Ulterior Motives?
October 8, 2006 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Would you go back to school if only for the sake of having a Master's degree?

I have always wanted to further my education, but not always for the right reasons. A part of me wants to overcome my working-class, dysfunctional upbringing and achieve more to prove that I have overcome my background.

I have a BS in nursing. I stay home with my kids at the moment. If I returned to work, I could make very decent money, and create my own hours. I have worked as a nurse for 7 years, and while I felt I was good at my job, I dreaded going in most days. I sometimes feel that I am "wasting" this degree and should return to nursing and make the best of it. Other times I think I would feel content if I never went back to nursing. I did have a very good attitude, and have a very good work ethic. One probably wouldn't guess that I disliked nursing while I was on the job. I always made the best of my days once I got there, but didn't want to go back.

I like staying home with my children. But I am not the Martha Stewart that I envisioned being, and feel very antsy to do something productive. If I am not going to be Betty Homemaker, I feel that I should do something before I turn into a completely depressed lazy person. I already feel that I am not living up to my potential at all when it comes to being a homemaker, and it makes me feel worse about myself.

My husband and I have discussed the fact that I probably won't ever have to go back to work if I don't want to. That appeals to my lazy ways, but I can't stay home for the rest of my life. Once both of my kids are in school full-time I think I will need to do something productive and fulfilling. I am not very self-motivated, and need some sort of job or class to report to.

I love volunteering at my son's school. It gives me a feeling of purpose. I have volunteered other places, and nothing has given me the satisfaction like this does.

I am applying to my local state university. They offer a MA in elementary education. It's designed for individuals who have a bachelors degree in a field other than education. It can be done very part-time. They allow seven years to complete the program, although I don't intend to take that long.

I am not completely sure that I want, or should become a teacher. I love being with kids, but I know that is not enough reason to become a teacher. I think I am idealizing the profession, and think that it will be something for me to do that will allow me to be with my children during summers, weekends, etc. I idealized nursing also, and would always discount naysayers as sour grapes. Now I know what they were talking about. I have thought about going into teaching for a couple years now. My sister who is a teacher thinks I will be great at it, and a couple teachers have told me I am wonderful with children.

After all of the above nonsense, here are my questions:

Should I go back to school if part, if not most of the reason is to just obtain a master's degree? I think I am looking for some sort of approval or validation. I am not desperate for approval, but I have to admit the feeling is there.

Teachers, how do you feel about teaching? If you could go back, would you do it over again?

Is this feeling of approval normal? Or am I lacking in self-esteem that I could repair just by being productive in my present life? I can't articulate what I think I am going to prove just by obtaining a degree in teaching. I think I need to prove something to myself--that I can do it, that I am smart enough, and that "I did something with my life." I think I would like to return to school and would enjoy teaching, but I want it to be for the right reasons.
posted by LoriFLA to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can do something with your life without getting a MA. It is a waste to put time and money into grad school for approval and validation, and certainly when you're going into a profession that you know you're probably idealizing.

And--teaching is not a job that allows you summers and weekends to spend with your kids, at least if you don't want to be a half-assed teacher. A teacher not trying to half-ass it spends those weekends grading homework and preparing interesting lesson plans. A teacher not trying to half-ass it spends summers coming up with new lesson plans and attending training to do their job better.

There are plenty of teachers in the world who "are great with kids" and congratulate themselves on being awesome people simply for going into a class and going through the motions. Those teachers create poor students, or at best maintain the status quo. The world does not need more of these teachers. Don't fool yourself--for all that's made about how self-sacrificing and how wonderful teachers are (and in general I agree with this), these adjectives do not apply to bad teachers. There are few things as harmful to the world as a bad teacher, especially a bad teacher who thinks themselves awesome.

