The thought of juggling coursework with a job, and entering a period of hectic stress - not to mention having to do your own homework, and grading your pupils’ - well, maybe hair raising. But succeeding as a grad student while teaching full-time is possible with smart planning. You can do it, and even enjoy yourself.
Here’s are six tips to make it all work and maintain your sanity:
Be Sure You Really Want or Need the Degree:
If you’ve been teaching for a few years you may have decided you’re passionate about a new content area, want to become qualified in a position such as reading specialist, or branch out of the classroom into education leadership and administration (Jeff – links to these programs – American is big on this). Or you may teach in a state where the masters is required for full licensure (links to those sates requiring the masters to teach).
Whether you’re a career-changer, career-enhancer, require the degree for certification, or are pursuing the Master’s straight from college, it’s important that you stay motivated, and that you feel the program is a necessary step in reaching your goals. This will go a long way toward keeping you on track and inspired.
It’s also important that you select the right program. Choosing the best set-up is a very personal decision, so you’ll need to decide what matters most. Think about convenience, flexibility, and the strength and reputation of the program in question as you tailor this important career step to your own needs.
Consider Pursuing an Online or Hybrid Program:
These days students have a lot of options. You may want consider an online or hybrid program. By design, online degrees accommodate working professionals and offer tremendous convenience and flexibility. If you’re a full-time teacher, these are the very types of features that may make or break your success and keep you sane.
The good news is that accredited and reputable online programs (links to accreditation organization of online education programs, and links to top 25 online education programs if American is on this) are now considered as valid as their on-campus peers and offer significant advantages for anyone teaching full time. Smart technology platforms allow you to access lectures, classroom discussions and coursework material from the convenience of your home. Online programs typically are completed in about 18 months to two years. Some offer accelerated options. Still others allow you to proceed at your own pace.
The point is, with a very busy teaching schedule, an online program may offer a working professional the best fit and lifestyle. In addition, online programs typically feature professors who tend to be supportive and responsive to the fact that their students are busy professionals. They can help you manage Master’s study with your other obligations by offering you extensions and leniency in assignments.
Hybrid programs combine some in-person classroom formats – this may happen in an intense block in the beginning of the program – with a virtual component. In choosing a hybrid with an in-person format, you may want to try to anticipate how motivated you are likely to be after a long day of teaching to show up in person as opposed to logging in for classes from the privacy of your own home.
let it Go – Release Your Inner Perfectionist:
As a teacher, you may be acclimated to a strict schedule and regimented days with a constant cycle of teaching lessons, teaching plans and grading assignments. Being a teacher requires that you be highly organized. Fortunately, you’ll be able to apply those skills to managing the additional demands of night and weekend study.
But it may be helpful to counter the impulse to get everything just right with healthy balance and a dose of letting go. For example, you may have to accept that your classroom will not look as pulled together as you’d like, that your bulletin boards may not be updated frequently, and that your Master’s assignments are not picture perfect. Paradoxically, letting go and lowering expectations about your performance may help you succeed.
Don’t Take On Extra Duties – And Keep Everyone in the Loop:
Many teachers volunteer for school or student committees, clubs and other activities. This is the time to pull back from additional commitments and give up what you can. Although you may feel guilty about stepping back from extra duties, juggling a job and a family and coursework is not for the faint of heart. You have to give something up to for the benefit of pursuing this degree.
Reach out to your principal, and co-workers and let them know you’re pursuing your Master’s. Remember that most school districts encourage their teachers to pursue higher degrees and professional development. Your colleagues are likely to be supportive and offer you flexibility and help, especially if you find yourself needing classroom coverage.
Work Smart, Plan Smart:
Good planning and smart time management can make a big difference in how you meet the demands of your degree, job, and home life. It will also help prevent massive burnout. While there is no magic recipe for how to do this, here are some common strategies:
Utilize some of your vacation days for study before a big test, catching-up, or school papers and projects. Write everything down. Although you may pride yourself on your ability to multi-task, you may find yourself suddenly challenged by all you have to juggle.
Carve out breaks and down time. Whether you take off one day a week where you declare a study-free day, or take smaller micro-breaks, make sure you seek relief from all the nonstop work and indulge in something enjoyable to renew your spirit and recharge your batteries. Develop a smart meal prep plan. If you have a family, this may be essential. Consider purchasing groceries in bulk so you have a stockpile on hand, and only head out for fresh items. You may also want to designate one weekend day for meal prep and cooking for the week.
If possible, start going into work earlier. You can use this quiet time to get a jumpstart on your classroom duties, or your graduate assignments.
Double Up: Make Graduate Assignments Overlap with Classroom Planning
Getting a Master’s and teaching full-time might offer you the best of both worlds. That’s because the work you do in your Master’s program can serve as double duty in your classroom planning. You’ll likely be working on lesson plans, curriculum development, and other projects in your graduate courses that have some applicability to your classroom. To cut down on your workload, integrate them into your teaching job.