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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Are Graduate Degrees a Thing of the Past?

Are Graduate Degrees a Thing of the Past?

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6 Replies 42 Views

So I'm thinking about grad school this week because it's sort of right in front of me. It's Summer Intensive week here at Antioch and even though I'm not teaching myself, there's a different vibe in the building because of it. Most of our Experienced Educators students are online during the year, only traveling to campus for these few weeks in the summer. It's very different from my own graduate school experience and, while we have an excellent group of folks here this year, I'm wondering about the whole idea of graduate school for teachers. Is it a thing people still aspire to, as a real tool for gaining skills and new perspectives, or is it a hoop to be jumped through in the most expeditious, inexpensive way possible? Or, with the reality of PLNs and online, just-in-time professional learning (most of which is free or nearly so), is graduate school becoming a thing of the past? What would make you jump in a "do" grad school- or not? Why did you choose the program you chose- or why did you decide to skip it all together?

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Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

This is an interesting question. I'm a firm believer that you get out of school (especially grad school) what you want to get out of grad school. Some people will thrive in an online-cheap-as-you-can-get-it type of education. They will read all the assignments with interest, research with persistence, and write with gusto. I have a friend who's getting his EdD online and knowing the way he is (very intelligent and self-motivating) he'll do just fine. He's also very introverted. I'm the opposite. While I do enjoy posting and having conversations online, this type of communication has its limits. I like being in a classroom and talking to real human beings face-to-face. I actually miss it a bit right now, but my wife will kill me if I decide to get a PhD. I like the options of education. Even though online education can be looked at as subpar, I look at it as differentiating. Adults need differentiation too.

Why did I choose to go back to school for a Masters Degree?

My first try was because I had to. I graduated with a degree in Psychology, and then began a program in School Psychology. I hated it. While I was taking night classes, I worked as teacher's assistant during the day. That's when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I went back to school to get me certification and the rest is history.

Seven years later....

The second time around I waited until I was absolutely sure I wanted to go back. All of my family and friends said don't wait or you'll never want to do it. I'm glad I didn't listen. If I had listened, I probably would have completed a degree in Reading Education. Not that that's bad. It's just what elementary teachers did fifteen years ago in my area. After teaching for about seven years, my curriculum coordinator noticed my love of writing and teaching writing and suggested I attend the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project at West Chester University. I completed the program (4 weeks- 8-4....6 grad credits in the summer). It's a huge commitment, but changed my life forever. I was so impressed with the teachers and staff at PAWLP that I decided to look into an English program at WCU (1 hour from my house). They just started a program for teachers who love to teach writing that's kind of a continuation of the writing institute. (Teaching, Writing, and Criticism) I had the same phenomenal education experience with the English Department at WCU and wrote some of my best pieces during my time there.

And to this day I am very involved with The Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. The organization is top-notch. If you give 100%, you get it back.

Advice on going back to school?

1. Wait until you find a subject/area you not only love teaching, but doing too.
2. Don't think about online versus In-Class. Think about what's the best situation for you.
3. Research your program. Will there be opportunities for professional development/work beyond your degree?
4. Remember, you get what you give. Yes, I had many inspiring teachers at WCU, but ultimately you will be in charge of your education intensity meter. Work hard. And it's easier to work hard if you love it (see #1).

Hope this helps.

Gaetan

(1)
Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

This:
Advice on going back to school?

1. Wait until you find a subject/area you not only love teaching, but doing too.
2. Don't think about online versus In-Class. Think about what's the best situation for you.
3. Research your program. Will there be opportunities for professional development/work beyond your degree?
4. Remember, you get what you give. Yes, I had many inspiring teachers at WCU, but ultimately you will be in charge of your education intensity meter. Work hard. And it's easier to work hard if you love it (see #1).

Exactly. I spent years trying to find the right program before I landed at Antioch. Now, as I watch teachers select programs because the program seems easy or is cheap, I can't help but feel like they're wasting their time and money and missing an incredible opportunity for personal growth. Thanks for adding your .02!

