Advice for a teacher getting their master's degree
January 18, 2014 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm in my second year of teaching, but I had a late start and have had my BA for 8 years now. I want to get my MA, but I'm not sure if (1) this is the time or (2) if I should focus on my content area or on education in general.

I teach high school social studies. My BA is in History, which is all I'm currently teaching.

I'm almost 30, so I feel like I should be looking at starting my Master's, but if I start in the fall of this year, I'll only have 2 years of full-time teaching under my belt. Is there any reason I shouldn't start my Master's this fall? (I will be doing it online, FWIW...)

Also, I am passionate about history. I love it. And the idea of taking 36 credits of graduate-level history classes sounds absolutely thrilling. So I currently want to get my MA in History. But is this really the smart thing to do? Should I just get my MA in Education? I find many education classes interesting and useful, but not nearly as exciting as history classes. I know that some MA/MEd programs allow you to specialize and take content classes, but how do schools/districts look at different MA's?

Part of the problem is I'm not sure where I see myself in 10-15 years. Right now I don't think I want to get into administration, but maybe I'll change my mind on that. I don't think I want to move into higher education, but that could change as well. (I think it's safe to say I will not ever seek a PhD.) What's the best option?

(I've looked at other AskMe questions on MA's in education, but I didn't see anything that matched my snowflake situation...)
posted by BradNelson to Education (11 answers total)
It doesn't sound like you have a real reason for getting either degree. Maybe hold off until you're certain what you want to accomplish and then go for it? No reason to waste money in grad school on an MA you'll never really use.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2014

In my school district obtaining a MA gives you a pay raise. Reason enough for me!
posted by JujuB at 1:53 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're counting on a salary bump for getting the degree, I'd look at what the trend is in your state: Pay Raises for Teachers With Master's Under Fire. With respect to the choice of degree, again I'd look at how it works in your state, but in the systems where my family members worked, I think there wasn't a difference between an MA and MEd. If that's true for you and you feel pretty certain about the pay raise, I'd choose the degree that keeps you motivated--it's going to be hard to balance it with work.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2014

I don't think I want to move into higher education, but that could change as well. (I think it's safe to say I will not ever seek a PhD.)

A Ph.D. and a huge amount of luck and doggedness are all requisite to get into tertiary academia in history. An MA in history will at most let you adjunct a class at a regional CC or small liberal arts college but I wouldn't count on it.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:59 PM on January 18, 2014

Motivation matters, but which one is going to be harder? Graduate history classes are going to require large amounts of reading and long papers. At least part of the work in an MEd is stuff you'll already be doing: lesson planning, sylllabi, etc, which should make things easier.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 2:02 PM on January 18, 2014

I did my MA in a field I was passionate about, but in NYC for teaching, a certain amount of Master's level graduate Education courses are needed (in your teaching content area). So, I had to go back and pay for a couple extra Ed grad classes...but my actual MA was in a non-Education based field.

Basically, it depends on how strong your own interests are and what your school system's requirements are. (NYC DOE requires a Master's degree within 5 years of start date- or did when I began working here).
posted by bquarters at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2014

Could you tell us what state you're in? That's really going to influence the answer in a number of ways:

1. The role charter schools play in your state (which could influence whether you even need any post-BA degree to possibly go into admin - some charters don't require it)
2. Whether pay increases for MAs are likely to continue in your state (in most states you would probably be grandfathered in even if the law changed, but in particularly anti-union states this isn't necessarily the case)
3. How education MAs/subject-specific MAs are viewed in your state (this really does seem to vary from state-to-state and even, in some cases, from district-to-district)
4. Whether an Ed MA would even help you get an admin role (in many districts you'd be required to get a specific admin credential it might be fine if you previously had an MA in history)

If I were to assume that you were in a state similar to Washington (where charters don't exist yet, pay for MAs looks stable, MAs are generally seen as interchangeable, and you'd have to get an admin credential if you decided to go that route), I would personally go with a history degree. It's going to take some serious time and energy on top of a more-than-full-time job - might as well be in something that you love, which also contributes to your ability to do your job well. Everyone I know who got an Ed MA online felt that it did not help them in any meaningful way.

For the best possible advice, though, you may need to seek out someone in your district who's very politically astute and keeps track of the office politics of the district. They can probably tell you best how the wind is blowing, whether the district higher-ups look down on subject specific MAs when they're hiring VPs, etc.
posted by leitmotif at 3:01 PM on January 18, 2014

leitmotif: I'm currently working in WI, but originally licensed in MN, which is probably where I will end up permanently.

I know that in MN admin licenses are separate. But if my MA provided me graduate courses in the area of education, they could theoretically expedite that.

But yes, good point on talking to people in my district.
posted by BradNelson at 5:00 PM on January 18, 2014

A Ph.D. and a huge amount of luck and doggedness are all requisite to get into tertiary academia in history. An MA in history will at most let you adjunct a class at a regional CC or small liberal arts college but I wouldn't count on it.

I teach at a decent sized community college (10,000 students in a town of 250,000), and most of the instructors here have master's degrees. PhD's are the exception. The college counts HS teaching experience for rank on the step system, so we have a lot of people who did, for example, six years of HS teaching and then started here on salary step seven. So it certainly is an option, and you could do more than just adjunct. My experience may not be typical, though.

If the idea of history graduate work excites you, I say do that. Might as well enjoy what you are doing, and the process of grad school might help you further refine your interests.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:03 PM on January 18, 2014

The MA/MS in history will be more flexible than will the MA/MS in education. If you're not sure if you want to teach in several years, I'd go for the history degree. The education master's will generally only be useful in K-12 education, whereas the history master's will probably qualify you for a pay increase in your district and will also allow you to do something different if you decide to leave teaching.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2014

I can't see a huge reason to add that kind of stress during your first few years. Frankly, there are so many amazing (free) resources out there (example: the edu community on Twitter) to help you expand your practice that can meet you exactly where you're at that I can't see how taking courses and teaching full time is worth it.

But I guess there's an even more important question that I didn't see answered in your post. Why do you want to be a teacher? What do you love about it? I see that you're passionate about history, but other than saying you're not really interested in administrative or higher ed jobs, I haven't seen anything to indicate that you're enjoying teaching K-12. Maybe that's part of the problem? If you aren't sold on teaching, that's an entirely different question with a different set of answers.

However, I will say that with the common core standards dropping in gradually over the next few years, teaching history is going to change dramatically, and move much more towards the practices and skills involved in doing REAL historical thinking/inquiry. If that's what appeals to you about getting an MA in history, perhaps it will help scratch that itch?

Or: with the increasing number of MOOCs and iTunes University courses, could you do a course or two a year until you've got some more teaching experience behind you? I just know there was NO FREAKING WAY I could have handled anything else my second year. Even now, in my 10th year, I'm not sure I could handle an intense MA program.

Also, I know some great teachers in that part of the country, including some AMAZING history teachers. If that's interesting to you, send me an gmail (same user name at gmail).
posted by guster4lovers at 10:17 PM on January 18, 2014

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