Tips for Getting Your Master’s Degree While Teaching

Happy Thanksgiving week!  There is so much that I have to be thankful for.  One thing that I am thankful for and really appreciate is the calm in my life.  I definitely did not always have this calmness!  I finished my master’s degree a couple of years ago, and while I am really glad to have my M.Ed, I do NOT miss the craziness of getting my degree and being a classroom teacher!

When I was getting my master’s degree in literacy (and my bilingual endorsement at the same time), I taught full day Kindergarten in the suburbs and had to commute into the city after school 2-3 days a week to take classes.  My program was very good…but also challenging and time-consuming.  I would be exhausted from teaching my Kinders, and by the time I sat through class at night and drove home, it was time to go to bed.  I also got married and bought a house during the last year of my program, which added to the craziness!  I thought I was going to lose my mind at some points.  One time during this crazy phase, I left one of our gas burners on ALL night and ALL day, not realizing it until I got home from work!  The house and cats were fine, thank God.  Another time I planned a trip for my husband and I to go visit my grandfather, and didn’t realize until the night before that I had bought a plane ticket for him, but not for myself!!  Other people go through much more difficult things than this in their lives, but this was definitely a challenging time for me.

I am really thankful that I have my degree now, though, because it’s enabled me to become a reading specialist.  In the spirit of giving, I want to share with you some things I did that helped me survive teaching full time and getting my degree.  If you are a teacher getting your master’s degree or considering it, read on for tips about managing your time, finding time to cook, and maintaining your sanity.

1.  Be sure you want/need the degree you are getting.  When I graduated from my undergrad program, I knew I wanted to eventually become a reading specialist.  But I still taught for several years before starting my master’s program.  I’m really glad I did this for a few reasons!  First, being a new teacher is exhausting by itself, and I wouldn’t have wanted to make life crazier (or impede all of the learning I was doing as a new teacher) by piling coursework on top of teaching.  Second, I think it’s important to be sure that you are getting the degree that you want.  If you get your master’s degree right after finishing your undergrad, you might realize that there’s something else that you love about teaching/education even more than what you originally planned to study.  Graduate courses can be really expensive, so you want to be sure you want and need the degree you choose!

2.  Accept that you can’t do it all.  I am a perfectionist.  Sometimes to a fault.  When I do something, I want to do it well – REALLY well!  It was hard for me to adjust to the idea that I wasn’t going to be able to do everything perfectly while getting my degree.  My bulletin boards weren’t always going to be frequently changed…or ever changed… πŸ™‚  I wasn’t going to be able to reread my assignments 5 times to make sure that they were perfect before turning them in.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  In order to survive those 2.5 years, I had to lower my expectations for myself.  I still gave everything that I could to my students and my program, but it wasn’t perfection.  And that was okay!

3.  Don’t take on “extras.”  When I was getting my degree, I got to school when my contract required me to, and left almost immediately after my students did.  I didn’t volunteer for extra duties, committees, or clubs.  I sometimes felt guilty when I would see my coworkers getting super involved in school activities.  But you know what?  It was okay.  My principal knew I was getting my degree.  No one suffered because I didn’t lead a club.  I focused on work, school, and, well…surviving.  I didn’t need anything extra to worry about then!

4.  Become BFFs with your casserole pans.  Getting myself and my husband fed during this time was a challenge!  He was working long hours and generally doesn’t cook during the week, so I wanted to make sure he had food at home when I was at class until 8.  Each weekend, I would make a few different (large) casseroles that we could eat all week.  I often brought some of a casserole to work so that I’d have a little something eat before class, rather than waiting until 8:30 to eat dinner.  Was my cooking always incredibly healthy, fresh, and exciting?  No.  But we managed to survive!  

5.  Plan ahead.  This one pertains to food as well!  On Sundays, I used to make sandwiches and prepare other lunch items for the entire week ahead of time.  Then it was just a matter of throwing things in my lunchbag each morning.  I still do this with my husband’s sandwiches today!  Also related to planning ahead – plan your meals, make a grocery list, and go to the store the same day each week.  This will help you avoid the It’s-9pm-and-I-have-nothing-to-eat kind of moments and will help you avoid getting fast food.  

