Updated: Oct 18, 2018
In a profession that’s not highly paid, investing even more money and time into education can be a hard decision. It was the best decision for me.
Every time I sit down to look at my budget, which has happened a lot lately, I am reminded of all the payments I have due every month. One of those is the student loan payment for my master’s degree. It’s not gigantic. I went to UTSA and got a little bit of grant money for my first semester. But it’s also money I could be saving or using to pay off other debt.
But I wouldn’t be where I am today without my master’s degree. That investment in myself has impacted multiple parts of my life in positive and lasting ways.
I look at new opportunities for growth and development as they come up. Sometimes it’s not always clear what the impact of that investment will be, but I’ve come to the conclusion that investing in yourself is almost always a wise decision.
Knowing your craft
Even during the process of getting my master’s degree I could appreciate the added knowledge of my craft. If I was going to be the best educator I could be, really knowing my stuff was going to be imperative. I felt like I had a larger appreciation for the work I did and the research that informed it. l graduated feeling more empowered. I felt like every teacher needed to get a master’s degree to own their craft. And teaching is in large part craft.
Upward mobility & added opportunities
Getting my master’s degree also made me upwardly mobile. My added confidence led to me becoming assistant instructional leader, a position with a small stipend. I was also chosen to be a mentor teacher to new teachers, multiple times, and a cooperating teacher for a student-teacher getting ready to enter the profession. This experience led to my eventual promotion to a district-level position – a position where a master’s degree is required. Because I had my master’s degree, I not only had the required credentials, I also had the confidence and experience to take a leap into an administrator role.
More money… eventually
But let’s face it, it’s also about return on investment. I received my Master of Arts in Education degree in 2011. At that point, the only thing that changed was a small (and I mean small) increase in my pay check because I was now on the master’s degree pay scale. The meaningful pay increase came with my promotion to central office. I was working more days and my daily rate increased. That made a substantial difference in my bottom line. While there were definite other payoffs immediately, the financial pay off of the master’s came with the promotion and the added income.
And the decisions don’t end. I’m almost always debating whether or not to spend money on my own personal and professional development. I’ve invested in an executive coach. I’ve debated but decided not to get my PhD. I look at new opportunities for growth and development as they come up. Sometimes it’s not always clear what the impact of that investment will be, but I’ve come to the conclusion that investing in yourself is almost always a wise decision.
If you’ve been considering going back to school, there are a few things you should think about before you set out on your next educational endeavor.
Where you want to go with your career
In education, we’re familiar with planning with the end in mind. So where do you want to be? Do you want to be a content-area specialist, an instructional coach, a campus administrator, a college professor, the best possible classroom teacher? This will help you decide what degree plan to follow - a Master of Arts in Education, Master of Education in Educational Leadership, or Master of Arts or Science in your content (i.e an MA in English Literature). Those can all lead to different places, so it’s important to understand what you want and where you want to be. Remember, it’s your path. Just because everyone else assumes to move up you have to be a campus administrator, that might not be where you want to go.
While most often we talk about money when it comes to cost, time is also a big factor. Time is a precious commodity. How much time can you spend each semester taking classes? Can you get the bulk of the course work done in the summer? I took twelve hours the first summer of my master’s. It was brutal, but it allowed me to finish my degree in two years while still working full time and volunteering.
The time aspect also affects the monetary cost. The more semesters you take to graduate the more fees – the expensive part of your tuition – you pay. You have to weigh your time and your money to find the right balance.
Another consideration is the where. Is there something close to home? Remote? Public? Private? Do some offer grants of assistance? How many hours will you have to spend in the car commuting? What is the cost of that? I opted for a public university close to home, so I could keep working and life would have less disruption. It’s all about your priorities and what you want out of the experience.
The decision to go back to school to get my MA helped put me on the path that got me to where I am today, a path where I continue to enjoy new opportunities and life options. While I will celebrate when that education is finally paid off, the investment was clearly worth it. Without it, I would be in a very different place than where I am now. I appreciate my younger self’s ability to jump in and get it done – an attribute I hope my slightly older self can still embrace.