Teaching

Does a Master’s in Education Teach Problem-Solving Skills?

Does a Master’s in Education Teach Problem-Solving Skills?
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Jennifer Mellace profile
Jennifer Mellace March 14, 2019

Real-life situations may be the best way to learn problem-solving skills, but a master’s degree can help.

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“Nothing can prepare you,” says Marc Perniciaro, an 8th grade social studies teacher in Horry County, South Carolina. Perniciaro, who earned his Master of Arts of Teaching from Coastal Carolina University (CCU), thought he understood the definition of an IEP and 504 plan when he graduated. But in real life—like when he needed to offer a professional opinion on a student he knew for only six weeks—Perniciaro’s experiences have been quite different from his grad school preparation.

“It was nowhere near what my own classroom would be like,” Perniciaro says of his master’s in education, explaining that, while specific classes at CCU prepared him for being a student teacher, the most productive part of his master’s program “came from actual classroom experience with teachers.”

So what do you learn with a master’s degree in education?

A master’s in education prepares future teachers to manage classroom challenges, design learning plans, and tailor their teaching styles across different subjects, both to large groups and individual students. With internships, case studies, and core curriculum, a master’s in education applies the psychology of learning to problem-solving through collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and conflict resolution. Master’s in education candidates also learn how to bring empathy and integrity to the classroom, engaging students while remaining on pace.

Of all the classes he took while enrolled in CCU’s master’s in education program, Perniciaro cites diversity in the classroom, management of the classroom, assessment, pedagogy, literacy in his subject area, and the basic intro to education as among “the most important.” Like most master’s in education programs, CCU also requires students to take content-specific teaching classes. Perniciaro opted to learn how to teach social studies, which used roleplay strategies to cover lecturing styles, and how to break down primary sources.

Small-group learning is another method covered with a master’s in education, and is often considered essential in preparing students for careers in education. For Perniciaro, having these problem-solving strategies in-pocket helped him manage the stress he encountered in real life classrooms.

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Graduate degrees for teachers fall into two categories: the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (MEd). Many resources indicate that the MAT is the best master’s degree for teachers, while MEd programs are primarily for aspiring educational administrators, policymakers, and other current education professionals who aspire to work outside the classroom. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

Both MAT and MEd programs tend to be concentration-based, and while there are more part-time and full-time Master of Arts in Teaching programs focused on advanced pedagogic theories and skills, there are also plenty of Master of Education programs with grade-level, subject-area, and student-population concentrations.

In some areas of the US, a teacher with a master’s degree at the top of the salary schedule can earn close to $40,000 more than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that going to graduate school will lead to a substantially bigger paycheck. The only way to know how much you’ll earn after graduating with a master’s in teaching or master’s in education is to look at the salary schedule in your district. You should be able to see at a glance how your education and experience will translate into dollars. (source)

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Why is it important for teachers to have problem-solving skills?

The first step to solving any problem is to analyze the situation. Evaluating how you (as a teacher) are doing—and how your students are learning—is necessary for success. Most master’s in education programs offer courses on formative and summative assessments, which help to paint a clearer picture about a student’s achievement, and where gaps may exist. Formative and summative assessments cover everything from statewide accountability tests to district benchmark or interim tests to everyday classroom tests.

“In the end, one of the best lessons I took from my graduate program was to greet every student at your door, find a way to smile at all times, and develop relationships with each and every kid as best as you possibly can,” says Perniciaro.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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