(1)
Joan Weber's picture
Joan Weber
Director, Education Division, Creativity & Associates

I am currently attending the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, a summer-only grad school attached to Middlebury College. It is filled to the brim with English teachers from across the country. It has been an invaluable experience for me as a student and as a teacher. As you said in your comment, Laura, it was important for me to settle on a subject that inspired Me to learn. That is literature and theatre so this place is a perfect choice. I am inspired and affirmed, which was the goal. For me, this is absolutely what I needed to do. Damn the debt, full speed ahead. :)

(1)
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I echo Gaetan's point about waiting until you really know what you want to study before choosing a program. I taught for 20 years with grad school in the back of my mind, but I could never articulate why and what I would study. When I finally took the plunge, I landed in a new Educational Technology class/program, and was hooked from the start. Without a doubt, of all the PD I have done, that program has had the biggest impact on my classroom, students and career.

I see many teachers who are struggling to use/understand/integrate new technology in their classroom, and I know that for me, because I was in classes where my professor was requiring us to use it, I learned and started making use of tech with my students. I know that not everyone needs to be in a class in order to learn new methods/strategies/technology, but for me it made all the difference.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

It's interesting how, once you figure out what really lights you up intellectually, the right program just seems to appear? I spent about 5 years looking at all the schools I "should" attend (Ivy League, US News and World Report Top 5, etc) and just didn't find myself with that "damn the debt" energy. Then, when I finally realized I wanted to become a school change coach, Antioch seemed to just drop out of the sky. Crazy. I wonder how many people have that a transformative learning experience in graduate school, if they're really thoughtful about the path they want to take?

AnokaEnglish's picture

I feel like the grad school question depends to a large degree on if one's current returns on teaching (salary + relationships with colleagues and students + school & classroom experiences) feel at least sufficient for the lifestyle one wants to live, along with an awareness of how to increase specific returns that feel insufficient.

For me, I love teaching in a high school English language arts classroom, and for a long time, I have passionately pursued my own professional development through reading and reflecting (free resources). However, when I decided that I wanted to start a family with my partner, I realized that although I was pleased with my growth and trajectory as a teacher, our combined salaries would not allow us to support a child. At that point, because I had already developed (and continue to develop, such as PLNs) a number of avenues for professional growth, I was looking for the easiest hoop to jump through in order to move up the salary schedule. Granted, I still completed all of the masters work studiously, and I greatly enjoyed and learned from my action research projects, but because of my life situation, taking on a massive amount of debt (again) was not going to help me achieve my life goals. Thus, my rationale for taking the path of least resistance in earning my grad degree.

If fairer compensation for teachers' work were (also) achievable through some means other than grad credits and degrees -- measures such as student learning, demonstration of application of current research-based practices, etc. -- I think fewer people would seek grad degrees, and those people who do would seek the transformative-style experiences that Laura Thomas described.

(1)
AnokaEnglish's picture

I feel like the grad school question depends to a large degree on if one's current returns on teaching (salary + relationships with colleagues and students + school & classroom experiences) feel at least sufficient for the lifestyle one wants to live, along with an awareness of how to increase specific returns that feel insufficient.

For me, I love teaching in a high school English language arts classroom, and for a long time, I have passionately pursued my own professional development through reading and reflecting (free resources). However, when I decided that I wanted to start a family with my partner, I realized that although I was pleased with my growth and trajectory as a teacher, our combined salaries would not allow us to support a child. At that point, because I had already developed (and continue to develop, such as PLNs) a number of avenues for professional growth, I was looking for the easiest hoop to jump through in order to move up the salary schedule. Granted, I still completed all of the masters work studiously, and I greatly enjoyed and learned from my action research projects, but because of my life situation, taking on a massive amount of debt (again) was not going to help me achieve my life goals. Thus, my rationale for taking the path of least resistance in earning my grad degree.

