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I'm Just a Teacher. Why Graduate Study?

I'm Just a Teacher. Why Graduate Study?

Mon Jan 16, 2017 at 08:00 AM

What graduate program is right for me?
How do graduate programs differ?
Is an advanced degree worth the cost?

As the coordinator of two graduate programs in the School of Education and Human Services, I get asked questions similar to these all the time. With few incentives for graduate study, teachers are smart to explore their options. Here are the answers I share with prospective students.

How do I choose the right program among so many options?
First, it is good to explore your options. Not all programs are equal. Moreover, graduate study represents a big investment, and I don’t mean only of your money. A quality graduate experience should challenge and transform you. Expect to devote your free time to reading and writing, as well as practicing new skills. Graduate degrees are earned, not bought.

So where does one start? Begin by thinking about your career trajectory. Where do you want to be in five or ten years? Then talk to others in positions that you aspire to hold. What path did they take and what advice to they have for you? Some people find talking the best way of narrowing choices, while others find journaling helps. The point of both is to develop a vision of the professional you wish to become… and also to find the best route to getting there!

At Oakland University, we have a range of outstanding master’s degree options for you to select from:

  • M.Ed. in IB Education
  • M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership
  • M.Ed. in Special Education
  • M.A. in Reading & Language Arts
  • M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education
  • M.A. in School Counseling
  • M.Ed. In Educational Leadership

You can pursue advanced study that supports excellence in the classroom (such as Reading and Language Arts, IB Education or Early Childhood Education). Some programs will prepare you for new roles (such as a School Counseling or Educational Leadership), while others will lead to new endorsements or certification (such as Special Education and Teacher Leadership). For those who aspire to continue studying at the university, all can serve as an ideal launch for post-master’s study in our Ed.S. and Ph.D. programs.

How do graduate programs differ?
Our graduate programs are always changing to better meet the needs of students like you. For example, many of our programs continue to be offered on campus in a traditional face-to-face format. Believe it or not, many students say they prefer this format because they appreciate the dialogue and structure of a traditional setting. Classes in these programs are offered weekday evenings or on Saturdays to accommodate working professionals. Increasingly, however, programs are moving to hybrid or fully online formats. In a hybrid program, you will have a combination of face-to-face and online classes. The advantage we hear from students about online coursework is that you don’t have to bother with parking and can work from home in your slippers! Regardless of format, you can expect to use Moodle (OU’s online course management system) to access readings and assignment guides, to participate in online discussion, and to submit assignments.

Another way graduate programs differ is in how they are organized. Some programs accept new students each semester, with students creating a “plan of study” that combines program requirements with program electives. Others are designed around a cohort model where new students begin at the same time and then proceed together through a pre-determined sequence of courses. The way in which a program is organized will determine how soon you may start taking courses. Keep in mind that most master’s degree programs will range from 30-36 credits in length and can be completed in as little as two years.

Another consideration as you look at programs is to ensure that it is fully accredited or approved. For example, the M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership is approved for advanced certification through the Michigan Department of Education. This means our graduates are eligible to apply for Michigan’s new Advanced Professional Educator endorsement. If you attend a program that is not approved or accredited, you may not be eligible for advanced licensure. This information should be noted on program fliers, webpages and the like. You can also talk directly with a program coordinator to ensure the program you are applying to will result in the recognition you seek.

Is an advanced degree worth the cost?
Yes, yes and yes! As I stated earlier, a graduate program should challenge and transform you. This will happen in at least three ways. First, graduate study will increase your knowledge and skill. Through relevant readings, discussion, inquiry, and research you will expand your instructional repertoire as a teacher others can look up to. Second, this expanded knowledge-base and skill set will help to increase your confidence, and confidence will enable you to have a voice in matters of importance to you. Third, graduate study will introduce you to a network of like-minded peers who live and work across the region. Not only will you find new friends and colleagues, you will learn about educational practices distinct from your own building and district. Finally, in many districts graduate degrees lead to salary increases.

Admittedly, graduate study is a costly choice. It requires time and takes money. But I can assure you the investment is worthwhile. Teaching is incredibly complex and demanding work. To outsiders, it can look easy. As insiders, however, we know there is nothing easy about teaching! Making a commitment to your own learning and development is the first step to ensuring your future success. My last words of advice? Set goals for yourself as a teacher and as a learner. Then make sure one of those goals is a graduate degree!

Cynthia L. Carver, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Organizational Leadership Coordinator, M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership Oakland University

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