Week 4.1: Masters Degree – Worth It?
Teachers choose to earn advanced degrees for so many different reasons today, and there are many different pathways to get you there. Some of those pathways:
Online college courses
- Online certificate programs
- Combined online course with a once-a-week in person meeting
- Summer programs where a graduate degree is earned in 3-4 consecutive summers of course-taking
- A year-long sabbatical granted from your job to earn a degree, before returning to the same job
Full-time graduate degrees at a university, usually with a teaching assistant position at the university
And these are some of the reasons teachers pursue these pathways:
- To earn a higher salary
- To earn highly-qualified status, and therefore be more likely to be hired
- To become a principal or administrator
- To become a teacher of a different discipline
- To renew a teaching certificate through college credit
- For a break from teaching!
- Moving to a new home, and taking the extra time to pursue a graduate degree
Everything on these lists is beneficial. The only con is cost – you can rack up a lot of student debt pursuing a full-time degree without a teaching assistantship or scholarship; or spend a good chunk of your salary taking part-time classes. Masters degrees in education can help you reflect on your teaching career so far, can help you develop new ideas and perspective, and can help you go deeper into your discipline and the state of education in the country. In terms of academic publishing, working with college professors and other members of your career, and becoming an administrator, there is no better pathway than a full-time degree. In fact, the best programs will allow you to keep one foot in the public school and the other foot in the academic world of college.
But, let’s argue the other side.
Essentially, there are two versions of a Masters degree. The part-time version, with online courses or one course at a time, is not engaging. You will still be focusing more on your teaching duties rather than the coursework, and there is only so much that can be learned through an online course without in-school observation and discussion. You are unlikely to make lasting relationships with other educators and college professors. Are you the kind of teacher who will take enough focused time to learn something of value through this method?
The full-time degree is extremely fun. You will experience an amazing mixture of college student life and adult relationships with other working professionals and professors. If your goal is to become a college professor, this is the best start. However, you will likely need to quit your job, move, uproot your spouse or family if you have one, and spend lots of money without a salary coming in. Sometimes you are starting over in a new state. By the time you are done with your 1-2 year degree; you may have to apply for a teaching certificate in a new state, you may have lost a few old connections or references, and most dangerous of all, your mind will be completely different – you won’t see the teaching career in the some way, and you may have fallen out of practice. Are you the kind of teacher who will remember everything you learned without regressing to college student mentality?
If I play the cynic, I could tell you that the reason there are so many articles about the benefits of Masters degrees is because colleges want you to pay them more money. I could tell you that teachers feel like they have to earn an advanced degree in order to be hired and make enough money to live on (ironic). Finally, I could say that academia has lost touch with the reality of teaching, and that many of the teaching methods you study will not be relevant to your classroom.
But I’m not a cynic, and my 2-year, full-time Masters degree was one of the best times of my life. So I will give you the most informative advice I have, which is this:
Research the available graduate programs to an obsessive point before making your decision. Find the most flexible, hands-on, partnering-with-local-schools program that you can. Substitute teach while pursuing your degree, in order to not lose real-world perspective. A Masters is nowhere near as hard or mentally draining as a full-time teaching job; so take advantage of your “learning vacation” to be involved in the college, the community, the government, everything that you can do, now that you are an adult professional. Basically what I’m saying is, don’t waste your time!
We really don’t live in a world anymore where people become college professors based on life experience. (No really – graduate degrees didn’t hold nearly as much importance 40 years ago. Several of my undergraduate professors never earned a doctorate.) Since that world is gone, make the most of your “required” Masters, and don’t forget that life experience is still the best way to become a better teacher.
Have fun studying! Some graduate degree resources are below. And next week: Public, Private, Charter, or Other?
More resources about advanced degrees: