With so much conversation about the student loan crisis and speculation about the necessity–or lack thereof–of bachelor’s degrees, it makes sense to be skeptical about pursuing graduate work. Unless you are an educator. Then, at some point in your career, you will most certainly find yourself signing up for more school. But how much of a gamble is graduate work?
Getting My Degree On
I am currently finishing up my fourth (and hopefully last!) graduate program. Over the past decade, I have taken classes off and on to the tune of two certifications, two Master’s degrees, and a whole lot of tuition receipts. While not every professor or textbook has been excellent, I can honestly say that the majority of this effort has helped me better myself as a teacher. In short, it was worth it.
The payout, though, is also financial. Looking at my district’s salary schedule for 2017-2018, a teacher who has 10 years of experience with only a Master’s degree will make $12,482 less than a teacher with that same decade of experience plus another 54 credit hours beyond that initial Master’s degree.
But wait. What about the ten-year teacher who believes the hype that grad classes aren’t worth it? Until that first Master’s degree is obtained, her salary stays frozen. And it’s a deep freeze. That teacher’s salary will be nearly $20,000 less, earning her the same paycheck as someone with five year’s less experience. Brrr.
Of course, this is just one district in one city in one state. My husband teaches fifteen minutes away, and his district calculates their salaries in an entirely different fashion. The only common denominator is the fact that both districts offer raises for graduate work. There is a cost-of-living increase built into both of our contracts (mine is quite, errrr, conservative at .8%), but the real way to build up not only your skill set as an educator but also your income is to hit the books. Again and again.
My Big Gamble
As I’m impatiently awaiting the opportunity to max out my salary schedule (and to stop ordering new textbooks every other month), I am also taking a gamble. When it comes to teaching and graduate work, timing is everything. Like the stock market, trying to time the teaching job market isn’t easy. In fact, I’m not sure it is universally possible. But I’m rolling the dice anyway.
When I first started teaching a decade ago, everyone and their brother (and their uncles who lost their jobs in the Great Recession) was going into the classroom. As a result, the market was absolutely saturated with candidates. There were over five hundred applicants for my first job. Mercifully, my boss did not tell me that until after the interview. Otherwise, I would have most certainly thrown up as I passed around my resume.
Since then, though, the teaching profession has taken beating after beating, leaving many cities and states with major teaching shortages amidst crippling financial crises. The first district I taught in did not weather the storm well. My current district is much more stable. Yet, they also see the writing on the wall. As a result, they have informally stopped interviewing candidates with graduate experience. Because when the state still owes you several million dollars for one school year, you tighten your budget anyway that you can.
When I got wind of this, I bristled. Not just because I know there are many benefits to professional learning experiences and graduate school, but because I also realize I have effectively priced myself out of many districts should I get canned. While I like to think I more than earn my keep each year doing what I love, I’m not dummy. At least not anymore. No, siree, my eyes were peeled wide open, thankyouverymuch.
So I rolled the dice. My bet is on winning big with at least an extra $12k each year every year over the course of my career. But if my numbers don’t come up, I realize I could very well be not just out of this job, but out of the profession entirely.
So Tell Me…What would you do in my (very stylish yet comfortable) teacher shoes? Does undergraduate or graduate work benefit your profession?