If fairer compensation for teachers' work were (also) achievable through some means other than grad credits and degrees -- measures such as student learning, demonstration of application of current research-based practices, etc. -- I think fewer people would seek grad degrees, and those people who do would seek the transformative-style experiences that Laura Thomas described.

(1)
Joan Weber's picture
Joan Weber
Director, Education Division, Creativity & Associates

I am currently attending the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, a summer-only grad school attached to Middlebury College. It is filled to the brim with English teachers from across the country. It has been an invaluable experience for me as a student and as a teacher. As you said in your comment, Laura, it was important for me to settle on a subject that inspired Me to learn. That is literature and theatre so this place is a perfect choice. I am inspired and affirmed, which was the goal. For me, this is absolutely what I needed to do. Damn the debt, full speed ahead. :)

(1)
Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

This:
Advice on going back to school?

1. Wait until you find a subject/area you not only love teaching, but doing too.
2. Don't think about online versus In-Class. Think about what's the best situation for you.
3. Research your program. Will there be opportunities for professional development/work beyond your degree?
4. Remember, you get what you give. Yes, I had many inspiring teachers at WCU, but ultimately you will be in charge of your education intensity meter. Work hard. And it's easier to work hard if you love it (see #1).

Exactly. I spent years trying to find the right program before I landed at Antioch. Now, as I watch teachers select programs because the program seems easy or is cheap, I can't help but feel like they're wasting their time and money and missing an incredible opportunity for personal growth. Thanks for adding your .02!

(1)
Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

This is an interesting question. I'm a firm believer that you get out of school (especially grad school) what you want to get out of grad school. Some people will thrive in an online-cheap-as-you-can-get-it type of education. They will read all the assignments with interest, research with persistence, and write with gusto. I have a friend who's getting his EdD online and knowing the way he is (very intelligent and self-motivating) he'll do just fine. He's also very introverted. I'm the opposite. While I do enjoy posting and having conversations online, this type of communication has its limits. I like being in a classroom and talking to real human beings face-to-face. I actually miss it a bit right now, but my wife will kill me if I decide to get a PhD. I like the options of education. Even though online education can be looked at as subpar, I look at it as differentiating. Adults need differentiation too.

Why did I choose to go back to school for a Masters Degree?

My first try was because I had to. I graduated with a degree in Psychology, and then began a program in School Psychology. I hated it. While I was taking night classes, I worked as teacher's assistant during the day. That's when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I went back to school to get me certification and the rest is history.

Seven years later....

The second time around I waited until I was absolutely sure I wanted to go back. All of my family and friends said don't wait or you'll never want to do it. I'm glad I didn't listen. If I had listened, I probably would have completed a degree in Reading Education. Not that that's bad. It's just what elementary teachers did fifteen years ago in my area. After teaching for about seven years, my curriculum coordinator noticed my love of writing and teaching writing and suggested I attend the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project at West Chester University. I completed the program (4 weeks- 8-4....6 grad credits in the summer). It's a huge commitment, but changed my life forever. I was so impressed with the teachers and staff at PAWLP that I decided to look into an English program at WCU (1 hour from my house). They just started a program for teachers who love to teach writing that's kind of a continuation of the writing institute. (Teaching, Writing, and Criticism) I had the same phenomenal education experience with the English Department at WCU and wrote some of my best pieces during my time there.

And to this day I am very involved with The Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. The organization is top-notch. If you give 100%, you get it back.

Advice on going back to school?

1. Wait until you find a subject/area you not only love teaching, but doing too.
2. Don't think about online versus In-Class. Think about what's the best situation for you.
3. Research your program. Will there be opportunities for professional development/work beyond your degree?
4. Remember, you get what you give. Yes, I had many inspiring teachers at WCU, but ultimately you will be in charge of your education intensity meter. Work hard. And it's easier to work hard if you love it (see #1).

Hope this helps.

Gaetan

(1)

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