If you’re a new teacher, a student pursuing your undergraduate degree, or a teacher looking to advance in your career, you may consider getting your Master of Education degree (MEd). A Master of Education offers various specializations from curriculum and instruction to school psychology. It’s important to know your interest in education to narrow down your area of focus.
An MEd can be tailored to fit your professional goals, whether those include remaining in the classroom or entering administration. Benefits of earning an MEd include:
- Career advancement within education
- Researching and implementing effective practices of teaching and learning
- Establishing goals for teaching and learning at the school and district level
If you are considering adding an MEd to your degrees, here’s what you should know.
Pathways to a Master of Education (MEd)
Some of the biggest questions teachers might have about getting their MEd include aspects of time, experience, and specialty focus. However, the specifics of your MEd can depend heavily on whether you choose to pursue your degree right out of school or to wait several years to gain teaching experience.
Enrolling in Graduate School Immediately
The benefit of enrolling in an MEd program immediately is that you never lose momentum as a student yourself. Additionally, you may be able to take your time in your degree program and learn “on the job” as you apply what you gain in your education to your own teaching.
The disadvantage of going that route is that it might be costly with a starting teacher’s salary. Plus, transitioning into the classroom for a new teacher can be tough. Once you’re in the program, you may not have time to get exposed to different specializations and may miss out on finding your perfect niche.
For instance, if you gain your MEd in a general specialty right away, but later decide to become a principal, you may have missed out on the chance to get your graduate degree in a specialty you can use.
Enrolling in Graduate School After Teaching a Few Years
Although the path will be different for everyone, Benjamin Brusie, a high school math teacher of 13 years who has his MEd in Instruction and Curriculum Design, advises potential graduate students to first gain some stability in their career paths.
He notes that because he became a teacher in 2009 when gaining a job as a teacher was very competitive and layoffs were frequent, he chose to wait until he had reached a point of stability in his career before deciding to pursue his master’s. He knew a master’s degree would be in his future, but he knew it was important to wait until the time was right.
For him, the decision came down to balancing the financial costs of the degree with the financial stability his job would provide. It didn’t make sense for him to start his degree in a role where he had any doubts about his long-term future. So, he waited several years until he was settled into a position he felt comfortable and secure in, and then he began applying to graduate school.
“I started my degree as soon as I knew I wasn’t going to get laid off and once I knew I would break even on the degree,” he explains.
“A master’s will provide you with a pay raise, but a $20,000 degree also isn’t justified until you know you’re going to be there for the long haul.”
Online vs. In-Person MEd
So which is better…an online MEd or on-campus? As you can imagine, a virtual degree is by far the most popular choice for this educational pathway, and for good reason. Teachers are busy professionals who are often juggling other outside commitments, such as coaching school sports, heading student activities and organizations, participating in school committees, and raising families.
Benefits of an online degree
For Brusie, who had two very young children and a third baby on the way at the time of his degree, an online degree made the most practical sense. He was able to continue his roles as Archery Coordinator for his school, be home with his family, and continue his other responsibilities, such as teaching summer school. And there was another added benefit for him:
“I’m already in a classroom all day as it is–I didn’t want to be in another one at night too!” he laughs.
Benefits of an in-person degree
Brusie highly recommends an online degree for teachers pursuing their MEd and notes that the only exception may be for a specialty graduate certification, such as a master’s in your subject matter, which could hold some benefits for in-person instruction.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of an MEd
As we mentioned earlier, the cost-benefit consideration is an important one to make with an MEd degree. Here are a few aspects you may want to keep in mind with this degree path.
Financial costs for new teachers
Many degree programs are in the $20-$30K range, with some going considerably higher. For a new teacher, that can be a very costly venture. The average salary for a new teacher varies depending on what state you are in but generally falls just under $40k. So, if the cost of your degree is more than your starting salary, it’s not an easy financial decision to make.
Although the initial investment may be significant, there are support systems in place for teachers who want to pursue their MEd.
For instance, Bruise qualified for financial aid and although his degree cost him around $20,000 in 2011, he was later able to have his loans partially forgiven thanks to his qualifications as a mathematics teacher in a low-income school district.
Benefits of an MEd Degree
There are many benefits of obtaining your MEd, no matter which specialty you ultimately decide on. These can include:
Most states have some kind of continuing education in place for teachers. This means that in order to keep your teaching certificate, you must take college courses. Typically, the requirements specify that you must earn at least 18 credits in a “planned program.” And while technically, you could choose to stop after you have reached those 18 credits, many teachers make the choice to earn those credits and continue on to complete a master’s degree.