6.  Set timers, use a planner, and write EVERYTHING down!  As a result of being so busy, I became verrrrry forgetful.  Things that I ordinarily would have remembered instantly flew out of my brain.  I had to train myself to write down every little detail of any work or school requirements, counting on the fact that I wouldn’t remember a thing about them the next day or even a few hours later! 

7.  Take walks.  This one is kind of random, but as much as time and weather permitted, I would take a walk around the block immediately after school ended or immediately before my master’s class started each day.  Those few minutes helped me clear my head and regain some energy.  Don’t take your phone on the walk, and just focus on being calm.  You will eventually look forward to those few moments of peace each day!

8.  Take one day off a week.  Every Saturday, I would (usually) avoid during any work for school or my grad program.  Sundays kind of sucked, but having that one day to look forward to after a long week was a saving grace!  Do something for you – even if it is as simple as cleaning up the mess in your closet that has been bothering you for weeks.  You may not be able to manage it every week, but try to take as many Saturdays (or Sundays) off as you can.

Above all, keep the end in mind!  My graduation ceremony was super boring, but I can’t even describe how happy I was to be there – and to be FINISHED!  I am thankful that I have my degree, I am thankful for the friends I made in my master’s classes, and I am thankful that this crazy time in my life has passed.  Now, about getting my PhD…….kidding.  Sort of.  πŸ™‚

Have you gotten your master’s degree while teaching?  Did you do it with kids to take care of at home?!  (God bless you!)  Share your tips below!

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25 Responses to Tips for Getting Your Master’s Degree While Teaching

  1. Thanks for the post! Gave me the little pep talk I need to continue through this! Should be finished by December, fingers crossed! Excited to read more of your blogs πŸ™‚

  2. I decided to take the master of education too… The interview is held this May and I’m on my half way there. I’m not married yet. I’m still 22 ^_^. Thank you for the post. It’s really inspiring for me.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am a second year teacher who recently got moved to a new school at a new grade because of high classroom sizes. I am feeling very overwhelmed trying to adjust and I was going to begin my masters program this month but realized that I just can’t do it right now. After reading about how newer teachers need time to adjust, I do not feel as bad in not starting my masters right now. But I know that when I do, I will know how to manage my time. Thank you!

  4. I teach 1st grade right now and have a five year old. I am starting my Masters program in October … I think I’m crazy, but reading this helped thank you πŸ™‚

  5. Going through this right now, and it’s killing me! In KY it’s a requirement to get masters and 50% complete in 5years to remain certified. I’m so over classes and feel like my focus and time is so much on the classes that I’m not the teacher I should or could be for my kids. :/ SOS ????

    • Wow! I did not know that about KY – that’s quite intense. It’s so challenging to have your attention divided like that – I completely understand. I hope you get some time to rest with the holidays coming up!

      Alison

  6. I am so glad I came across this post! I recently was accepted into a masters program in English with a teaching certificate and I’m really nervous, but having these tips will really help! πŸ™‚

  7. Thank you so much for your advice. I”m teaching full-time and am doing an MA in ELT, and I have had great difficulties coping. It’s great to be able to get some ideas on how to manage work, family life and studying. Cheers!

  8. This is really helpful advice. I am going to begin my masters in the spring, so still some time away, but I am already thinking about how to manage both teaching in the classroom and attending my classes. I am really happy I came across this post.

  9. I loved your post !…I’m currently being offered a position, which would be my first year teaching Pre-k. I’m also going for my masters in education. I need to make a decision and I’m going back and forth on this being the right choice

    • Hi Elizabeth! That’s a lot on your plate for sure. I also taught Pre-K and it is tiring! I know things will work out for you – I wish you the best of luck!

      Alison

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      I also loved Alison’s post, and I read your post and was wondering what you ended up deciding. Graduate school or your first teaching Pre-K job? I’d be curious to know–I’m researching different programs that would allow me to do both but also weigh full-time graduate program options as well.

      Esther

  10. I am getting ready to start my first year in the classroom but plan to go back and get my master’s in a couple of years. I’m curious-when did you take the GRE? Would you recommend waiting or taking it soon after undergrad?

    • Hey Eliza! I would make sure that your program requires it – I actually took mine relatively soon after college, but the graduate program that I chose a few years later did not require it. Oops! πŸ™‚ Whenever you take it, I found that it was helpful to buy a study book.

      Alison

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