If you are an aspiring teacher, you’ll want to (1) acquire teaching experience, (2) take advantage of course offerings on teaching-related topics, and (3) educate yourself about the educational job market. The MA English degree is not a teaching certification. The program does, however, offer excellent opportunities to explore the profession and to develop your credentials
Our nationally recognized preparation program for Teaching Assistants in Composition (CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence, 2009) provides extensive mentoring, classroom experience, and foundational coursework on writing pedagogy. We are able to offer these assistantships to 16-18 incoming MA students each year. These appointments are distributed proportionally across the four MA concentrations based on the number of applicants in each area. Some TAs in Film and Linguistics assist faculty in those areas and follow a parallel training path.
Students without assistantships are encouraged to seek out other kinds of teaching experience to complement their degree work. Some find employment as hourly tutors for NCSU’s Writing and Speaking Tutorial Service or the Academic Support for Student Athletes program, or with private employers in the Raleigh area. Some assist faculty teaching distance education courses or work as academic advisors for various units on campus. Students often learn about such opportunities through the English Graduate Google group, where job notices and calls for applicants are circulated as we receive them.
The English Department’s Guest Teacher Program offers opportunities for students without teaching assistantships to gain some limited teaching experience under the guidance of an experienced faculty member. Under this program, volunteers from the graduate faculty work with individual graduate students to design, prepare, and lead a class session in an undergraduate course. Guest Teacher opportunities are announced at the start of each semester.
The NCSU Graduate School offers professional development workshops on a wide range of topics related to teaching. Students can also earn a Teaching and Communication Certificate to complement their academic credentials.
If you’re interested in teaching, you will want to include pertinent coursework in your degree program. For example, ENG 511 Theory and Research in Composition introduces the scholarship grounding the contemporary teaching of writing. ENG 525 Variety in Language examines regional, social, ethnic and gender varieties of language and is highly recommended for prospective educators. Keep an eye out for special topics offerings as well. Recent courses on digital humanities, writing program administration, writing across the curriculum, and ethnicity and language, for example, could be helpful additions to a teaching profile. You may find a course in the College of Education that would be a useful elective. The Graduate School offers workshops on teaching and leadership topics that may be of interest as well. Use your time and your elective slots strategically to build your teaching knowledge and credentials.
The Job Market
Many MA English students hope to find teaching positions in community colleges and other post-secondary institutions. In a 2013 survey of alumni, we learned that our MA graduates have found jobs in community colleges, four-year schools, public and private high schools, and community contexts. Some are teaching abroad. They are working as teachers, teacher trainers, administrators, and academic advisors. The MA can indeed help you prepare yourself for such positions.
But do pay attention to what you’ve heard about the tight academic job market. Look carefully at the settings in which you want to work, for teaching loads, working conditions, contracts and salaries vary considerably. Full-time teaching loads at post-secondary institutions typically range from 12 to 18 credit hours per semester, for example, and many community college systems, including North Carolina’s, do not award long-term contracts or tenure. When we surveyed NC community colleges and small schools in 2007, we learned that more than 50% of recent hires at the responding schools were on part-time appointments.
Dismaying as these facts may be, the need for smart, committed educators has never been greater. If teaching is your passion, we want you to join the profession! As you begin your planning, it may be helpful for you to know that of the 37 college administrators in our regional survey sample, 97% noted that coursework in composition theory and pedagogy is essential for new hires, 84% look for experience teaching in computer-mediated environments, 73% value experience with adult learners, and 95% look for generalists who can teach in more than one area. In sum, an understanding of hiring expectations and working conditions in your area of teaching interest will help you make purposeful decisions about courses and extracurricular activities as you prepare yourself to enter this market.
An English Department is an excellent place to hone your skills and build your expertise to pursue careers in writing, editing, and media. In a 2012 survey, students in each of our MA concentrations identified writing/editing/publishing as a potential career interest. Recent graduates of the MA program report job titles such as writer, media producer, editor, associate editor, copy editor, and tech media publishing. To prepare yourself for these professions, you’ll want to seek opportunities during your MA in these domains, whether in pursuing editorial projects for courses, engaging with issues of writing and publishing, or working with digital media platforms. Speak to your graduate advisers and professors about how you might integrate these pursuits into your courses, projects, or research work.
Additionally, we encourage you to seek practical experience outside the academy. For example, we offer a graduate internship course, ENG 522 Writing in Nonacademic Settings, to support students interested in exploring career paths in writing/editing. Piloted in 2009 and established as an annual course offering in 2012, the internship program offers hands-on experience in a range of workplaces, including book and magazine publishers, communications firms, non-profit organizations, and technical publishers. Over 50 graduate students have participated in the program to date, including students from all three of our master’s programs. If you plan to market yourself in writing or media professions, ENG 522 is a recommended elective.
The many award-winning teachers on our faculty provide exceptionally fine mentoring and academic preparation for students interested in further graduate study. In our 2013 survey of MA alumni, 36% of respondents reported that they had gone on to pursue advanced degrees. Students in each of the MA concentrations have chosen this path. For example, recent graduates have entered PhD programs in Literature at Emory, University of Georgia, UNC- Greensboro and at Yale University; in Linguistics at UC-Berkeley, Ohio State and University of Pennsylvania; in Rhetoric and Composition at Ohio State and University of Arizona; in Cultural Studies at SUNY- Stony Brook; in English and Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
If you plan to use the MA English degree as a springboard for further study, use your time here to enhance your knowledge of your field and to cultivate research topics that intrigue you. As your interests develop, you’ll want to consult with faculty mentors and begin researching doctoral programs to identify those that will support your disciplinary interests.
You’ll also want to engage in the life of the profession, for example by attending professional conferences and submitting your own work for presentation. Graduate students are invited to submit proposals for the annual NCSU Graduate Research Symposium, and the campus is host to numerous disciplinary and cross-disciplinary conferences each year, many of which offer opportunities for involvement as organizers, proposal reviewers, and presenters. The department’s Association of English Graduate Students (AEGS) designs, plans, and runs a conference each year on a topic of interest to its membership. Recent themes have included the role of humanities studies in the 21st century, negotiating notions of public and private, “doing” digital humanities, and extending research beyond the walls of academia.
Students from all MA concentrations have participated in regional and national conferences as well. Recently, MA students presented work at meetings sponsored by the Popular Culture Association, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, the Southeastern Writing Center conference, the Southern Appalachian Culture Series, the International Medieval Congress, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the Victorians Institute Conference, the Middle East Studies Association, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and the American Association for Applied Linguistics, among others.
In short, the MA English degree offers both curricular and extracurricular opportunities for students preparing themselves for advanced study.