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In this section you can read and hear about the experiences of teachers studying on the Master of Studies (MSt) in Advanced Subject Teaching.

Sarah Gray

  • Career background: English teacher
  • Enrolled: 2014–2016

Teaching English is an extraordinary and extraordinarily rewarding and challenging job. In my 17 year career so far I have been a teacher of English, a teacher of film, a form tutor, a head of year, a head of sixth form and am now an assistant headteacher. While I relish the varied roles I’ve had in school, it’s being in the classroom I enjoy the most: I enjoy the process of teaching – the planning and the thinking through of pedagogical methods and choices and I always envy my students when they encounter new writers and texts for the first time.

This is one of the reasons I decided to undertake some further academic study of my own. I had thought about it for a long time – I’m not in the early stages of my career and didn’t ‘need’ to complete a master’s degree for any particular career purpose but I had long wanted to return to academic study. I have always enjoyed spending a couple of days each summer in my local university library, researching new A Level texts and writers, but wanted to undertake some research of my own.

I investigated several masters degrees – there are quite a number out there for practising teachers. I knew I wanted to focus on the teaching of English: I wanted to get better at teaching and know more about my subject. I also needed to be able to study part-time as I have a full time job. I applied for the MSt in Advanced Subject Teaching at Cambridge only after encouragement from a friend – she suggested applying and my first reaction was to tell her that I wouldn’t get in!

Read more about Sarah's experience on the MSt programme

Jonathan Monk

  • Career background: English teacher
  • Enrolled: 2014–2016

Going into my fourth year as a teacher, I wanted a new challenge. Yes, I wanted to be a better teacher, but really I wanted to be a better English teacher. Cambridge’s ‘Advanced Subject Teaching’ MSt course appealed for three main reasons. Firstly, the course is designed for teachers, so the residential study blocks all take place during the school holidays, allowing you to study part-time over two years whilst maintaining your teaching job. Secondly, the course is designed for English teachers (or History teachers). Thirdly, it is one of the few courses that is both academic and educational in focus, allowing me to develop in ways that a Literature only, or Education only, Master’s degree wouldn’t. So, I applied, interviewed via Skype, and ended up having an excellent two years of part-time study.

The first year of the course is modular, based around four residential teaching blocks in Cambridge throughout the year, and is followed up with weekly VLE tasks. The breadth of content allowed me to broaden and deepen my subject knowledge by taking the sort of modules you would expect to find in an English Literature Master’s degree. The course was in its second iteration when I took it, and it has been well designed to logically build up the necessary skills of educational research you need to conduct the more independently orientated second-year dissertation project. The best aspect of the course? This was easily the chance to interact with a fascinating group of ten English teachers from a diverse range of backgrounds. Not only were there teachers from Dorset to Deptford, from academies to private schools, but we had teachers from Turkey, France, Germany and Texas! Quite the cohort.

Overall, the MSt has provided many benefits for me and my Department. A principal aim of the course is to bridge the gap between teachers and researchers, and it is your own action research which will form the bulk of your submitted work. Thus the course enabled me to devise, test and analyse innovative approaches to English teaching within my own school context. My Department has certainly benefitted from these, and my school is moving towards a more research-centred approach to improving teaching and professional development. Professor Helen Cooper, who presented at one of the residential study blocks, kindly agreed to come to my school to talk about Chaucer. In addition, I have spoken at conferences and published some of my work in the English in Education journal, things I would never have been close to capable of doing without the expertise developed during the MSt.

If you are interested in applying, then do not underestimate the commitment involved in doing a part-time degree alongside a full-time teaching job! However, once you’re on the course the invigorating content and superb lecturers will motivate you to make the most from it. The cost can seem daunting, but there is funding out there (I was fortunate to receive the James Stuart bursary). There is also no ‘right’ time to take the course – I was one of the youngest on a course with English teachers ranging from a few years of teaching experience to decades.

One word to sum up the course experience: invigorating!

Jayne Euvrard and Sarah Dearnaley

  • Career background: English teacher
  • Graduated: 2015

The MSt in Advanced Subject Teaching was tough, rigorous and entirely worth it! The course does more than equip and stretch one as a teacher or educator. It asks one to consider one's role as an academic but in a school environment. It was this mix of studying both 'pure' English Literature and English Literature in a secondary educational context that appealed to me.

The course is both challenging and demanding. Luckily it is also invigorating, exciting and prepares one well for the dissertation that follows. Graduating with an MSt from Cambridge has given me professional and academic confidence to take the next steps in my career. I found the faculty at Madingley, both academic and administrative, very supportive throughout the degree.

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