Top 7 reasons why higher education is important for a teaching career
Written and reported by: Kendall Upton Staff Writer
If you’re passionate about teaching and nurturing young minds into becoming the next generation of adults, you’re going to have to be a student first. It’s virtually impossible to be a teacher without a college degree, which means higher education is an essential first step in launching your teaching career. The type of degree you need depends on who and what you plan to teach, but you’ll almost certainly need a bachelor’s degree if you want to be a public classroom teacher.
Even in the current academic climate where college enrollment levels are low, qualified teachers are in dire demand. This means job opportunities abound for anyone entering (or advancing within) the field of education. A national teacher shortage means a promising outlook for anyone who wants to teach and be a part of positive change in the future.
”I chose to further my education and earn my master’s degree because the field of education is always changing and progressing. I know that new research and strategies for teaching are developing, and I wanted to put myself in the best position to help my students,” said Lauren Rutter, a middle school math teacher in Mukilteo, Wash. who is completing her master’s in education (M.Ed.) in teaching and curriculum.
No matter what your individual goals are, there are numerous reasons why your education doesn’t have to stop at the bachelor’s level. Consider these seven reasons to see how higher education can make a meaningful impact on your career as a teacher.
1. A degree is necessary to jumpstart your teaching career.
It’s nearly guaranteed that you need a bachelor’s degree in order to become a certified public-school teacher. Elementary school teachers typically need a degree in elementary education, while secondary school teachers usually need a degree in the subject area they plan to teach. It’s common for secondary school teachers to double major in their subject and in education.
Depending on what you want to do as a teacher, you may need a master’s degree or higher after you’ve completed your bachelor’s. Hopefully your baccalaureate education will give you a better idea of where and how you see yourself as a teacher so you can determine what next steps may be needed.
2. Advanced degrees can lead to higher salaries.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and their Teacher Contract Database, 88% of large school districts offer additional income to teachers that have a master’s degree. Over half of those districts—about 63% to be exact—pay more based on years of experience, which means that the additional payout only increases over time. The rest of the schools offer a fixed additional stipend. Although that may not be the case where you live and work, it’s clear that many teachers earn more when they have a higher degree.
There are many options for the type of master’s degree you might choose to pursue, such as a master’s in education, teaching or curriculum and instruction. Obtaining an advanced degree may be a worthwhile investment that can increase your well-earned compensation as a teacher.
3. Higher education can make you a better teacher.
Getting an additional degree can expand your knowledge and skills, whether you study teaching itself or the discipline which you teach. Teaching degrees don’t just teach you what to teach but how—creating lessons, managing students, interacting with parents, measuring student progress and more. These skills can boost your confidence in the classroom and have the potential to make you a more effective and well-informed instructor.
”Earning a master’s degree allows teachers to engage in new ideas and challenges them to reflect on their current teaching practices,” Rutter said. “All of our students have unique learning experiences, and it’s vital that we have the resources and knowledge to serve those different learning styles.”
4. You can make a more meaningful impact.
At the end of the day, your success in the classroom trickles down to the success of your students. Although having an advanced degree does not automatically make anyone a better teacher, it does have the potential to. When you have more tools and knowledge at your disposal because of your degree, you can have a greater impact on the education and lives of your students.
This can show up in subtle ways, too—a fourth-grade teacher who has a degree or concentration in literacy, for example, might be able to help their 10-year-old students who are struggling with reading more than someone who doesn’t have that extra education.
”With my degree in Teaching and Curriculum, I will be able to create lessons that help all of my different learners be successful. I have learned how to differentiate lessons, analyze and implement curriculum, and create a variety of assessments so all students can access a fair and equitable classroom,” Rutter said.
5. You can learn specialized skills.
Higher education can teach you additional skills which could impact the types of jobs you can get. For example, a concentration in educational administration could pave a way out of the classroom and into leadership positions at the school or district level.
Some specialized roles may require teachers to have a master’s degree anyway, but getting a degree simply expands your choices for what you can do as an educator. Perhaps you don’t want to be a traditional classroom teacher and you’d rather be a literacy specialist or ESL teacher—an advanced degree might be exactly what you need to supplement your existing education to achieve these kinds of positions.
6. Higher education can create networking opportunities.
When you earn any degree, you inevitably come into contact and constant communication with other students, professors, advisers and other support staff. A network of people in the same field as you can be incredibly advantageous in the job market—a professor could write you letters of recommendation, or a university colleague could vouch for you when you apply to a new job. Alumni associations can also become a valuable networking resource, and many offer career services to help you find your next role, whether this is your first teaching job or you have been in the field for years.
There are also numerous education-focused fraternities and associations whose main purpose is to create a system of people and resources for prospective educators. When you have more connections, you’re bound to discover more opportunities available to you.
7. There are many degree types available.
”Teachers should absolutely consider going back to school to get a degree. There are so many different degrees in education to choose from, such as technology, leadership, or content specific programs,” Rutter said.
Even if you know what you might want to study, one big reason current teachers may hesitate to get another degree is because it will be hard to complete while you are still teaching. Rutter said with all the different learning formats that are available now, you’re bound to find an option that works with your schedule like she did.
”Then there are various options for what earning a degree looks like—in a classroom at a university, at a community college, asynchronous or online.”
With professional insight from:
Lauren Rutter, middle school math teacher Mukilteo School District