Education Leadership Perspectives

Views from the Principal's Office

By Brian Gatens

3 Questions Education Majors Must Ask Before Signing up for Graduate School

iStock_graduates_000013625506SmallBy Brian P. Gatens

My job obliges me to sift through hundreds of resumes when new applicants flood the job market each spring. Over the past few years I’ve noticed that just about all the applicants already have a master’s degrees. I assume this reflects a slow job market and a lot of students riding out the poor economy by earning an advanced degree.

I strongly recommend that aspiring teachers consider earning an advanced degree as soon as possible. Having a strong undergraduate experience, classroom experience and an advanced degree puts any candidate in an advantageous position when job hunting. 

But how do you decide what to study, especially if your teaching experience is scant? Asking these three questions should help you make up your mind. 

1. What is Your Natural Inclination?

You should begin by following whatever it is about education that you enjoy. If you like working closely with students, consider a master’s degree as a school counselor. Strong counselors are assets to any school, as they’re able to address a wide variety of school needs.

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If you enjoy the curriculum and teaching side of our profession, pursue a degree in curriculum planning and development. Be sure to follow your gut and avoid the urge to pick an advanced degree solely because it presents a good financial opportunity.  I know many aspiring teachers who went back to school for master’s degrees in special education, only to realize that they lacked the patience or personality to work effectively with high-needs students.

2. Should You Go Online or Brick & Mortar? 

I have seen a significant rise in the number of teachers earning their master’s degrees online. Some educators and boards of education have mixed emotions on attending online schools for advanced degrees. If you are employed and your district has a tuition-reimbursement option, be sure to make certain that online courses qualify. Many districts restrict the use of online courses or require a mixture of brick-and-mortar with online courses.

On a personal note, I encourage the online option where available, as it enables you to fashion your studies to your own time and work needs.

3. Will the Program Truly Enhance Your Abilities?

It is essential that complete your master’s program with increased knowledge and skills. Furthermore, you must be able to apply your new knowledge and skills in your professional practice and to be able to speak about them at upcoming job interviews.

The strongest candidates for jobs in today’s schools are people who can specifically speak to what they can now do as a result of their professional work and formal study. Use your course work to offer concrete examples of what you would do in your professional practice, and how you would apply it to the position you’re interviewing for. 

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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