer Elizabeth Green reports that the programs focus too much on broader teaching theories than on what she and many others consider more important-experiential training.

Even still, teachers and administrators continue to advocate for the MAT and often agree that it is worth the investment because of the incentives and because they believe that it can make a difference. "We are persuaded that university-based preparation is key to acquiring the knowledge and skill we value," said C. Kent McGuire, dean at Temple University.

"We do look carefully at the institutions from which such degrees were conferred because not all advanced degrees are created equal," McGuire explained further. One such preference is that MAT graduates have studied at research institutions.

McGuire also points out that it is important to make a distinction between the credentials used in selecting and hiring a teacher, and the information or criteria used to reward performance. "Training and experience factors, by themselves, turn out to be fairly weak predictors of effectiveness," he said.

In addition, better teacher training has worked in other countries. Finland's school reforms started in 1963 as an attempt to recover their economy. In 1979, reforms required teachers to earn their masters in theory and practice at one of their eight state universities at state expense. This decision, and the selectiveness of these schools, helped teaching in Finland become a prestigious profession. Now Finland's Education system is one of the top in the world.

The real question is-what makes a good teacher? Welsh might agree that there is a certain talent some teachers have for communicating and connecting with their students, and connecting their students to the subject they are teaching. Education cannot teach talent; if someone is not born to be a teacher, or does not love teaching, then maybe a MAT is not for them. But if it is their calling, then more education can only improve their performance by increasing their pedagogical knowledge and confidence. A MAT degree doesn't make a teacher a good teacher, but can aid a good teacher in becoming a great teacher. So is it worth it? The answer depends on your own idea of what the future holds for you, and whether you are willing to put in the effort to make it worth your experience.

Knowledge is an opportunity to expand on creative and innovative thinking and to always work towards improvement. Getting a masters or doctorate in education cannot inherently make a teacher better, but it can give them the opportunity and knowledge to work towards their goals.

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