Why not capitalize on your love of volunteering? Someone with a nursing degree who would want to work as a volunteer would have a lot of options to choose from. Quality low-cost and/or free health care is at a premium, and people who are willing to use their degree full or near-full-time on a volunteer basis are at an even higher premium. Most people who get nursing or doctoral degrees are unable or unwilling to "waste" the time and money they spent on a difficult degree on volunteer volunteer work.
posted by schroedinger at 8:49 AM on October 8, 2006

They just recently had a question in the "Work and Family Mailbox" section of the WSJ that addresses this. Here is the relevant part (the person in question thought the career switch would be good so she could spend summers with her child):

Finally, a caveat: Education experts caution against counting too heavily on summers off or short work hours. "The best teachers will tell you that much of the summer is filled with professional development, exploring new content, and creating lesson plans," says Edward McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers union.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, a teachers' union, adds: "The average teacher spends many hours before and after school in meetings, grading homework assignments, assisting students and calling parents." He suggests asking some teachers what their lives are like and what led them into teaching. This will help you foresee whether the profession will be a good fit.

posted by ch1x0r at 8:53 AM on October 8, 2006

I know someone that did a part-time MA both to further own skills and also for approval and validation. It really made a difference to them - they could prove that everything they had been doing was valid and that, after spending years bringing up a family and watching them come back from Uni with Degrees and Masters, that she was capable of that, too.

I myself recently did a part-time MA related to my job. Again, it was really good to have as I can prove that I have the skills in my chosen career, whereas before it was just self-taught skills. Even though I swore I wouldn't do another one (I like to have evenings to chill out), I'm starting an eight-month Open University course next February on Interaction Design.
posted by TheDonF at 8:56 AM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm not a teacher but I have some friends who are and they confirm that it is not an easy job. If you really want to teach, go ahead and get this degree, but keep in mind it isn't your only option.

Does it have to be an MA in Elementary Education?

If you don't need to get a job in order to support yourself and your family, this offers you a lot more flexibilty concerning what you can study. Consider subjects you love, or subjects that you've always been curious about, and get an MA in that.

Also, it doesn't have to be an MA. You can probably learn other subjects, such as a new language, history, science, etc. and take them as separate courses over time. You won't get a degree at the end, but you will gain new knowledge, and in the end that's much more important.

I just took a year off from work to get a Masters (it only takes a year in the UK), in a subject completely separate from my work experience. I found it extremely satisfying and challenging. I agree with schroedinger that doing it only for validation is a mistake. You should do it for yourself, because you want to learn the subject. You sound iffy on teaching, so I wouldn't study it. I would get a copy of the school's prospectus and flip through all of the courses offered until you find one that grabs you.

You might also want to narrow down just which experiences are most satisfying for you when you're volunteering at the school. That way you can identify exactly which activities bring you the most happiness, and figure out which volunteer positions/careers reflect those activities. Although it is true that as a nurse your skills would be welcome in a number of volunteer opportunities, if you didn't like nursing there's no point in making yourself unhappy just to feel like you're not being lazy.

Finally, in most places you can become a substitute teacher without an MA. If this is true in your school district, sign up, knowing that if things get really bad you do have the option to quit. It means you won't be with one class throughout the year, but it will give you exposure to probably the most uncomfortable part of teaching--discipline and class control. If you still enjoy it, then that's an indication that the MA might be worth it.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:13 AM on October 8, 2006

You're in a pretty lucky position where you can just explore your own feelings about academic subjects, which many people would kill to be able to do. Why not take some non-matriculating classes to see if you have any real passion for something? It does sound, to me at least, as if your interest in early ed may flag as your son grows out of it.

Also, you don't describe your job in nursing that much; would it be possible or exciting to you at all to think about re-hauling your nursing career with a Masters - I dunno, doing something completely different and what you consider cool - within nursing? It's a pretty big field, and one you could conceivably integrate with early childhood development (if that's ultimately what floats your boat the most) in any number of ways.
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:29 AM on October 8, 2006

Go try it out! If you can take just one or two courses, for not too-too much money, do it. Staying home is not for most people, so start actively figuring out a way to start working again... try teaching, or ed classes, and if they don't work out you can try something different. Your kids will not be young and at-home forever; it's good for them to see you following through on educational plans for your own future.

Getting an MA is usually only worth it if it's a "vocational" degree that directly qualifies you for a job (ie, if you were looking at an MA in English literature, I would say "consider other options" -- but you're looking at an MA in teaching, with a plan of how you'd use that degree.)

