Saturday, December 13, 2008

Are Some Certifications Overrated?

Hello, My Name is Larry ...

Let’s take Scott Ginsberg’s axiom that “Certifications are Overrated.” If we delve a bit more into this concept we find some basis for his rationale. He continues by postulating the following concepts which are well worth considering.

A Master’s degree doesn’t mean you’ve mastered anything”, says Scott.

Do you think this is true? I certainly do. You can obtain a Master degree in many fields like Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Mathematics or even Business from a great any universities without having to actually practice the field professionally. Sure, in teaching EFL you may well have “teaching practice” of some sort, but the type, duration and quality of that teaching practice can vary widely from one institution to another. That’s even if there’s a requirement for it at all in the first place.

You want to master something? Try DOING it.

We’ve all heard the old axiom, “practice makes perfect”. Indeed, in some areas of human endeavor it’s the only way to develop. Think about musicians, for example. What’s more important; how much they practice their instrument or the number and kinds of degrees they may have? The more you do something, the more you practice a skill – any skill, the better you become at it. Notice that I didn’t say the more you study something. Yes, an education as a basis for any field of endeavor is important, but it is not and should not be the do all, be all and end all of anything. If you really want to master something, try doing it regularly and extensively over a substantial period of time.

You want to master something? Try READING five hundred books about it.

Ah yes, knowledge is indeed power. Say you want to learn to write well, even professionally. One of the first things you’ll need to develop is a facility with words. One great way to accomplish this is by reading. It’s true when they say “all writers read, but all readers don’t write”. Read stacks of books about writing all manner of prose and poetry and you’ll come away with more than a solid starting basis to practice your developing craft with knowledge and skill. You’ll learn to apply practical wisdom to your writing skills development. After reading 500 books about writing you won’t be a writer but you will know about writing. A writer writes. Period.

You want to master something? Try INTERVIEWING people who’ve already done it.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb which states, “To know the road ahead, ask those who are returning”. Who better to describe the joys, twists, turns and pitfalls of what lies ahead than those who have gone before you in some way? The act of interviewing people who have already done what it is that you want to do can be crucial in preparing you for what lies ahead in your future. They say that, “forewarned is forearmed”. Use the advice and suggestions of those with experience to help blaze the way for your success.

You want to master something? Try FAILING at it a few times first.

Now failure, while an undesirable most of the time, is not always a bad thing. That is if you take the time to pull back from and learn from that failure. That is to say, to fail forward as the idea goes. If you truly learn from your failures and mistakes, you can grow and benefit from them. By using those failures and mistakes as stepping stones to improvement, you can achieve more and greater results in a shorter and lesser amount of time and experience. So don’t view failure as a negative, look for the lessons that you can extract from it – and grow wiser.

You want to master something? Try PRACTICING it every single day.

As we said before, when practicing anything, a skill, an activity, a habit, you will improve because of continually repeating that action. Your brain will begin to internalize each and every small aspect involved to “smooth out” the process both physically and mentally for you. Did you know that you don’t even have to physically practice the action to improve either? No, I didn’t just contradict myself. Let me illustrate: Say you want to improve your basketball free-throw shooting, your public speaking, your Salsa dancing or even your learning to speak Quechua. You can and should physically practice regularly, but you can also improve if you “practice” in your mind.

That is, use the power of visualization to beguile your mental faculties into processing the skills, motions, movements and other aspects of whatever you wish to improve in. Use your physical practice to help you in forming the mental images of what you’re doing. Close your eyes anywhere (not while driving on the Interstate, please) and picture yourself performing the action or skill you wish to improve in over and over and over again every opportunity that you get in addition to actual physical practice.

Do You REALLY Need to Go Back to School?

So as Scott says, you should finally ask yourself, “Do you really need to go back to school?” or can you apply the principles we’ve just discussed? So are “Certifications” truly overrated in many cases? I think by now you just might agree with me that perhaps they are.

Portions excerpted from “11 Ways to Become Brilliant
Scott Ginsberg, Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
That Guy with the Nametag

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at:


Ms. Lucy said...

Great post. One of my duties as a language consultant and ESL/EAL specialist is hiring new teachers. You wouldn't believe the number of PhD applicants that come my way. That being said, thank goodness that's not all I base qualifications on- because frankly, I've hired fewer than I can even remember (and I've been doing this a long time). To teach, you either have it - or you don't. Personally, talent, skills and personality is what I look for in a good teacher. It doesn't matter how many degrees you have; if you can't interest and motivate...forget about it. Thanks for this very interesting post.

Eric said...

Excellent primer on why experience trumps pieces of paper, but in the classroom!

Let me explain. Many educational institutions, especially in some places, remain paper-driven. Let me give a sad example. I currently teach English at an elite private university, but I couldn't get a teaching job in a California public school teaching English because I lack the right MA.

Expertise and experience, for many educational institutions, remain of limited use. Former President Clinton could not teach government, history, or social studies in California public schools. Academy Award winning actors can not teach theater in the schools. World class musicians can't teach music. It's utterly absurd.

"We learn to walk by stumbling", goes the Bulgarian proverb. Teachers, and students, learn by doing and making good mistakes. You nailed the problem with reading 500 books to become a recognized expert instead of just throwing yourself in and gaining experience.

The best teachers are often autotelic (self-directed), and share their passion for learning and model love of knowledge. Adding a PhD after your name doesn't magically translate into you a dynamic, quality English teacher.

As Ms.Lucy notes, "you either have it - or you don't."