WYour time is a precious resource. Between devoting your waking hours to your work in the classroom and your family life, how could you ever squeeze in the extra work required to earn your master’s degree in education?
Juggling a full-time teaching career with family responsibilities and your master’s degree studies can sound daunting. It won’t be easy, but here are 10 tips for balancing the most important aspects of your life to turn your dream of earning a Master of Education degree into a reality.
1. For Inspiration, Make a List of Benefits
If you’ve thought about earning your Master of Education, perhaps even dreamed about it for years, you probably have an unwritten list of great reasons and compelling why’s. Why not jot them down and use them for motivation?
For many people in your position, such a list might include items like:
- The desire to an even better teacher
- Transforming your classroom with new strategies learned
- Making a greater impact in the education of your students
- Reinvigorating your passion for your craft
- Positioning yourself for a possible pay increase
- Building a foundation for educational leadership opportunities
- Enjoying the satisfaction of fulfilling a long-held goal
- Making your family proud
- Proving to yourself that, yes, you can do it
- Picturing how great that framed diploma will look on the wall
2. Explore the World of Online Master’s Degree Options
Yes, it is definitely possible to commute to a nearby campus to attend classes after school lets out. However, now that more colleges and universities offer master’s degree programs designed to create maximum scheduling flexibility for busy working teachers, the reasons for considering an online master’s degree program are too compelling to ignore.
Beyond freedom of scheduling, the best online degree programs feature a “global classroom” aspect with opportunities to interact with fellow degree candidates from near and far who may bring unique and different perspectives to your chosen field of study.
3. Learn from Teachers Who’ve Accomplished Your Goal
Reading the “success stories” of people who have shared your vision, done the work and achieved the goal can help provide both inspiration and insight. For example, a number of graduates of the University of San Diego’s online Master of Education program have interesting stories to share.
A passion for educational leadership fueled the graduate school aspirations of Amy Zapatka, dean of school culture at Achievement First, a charter school in Providence, Rhode Island. When USD alum Jennifer Gagner earned her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, “I had no idea that it would take me to Africa!” But her degree ended up being her passport to a teaching position at an American school in Madagascar.
For most USD graduates, the online component is key. “With two young kids and a pretty busy teaching schedule, there would be pretty much no way for me to get a master’s degree in person. The structure and flexibility of an online program served me perfectly,” said Karl Frank, who earned his M.Ed. with a focus in STEAM.
4. Plan the Work and Work the Plan
An effective time management plan will be essential to achieving your goal. Putting this in writing can also be a helpful tool.
Do you plan to squeeze in 1 hour of studying each morning? Complete the bulk of your degree work in the post-dinner hours? What about weekends? Are there certain ongoing activities you can temporarily put on hold?
Just as scheduling gives structure to your days spent teaching in the classroom, consider taking the same approach to your graduate studies by building a schedule and sticking to it. The good news is that online degree programs enable you to basically set your own schedule and do the work on your own time while meeting your (usually weekly) deadlines.
5. Capitalize on Small Blocks of Time
Depending on your teaching schedule, you may be able to fit in study sessions during your down time or on your lunch break. A working lunch dedicated to your extra-curricular studies each day can really add up and help lessen the workload you have to get through at the end of the day or on weekends. Coming in an hour early, leaving an hour later or a combination of the two can also help you get more done throughout the day while you’re still in “work mode.”
Bringing discipline to the process was essential for Rudy Escobar, a teacher and USD alum who said the instructional staff was incredibly supportive (see video). “I have seven children and my wife, and it was hard to put it all together. I had to really be disciplined in my timing, but at the same time I also had the support to make it possible.”
6. Give Yourself a Break
Chances are there are times when you’ll feel utterly drained. So it’s important to give yourself a permission slip to take a little breather every once in a while to recharge your work-life batteries while keeping your eyes on the prize.
You’ll be putting in a lot of hard work, typically for at least 20 months (school + more school = stress). But a glass of wine to relax or an extra 45 minutes with your head on the pillow can also be part of the equation.
7. Supercharge Your Hard Work with Passion
More so than in many professions, teachers are fortunate to be doing work that they truly love. When it comes to pursuing your master’s degree most programs offer, along with your core courses, the opportunity to focus on an area of specialty.
So it is important to reflect on what aspects of the educational experience you are most passionate about. Options range from STEAM to special education to school leadership and more. For example, the University of San Diego’s online M.Ed. specializations also include Digital Literacy, Inclusive Learning and, the most flexible option, Curriculum and Instruction. Whatever program you choose, being passionate about your field of study will help you channel the energy and motivation you’ll need to reach the finish line.
8. Align Your Teaching Activities with Your Studies
One of the best things about getting a master’s in education is the direct effect your education can have on your students. If you are in a strong master’s program you will be working on projects that are immediately applicable and relevant to your classroom. So look for opportunities to connect what you are learning to lessons for your students.
For example, if one of your assignments is to create a lesson plan that is STEAM based you could write the lesson plan for your master’s program and then implement that same lesson plan in your classroom. In this way, you can turn an M.Ed. writing project into a real-life learning experience for both you and your students.
9. Draw Support from Your ‘Team’
Your support systems are key when pursuing your Master of Education degree while teaching full time. Notice we used the plural here. That’s because in addition to your family and your colleagues at work, your support teams include both the faculty and advisors you’ll be working closely with, as well as your fellow graduate students.
USD’s master’s degree program offers unwavering institutional support from professors, advisors and administrators to help you earn your degree; after all, they are invested in your success. In addition, the program features a robust online interactive component that includes both required discussion forum activities as well as networking opportunities.
10. Do Your ‘Homework’
Of course, it makes sense to closely study the curriculum and course syllabus information made available by any M.Ed. programs you are considering, and also to quiz enrollment advisors about any and all questions you may have. However, you may find it is also helpful to correspond with or speak directly to one or more members of your program faculty to gain further insight.
Find additional tips from a former teacher, principal and administrator in this article from Scholastic.com (“Balancing Work, Life and Grad School”).
Extra Credit: Turn in Assignments a Day Early
Of course, this may not always be possible. Or perhaps you perform best under the stress of deadline pressure. However, occasionally wrapping up your weekly work ahead of schedule by moving your assignment deadlines up a day will invariably produce an enjoyable sigh of relief while potentially freeing you up for some family fun.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the online Master of Education opportunities at the University San Diego match up with your goals, just reach out or give us a call to us to start a conversation.