Two other things to think about:
There are a lot of quasi-teaching professions, like music and art therapy, or even physical therapy for kids, which allow you to set your own hours a bit more, and where the job market may be more open than in teaching. Ask teachers in your area how difficult it is to get a job with the local school board. In some towns it's very, very hard, and you could be waiting years -- know this in advance so you can have a backup plan.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:30 AM on October 8, 2006

A part of me wants to overcome my working-class, dysfunctional upbringing and achieve more to prove that I have overcome my background.

I can totally relate to this. But you know something? What you're looking for has to come from within. If you weren't happy with your early life, with the people who raised you, the best way to overcome that is to become a better, healthier person. And you can have that health even if you're on food stamps.

I'm not trying to cramp your style. If you really, wholeheartedly want to do this, go for it. I'm just concerned that you're trying to find confidence and self-worth from a piece of paper on the wall when the only place you're going to find these things is in your heart.

I work as a secretary in New York law firms. I've worked for people who are in the elite of the legal profession. They have all the right pieces of paper on their walls. They made partner. They made law review. They got into this elite law school. And before that, they got into this elite college. And a lot of them are miserable, fucked up people. They've got more issues than the National Geographic. They flip out when things don't go their way. When their regular secretary calls in sick, they get anxious and start hollering about trivialities.

So on a professional level, these lawyers I've worked for are very accomplished. But they're not happy. No matter what they've accomplished, they'll never stop having something to prove.

So don't make the mistake they've made.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:38 AM on October 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

You don't say why you hated nursing, so I'm a little surprised that no one has brought up becoming a school nurse.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:06 AM on October 8, 2006

Or am I lacking in self-esteem that I could repair just by being productive in my present life?

Going to graduate school is being productive in your present life.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:11 AM on October 8, 2006

You definetly sound like you are suffering some vague malaise. Having taught and having pursued extra degrees, I can tell you that those things alone will not make you happier. As far as I can tell, only following your heart will make you happier.

But, from what you've written, I think you may find teaching nursing classes (maybe at a community college) to be rewarding. First, you would earn the respect and admiration of your peers. Second, you could teach just one or two classes (not full time). Finally, your BS will not be wasted but the downside of nursing will be eliminated. You will need to pursue an advanced degree to teach at this level, but it will certainly not take seven years.

One last note, it sounds to me like you are talking more about "other-esteem" than "self-esteem." While a prestigious career can bring you other-esteem, only your own mental health will bring you self esteem. Maybe a little talk therapy could help you sort out the self-esttem issue?

Good luck on your journey! :-)
posted by GIRLesq at 10:29 AM on October 8, 2006

Everything that you have described entails serious care-giving and personal interaction. You were a nurse, you are a mother, a volunteer at school and now you are considering a career as a teacher. Are you sure that you want to directly "take care" of people until you retire?

There are a lot of careers that are not as emotionally draining as these that can provide a great deal of satisfaction. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be a teacher. If you are a person who is dedicated to the service of others, it would be a great profession. I'm just suggesting that you examine whether the role of the caregiver is the role that you truly want to play.
posted by SteveTheRed at 10:42 AM on October 8, 2006

I have a master's degree, and in my experience they are overrated, unless you're looking for qualifications to get you somewhere specific (which it sounds like you're not). When you have that piece of paper, you'll still have a working-class background.
posted by bingo at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2006

With your prior experience nursing, have you thought about a Masters' in Public Health? I understand that that degree can set you up for a lot of other jobs in health care, some of which might be more rewarding than you seemed to find nursing.
posted by RogerB at 11:11 AM on October 8, 2006

My first impulse is to tell you to run away! But...

Have you considered doing a research Master of Science (as opposed to a MA)? Perhaps in epidemiology or pathology.

