Three things which seem unavoidable are death, taxes and debates on ajarn.com about the requirement for teachers of having a degree. Those without degrees generally argue a degree is not necessary, while those with degrees will normally make the case a degree should be required. And of course those with a degree and a TEFL certificate will advocate the idea both credentials should be the minimum education required of a teacher, while those with degrees in education and graduate degrees will claim the qualifications they hold should be the minimum requirements. Reading these debates gives us a good idea of the educational qualifications of those involved in the debate, but usually little more.
One of the underlying assumptions of the debate is usually by "teacher" the individual is referring to the job he or she is holding or seeking, when in fact the word "teacher" applies to a wide range of positions. While it would be difficult to argue an advanced degree is not needed for a teacher advising doctoral students in nuclear physics, a pretty good case could be made any type of degree is not automatically required for a pre-school teacher who spends most of his or her time playing educational games with children. A university education would in nearly every case better prepare a teacher to teach academic writing, but may have less application as a requirement for a teacher teaching conversational or business English.
Another assumption would seem to be that one type of teaching or specific types of teacher are better than other types. But can there be multiple approaches to teaching a subject and multiple effective types of teacher?
Which would make a better English teacher, a professor of linguistics who could explain the roots of the language and purpose behind traditional language usage, or a young sharp street-smart traveler who is fluent in the language as well as being conversant in modern slang and conversation styles? Why would one automatically be better than the other? Wouldn't it be ideal to have classes with both teachers? While it is always best to learn the proper way to speak correctly, as a language learner I always find it extremely frustrating when after learning a phrase or word from a textbook to find out no one actually speaks the way taught in the textbook
The intensive language program I am currently studying in rotates teachers frequently so students experience different accents, speeds of speech, teaching approaches and ideas about the language. This approach appears to have merit. Should we assume there is only one way to teach or can language learning be obtained by using different approaches?
There is a definite financial advantage to higher education as the average income of those with university degrees is significantly higher than those without, and the gap grows. And as a professional educator with three degrees of my own, I place a lot of value on education and have found higher education has transformed my life for the better and it rarely makes a person a worse individual or worse teacher than he or she would have been without an education. However, having an education and a degree are not exactly the same thing and an education is only part of the total package a teacher brings into the classroom.
There are many teaching jobs which a degree, and often a specific degree, will almost always be a requirement. I cannot imagine there are many qualified teachers capable of teaching in medical school who do not have medical degrees, but there are many jobs, and conversational English teacher - if one is a native English speaker - is one of them, which motivated and talented individuals should be able to perform even without a four year degree or specific training.
My definition of a real teacher is someone who is accepted by the students and school administrators as a teacher, and gets paid to teach. Although I have quite a few years experience in the classroom and carry an academic title with the word professor in it, I would probably be a total disaster in a classroom of pre-school students. I suspect I would be fired within minutes and neither the students nor school officials would think I am a "real teacher" in that situation. I have a lot of respect for those who can manage and hold the attention of young learners, but this requires skills I never obtained. There are so many different types of teaching jobs it would seem impractical to assume each teacher should be required to hold the exact same types of qualifications.
In an ideal situation, every ESL teacher would be an expert in foreign language learning, be highly proficient in the use of the English language, speak multiple languages, have experience teaching, have both an undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, have enthusiasm and be totally committed to the teaching profession. But I can't see Thai schools finding enough teachers with these characteristics at prices which the schools can afford anytime soon. But that does not imply those with less than perfect qualifications cannot contribute to the education of others.
So relax, there are different types of teaching jobs for individuals with different backgrounds and levels of education. If the school administrators and students are satisfied with the work of a teacher, what gives any of us other teachers the right to pass judgment?
Whether teacher, manager, employee or business owner, in the end, we will get paid, hired and promoted by what we can, will, and do accomplish and not because of a paper attached to our wall or title we carry. While education has an impact on what we can, will and do accomplish, it is not the only factor influencing our skills and work performance.
Scott Hipsher is the author of a number of books, book chapters, academic journal articles, conference papers, magazine articles and newspaper pieces.
His books include
The Nature of Asian Firms: An evolutionary perspective
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking free from the colonial paradigm
Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries
And Scott's latest book The Private Sector's Role in Poverty Reduction in Asia