Elementary Education

Is It Hard to Earn a Master of Arts in Teaching While Working?

Is It Hard to Earn a Master of Arts in Teaching While Working?
It's possible to pursue a master's program, work, and function as a human being—though you have to be organized and strategic about it. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella March 21, 2022

Earning a master’s degree in teaching while working full-time is daunting, but there are options—including teacher residency programs—that make it more manageable.

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Unless you’re independently wealthy, there’s a good chance you’ll need to work to pay for graduate school. Working while earning your education degree program should reduce the amount you need to borrow, a major plus for someone anticipating the modest pay of a teacher.

However, it’s not without its drawbacks. With a workload consisting of not only your day job but also coursework, homework, papers, and exam prep, you’ll have little time for rest and relaxation.

Luckily, it’s possible to pursue a master’s program, work, and function as a human being—though you have to be organized and strategic about it. In an Insider article, Shameika Rhymes discusses the challenges of earning an online master’s degree while maintaining a full-time job as a television producer. She offers several recommendations: say no to plans that don’t fit your schedule, block out time on your calendar for assignments, learn to multitask, and ask for help when you need it.

If you plan to work while pursuing your graduate education, know that you have options. Among them is one that combines paid classroom training with your academic work: a teacher residency program, in which you student-teach during the day and earn your MAT online in the evenings.

Is it hard to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching while working? Absolutely, but it’s doable. This article offers more tips, plus answers questions like:

  • Is it hard to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) while working?
  • What is an MAT degree?
  • What are the top schools that offer an MAT degree?

Is it hard to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) while working?

Here are a few tips for earning a MAT while working full-time:

Consider pursuing your MAT on a part-time track

It’s just about impossible to work full-time and attend school full-time. Even if you could manage the workload, most full-time programs schedule classes during the workday. The logistics are all but unworkable.

Earning your degree on a part-time basis can significantly decrease your stress level and allow time for things like homework and taking care of other obligations in your life. Of course, attending school part-time means it will take longer to complete your degree. But, it may be worth it.

Part-time graduate students have several options. Attending a part-time on-campus program means traveling to and from school for in-person classes, often on nights and weekends. Online programs offer the flexibility to participate in courses from your home or a coffee shop—and oftentimes much of the coursework is asynchronous with pre-recorded lectures that you can work through on your own at odd hours during the week. Synchronous (live) classes typically meet only once a week, and sometimes even less frequently.

A hybrid track combines online coursework and some in-person activities, providing the flexibility of an online program with some of the comradery of an in-person degree.

If you earned your bachelor’s degree in a field other than education, a teacher residency program might be the best fit. Teacher residencies combine mentored student-teaching and academic coursework into one intensive year-long program culminating in an online Master of Arts in Teaching. Residency programs are designed to fast-track non-education majors to full-time teaching roles. Such master’s degree programs offer an additional attraction: they typically focus on underserved populations, promoting minority teacher hiring and service to minority-majority schools. The NYU teacher residency is just such a program.

Use a planner

Devoting the time to map out your schedule for a week in a paper or digital planner can be tedious, but it makes juggling all of your responsibilities easier. Course syllabi contain the due dates for all assignments and tests for the semester—and recording these deadlines in your planner will help you stay on top of all of this work and help ensure that you don’t miss anything. (Pro tip: Utilize small chunks of free time in your schedule to take care of small tasks or to complete a section of a larger project.)

Make time to rest

Even though you may not feel like you have the time to do so, it’s essential to relax. Studies show that relaxation, and especially getting enough sleep, improves learning. Rested students typically retain more information, are more efficient, and concentrate better.

For teachers, relaxation can mean the difference between burnout and success. In an article for Chalkbeat, Hannah Berman outlined her struggles as a first-year teacher completing a teaching program. Berman discussed how COVID-19 exacerbated already-high burnout rates among new teachers and her struggles with keeping up with her responsibilities. It may sound counterintuitive but teachers who carve out enough personal time in their lives for some R&R can better serve their students in the long run.

Connect with others

It’s difficult for young educators to work and complete a graduate program on their own. Building a network of supportive friends, family, peers, and mentors can make it easier to tackle all of your responsibilities. Having people to talk to who went through the same grind and can pass along lessons learned—or are going through it with you—is crucial. If you plan to enroll in an online program, make sure to ask the admissions office if they’ll connect you with working students willing to talk about their experience and ask them how they balance everything.

Reward yourself

Teaching full-time and completing a degree are challenging enough when you’re not doing them simultaneously. If you need a bit of motivation, sometimes it helps to reward (or bribe) yourself. It’s important to acknowledge your successes. A simple way to do that is by rewarding yourself. It could be something small like ice cream or a bit of time off to watch a favorite show or read a chapter of a novel.

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What is a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree?

A Master of Arts in Teaching is a teaching degree that prepares student-teachers for a career in the field. If you study to teach at the secondary level, it will also enable you to specialize in a particular content area. Those wanting to pursue a career in another area of education, such as administration or curriculum and instruction, should think about earning a Master of Education (MeD).

Accredited MAT programs typically require 12 to 20 months of full-time study to complete. However, working students may want to pursue a part-time track. The New York University teacher residency takes one year to complete.

Admissions requirements/prerequisites

Standard graduate degree admissions requirements include submitting a personal essay or essays, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, undergraduate transcripts with a minimum GPA of 3.0, and your resume.

NYU reviews each applicant’s bachelor’s degree transcript to ensure that certain subject areas are covered. If you intend to pursue one of the school’s subject-specific tracks, such as English or math, you’ll need to have completed prerequisite undergraduate courses. Teaching experience is not a prerequisite for American University but it is “strongly recommended.”

Some programs require applicants to submit Praxis exam scores. This test is designed specifically for teachers and schools may use it in place of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), especially for those pursuing a subject-specific pathway. Requirements can differ for those seeking a special education credential At Rutgers University, for instance, prospective special education applicants must already hold a teaching license.

Curriculum

Though there’s no standard curriculum for MAT programs, you’ll learn pedagogy—including how to lesson plan for different learners— and subject-specific material. You’ll also gain classroom experience. For career-changers, MAT programs can lead to initial licensure after graduation.

Field experience is a significant aspect of the MAT curriculum. Individual states typically set their requirement hours.

Specialization

Potential MAT tracks include elementary education, early childhood education, English as a second language (ESL), special education instruction, and individual subjects (usually for high school teachers). Though more common in a Master of Education (MeD), you also can complete non-teaching-focused tracks like culturally diverse education, curriculum studies, and teacher leadership. In each, you’ll complete relevant coursework and fieldwork assignments.

What are the top schools that offer an MAT degree?

according to US News & World Report, top MAT/MST programs include:

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