With your background in nursing you understand what nurses have to go through and you're also experienced with the clinical setting as well as the abilities and limitations of the nursing staff. Getting a MSc with a strong focus on statistics would allow you to:

1) Collaborate/work-for multi-centre studies dealing primarily with the paperwork (ethics reviews, consent forms) and experimental design (what questions to ask, what to put on questionaires, how can the study most effectively recruit nurses and clinicians)

2) Consolidate collected data and give the statistical treatment to it

3) Go after your own grants to answer outstanding questions (for example, I'm just pulling stuff out of the air here, how does proximity to hospitals affect the quality of care for <insert a demographic>, does additional training of nursing staff in education improve patient satisfaction/compliance-with-treatment, the relative efficiency of unionized nursing staff vs. contractors - and does the differential scheduling affect the outcome, &c&c)

The benefits of something like a research MSc (with your nursing background) would be that, concievably, the vast majority of the work you'd do could be done from home (barring office hours, meetings, and perhaps conducting interviews/surveys at the hospital) as it's mostly data manipulation and writing.

While it would still draw upon your experience as a RN, you wouldn't really have to deal with the unpleasantness that may be associated with practising being a nurse. Also, you could then decide the level of responsibility you want - supporting existing projects (someone else is the principle investigator) or applying for grants and being a (co)principle investigator.

It sounds like the timing could work out; work as a support role while the kids are still young, then with the experience and contacts, segue into spearheading research once the kids are out of the house.
posted by porpoise at 12:26 PM on October 8, 2006

Thanks for the replies and advice. It is greatly appreciated and it has got me thinking.

You don't say why you hated nursing, so I'm a little surprised that no one has brought up becoming a school nurse.

I don't dislike nursing as a profession. I disliked the working conditions--13 hour days, crazy patient to nurse ratios, the physical and emotional stress. Working on Christmas day and other holidays. My first year of nursing was horrible and I remember crying a lot at night after my shifts. Things improved when I moved to another hospital, but it was mostly the same scenario--too many patients, not enough techs, crazy family members, patients, and doctors, and co-workers with bad attitudes. I was more than happy to get out, and stay home full-time with my kids. I left three years ago.

I would be wiling to go back to nursing, and I have thought about a degree in Public Health in the past. I think I would enjoy being a school nurse, but it's very competitive in my county. I could still try though, and keep my eyes and ears open. I have also thought of teaching at the community college level. But, I don't know if my heart is in nursing so much anymore.
posted by LoriFLA at 1:10 PM on October 8, 2006

My aunt was an RN for decades. She found her job exhausting and draining - she was an ICU nurse in a burn unit at a quarternary care center for 8 years - and decided to get an MBA. After a few twists and turns, she's now's she's a school nurse, and she really enjoys it.

A school nurse works with children, doesn't have to do the grimmer parts of nursing, and gets those hours that people fantasize about with teaching.

If you can think of some kind of public-health-nursing project that would interest you that you could do in a Master's program, might that satisfy the further education goal in a way that set you up for a job that more closely meets your expectations about schedules? (MPH's can be very focused on epidemiology, which might be totally unsatisfying or uninteresting to you. There are other public-health related areas you can choose, like nursing or healthcare delivery, for that level of degree.)

One advantage I can think of in the nursing track is that as long as income is less of an issue, you'll be protected against the constriction of career advancement options for advanced-degree nurses (who are precious but health orgs can't always afford them), and you'll be building on a career as well as preparing to be able to truly add value in an environment that you enjoy on a volunteer basis now.

I can't help thinking that the lift of achieving the advanced degree will be more satisfying if it's building on something as well as providing a platform for moving into a different environment.

Also, as competitive as school nursing might be in your county, wouldn't you be a fairly unusual candidate in having a master's?
posted by caitlinb at 1:42 PM on October 8, 2006

[bah stupid syntax errors. sorry.]
posted by caitlinb at 1:44 PM on October 8, 2006

This is out of left field, but I think you write very well. That skill would stand you well in grad school, but you could just think about writing.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:44 PM on October 8, 2006

Robert Angelo, you are too kind.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:53 PM on October 8, 2006

I know a woman who is a school nurse. Can you be a school nurse? Also this woman is a nurse and also has an MSW, which lets her head up the special educations services at a private school. Maybe you can do that.

Also, I bet there are local clinics (maybe in the nearest metro area) where you are desperately needed. Maybe that might help?
posted by onepapertiger at 5:00 PM on October 8, 2006

How about an MPH, if not an MSW or MS in Nursing? Maybe you can be a nurse educator....
posted by onepapertiger at 5:04 PM on October 8, 2006

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