Why should teachers bother with a master’s degree?

This primary teacher says that his part-time degree was the best professional learning he ever experienced

Why should teachers bother with a master’s degree?

Ever wondered why you should bother doing a master’s degree in education? Why should you give up your own time and self-fund your way through it?

For me, doing a master’s degree was the best professional learning I’ve ever experienced. I finished my master’s degree in educational support in 2015 after spending four years doing it part-time. That was a few years ago now, but I still put it down as the most important professional learning of my career and I think I will do for some time. Here are some reasons why:

  • Being with like-minded professionals from a range of settings
    One of the most important parts of a master’s degree is the dialogue you have around the subject matter. You share this experience with a range of people at different stages of their career all working in a different setting. In one of my modules, we had a nursery teacher mixed in with primary, secondary, ASN (additional support needs), further education, as well as school leaders. This mix of experiences and opinions really makes you question the material and, with that, gain a deeper understanding than you possibly would sticking within your own sector or school.
  • Really drilling down and looking at academic reading
    This is something you do as a student teacher, as you’re expected to – and even told to – do it. However, as soon as you leave uni and start working full time, you find that time isn’t quite as free as it was when you were a student, and you don’t have the same access to the university library. Doing a master’s degree relit my passion for making sure practice sits in line with pedagogy. It sticks with you – I now ask for background reading if I’m on a course, or I ask for a range of references. I think it’s important as practitioners that we ensure what we are doing with the children is steeped in theory.
  • Specialising in an area of interest
    I think all teachers have an area of teaching that they are passionate about. I do – inclusive education and constructivist pedagogy – and, for me, having the opportunity to learn so much more about it and put what I was learning about into practice at the same time really helped me specialise in my teaching. It also made me realise how much I didn’t know and how much more I wanted to learn – it’s been a journey to learn more, and one I’m still very much on.
  • Confidence
    Having that piece of paper detailing a master’s qualification is, I suppose, just a piece of paper unless you use what you’ve learned to impact the teaching and learning in your class. For me, it’s given me the confidence to try new ways of teaching that I learned about during the course, and to stick with them when very few others knew about the pedagogy or had seen it in action. It’s given me the confidence to speak out at meetings and share experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And it has also given me the confidence to apply for courses or jobs and talk about my own professional learning in great detail – something I probably wouldn’t have done quite so readily without the master’s under my belt.

All in all, a number of years after completing the qualification, I still look back on the time fondly and feel that I wouldn’t be the practitioner I am today without it.

But does that mean I think teaching should be a master’s-level profession? I’m not sure, as I’ve known lots of really good teachers who don’t have a master’s degree – but I do think it’s something worth considering.

Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for services to raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23

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