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’s in Education (M.Ed). A Master’s in Education can come in many different forms and specialties, from administration pathways to those designed for instructional educators.
An M.Ed can mean different things for different teachers, depending on your goals.
- Pathway to career advancement at an administrative level
- Means to improve instructional performance
- Becoming a well-rounded educator while fulfilling requirements set by their certifying state.
There is no one path to a Master’s in Education, but if you are considering adding that M.Ed to your degrees, here’s what you should know.
Educational Path to an M.Ed
One of the biggest questions teachers might have about getting their Master’s in Education is: when is the best time to get an M.Ed? Should you begin pursuing your degree right out of school so you don’t lose momentum? Or is it best to wait a few years and teach so you gain experience and career clarity? There are two main pathways to going back to school for your M.Ed.
Enrolling in Graduate School Immediately
The benefit of enrolling in an M.Ed 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 classroom, you may change your mind about how you’d like your career to advance later down the line.
For instance, if you gain your M.Ed 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 speciality 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 mathematics teacher of 13 years who has his M.Ed 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 M.Ed
So which is better…an online M.Ed 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, 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 the school he taught at, 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 M.Ed 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 M.Ed
As we mentioned earlier, the cost-benefit consideration is an important one to make with an M.Ed 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 in the low $30s. 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 M.Ed.
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 M.Ed Degree
There are many benefits of obtaining your M.Ed, no matter which speciality you ultimately decide on. These can include:
Fulfilling certificate requirements
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 some kind of 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, he was able to earn his Master’s in Education and receive a pay raise that set him on a higher earning path.
Pay scale raises
The other important aspect to understand about getting your Master’s in Education is that many districts operate on a pay scale structure. Obtaining your M.Ed places you into a new payscale bracket. Thus, as soon as you have your master’s, you are able to climb the payscale 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 M.Ed 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 matser’s pay scale, it’s a progressive climb. The earlier you get it, the more you can climb.”
On the flip side of that, Bruise notes that he has seen some districts preferring to hire newer teachers first who do not have their master’s degree yet, so be sure to consider your career longevity and plan before making the decision.
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 backwards 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.
Lastly, a Master’s degree can open up your career to more possibilities in the future. For instance, you may choose to tailor your degree to an administrative pathway in order to pave the road for career advancements in the future.
Is an M.Ed Right for You?
An M.Ed 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’s in 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.
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 or 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 M.Ed
As you make the decision about whether an M.Ed is right for you, Bruise has some final parting tips.
Discuss the degree with your partner
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.
Be clear about your career goals
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.
Make sure it counts for any certificate requirements
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 fulfil that requirement.
Remember your why
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 M.Ed 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.”