Bruise saw the decision as an easy one. Two birds, one stone. Not only did he finish his required credits, but he was also able to earn his Master of Education and receive a pay raise that set him on a higher earning path.
The other important aspect to understand about getting your Master of Education is that many districts operate on a pay scale structure. Obtaining your MEd places you into a new payscale bracket. Thus, as soon as you have your master’s, you are able to climb the pay scale in the new bracket, increasing your earning potential over time. This means that it is financially more lucrative for you to earn your master’s as soon as possible so you have more time to earn money within the master’s bracket.
In the end, for Brusie, choosing to get his MEd roughly five years into his more stable teaching career, was the best choice for him.
“I hear a lot of people say they wish they had gotten their master’s sooner, so financially, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says. “It really helps because once you are able to make that step to the master’s pay scale, it’s a progressive climb. The earlier you get it, the more you can climb.”
One of the most important benefits of this degree is how it can enhance and improve your own methods as a teacher. For example, Bruise discovered some elements of instruction that he learned in his graduate program, such as backward design, co-op learning structures, and anchor problems that changed how he approaches instruction.
“How I complete my work has changed a lot, because I was able to zero in on a couple of ideas that really seemed to work and were worthwhile for my own classroom,” Bruise explains. “There’s so much information in the degree and it comes down to choosing one or two applications that can alter how you teach.”
The data also appears to back up the fact that having master’s-prepared teachers translates to better test scores for students. For instance, Face the Facts USA illustrates that both elementary and high school students perform better on math scores under instruction from a teacher who holds a Master’s Degree in Education.
Is an MEd Right for You?
An MEd might be right for you if you feel like you have reached a point in your career that will provide the financial stability and ability to pursue a graduate degree. The degree may also be right for you if you are required to take additional credits to keep your teaching certificate and are interested in the pay incentives and career enhancements it can provide.
Interestingly enough, according to data from the National Center of Education Statistics, the number of teachers receiving their Master of Education has remained somewhat constant over the past few years (146,432 in 2019) and has seen somewhat of a decline compared to a decade ago (185,127 in 2011). This may be due to the competitive nature of the educational field for teachers coming out of the Great Recession in 2008, as well as other factors such as teacher longevity for educators already in established positions. Many programs also offer a teaching credential and a Master of Arts in Teaching to help give an initial pay boost to starting teachers.
What the future holds for teachers isn’t entirely clear. Many experts are predicting that an already-existing teacher shortage will only be intensified by the repercussions of the pandemic. This may translate into both more opportunities for teachers to enter the field and higher pay incentives. So again, if you have your Master’s you may be in the position to gain higher earnings over time.
Tips for Pursuing your MEd
As you make the decision about whether an MEd is right for you, Bruise has some final tips.
Brusie points out that although he is the one whose name is on his degree, it was really a joint effort to get the degree. He leaned heavily on his wife to take on more childcare and household responsibilities so he could get his schooling done and laughs that really, it was a dual degree for both of them.
“Talk with your partner if you have one and/or family because it’s not just a sole decision,” he advises.
Even if you don’t have family responsibilities, consider what support system you would have in place.
Although Brusie is honest about the fact that his degree was largely driven by both state requirements for continuing education as well as financial incentives, he also notes that it was helpful when narrowing down what kind of degree he wanted to be crystal-clear about his career goals.
Because he wanted to remain at the instructor level and not move into administration, he was able to select a degree that made sense for his long-term goals.
Especially when going with an online school, Bruise suggests any potential graduate students ensure that a degree they choose will also fulfill any continuing education requirements they need to keep their teaching certificate.
For instance, he made the mistake of choosing a degree that did not include one of his state’s required courses for teachers, so he was forced to spend an additional $2,000 later down the road to fulfill that requirement.
Lastly, juggling going back to school when you spend all day at school is definitely not an easy thing to do, so Brusie suggests focusing on the “why” behind your decision to advance your education.
He points out the benefits that his career and MEd degree have provided – from financial stability to the student relationships he has been able to build. For instance, when he had to take a day off recently for his grandmother’s funeral, several of his students took time to share the impact that their own grandmothers had made in their lives. “It’s those moments that make it all matter,” Bruise notes. “So keep going, because it really is worth it.”