Teaching

Is a Master’s in Educational Theatre Worth it?

Is a Master’s in Educational Theatre Worth it?
At private or charter schools, earning potential may depend on attainment of a master's degree, longevity at the school, or a combination of both. Image from Unsplash
Melanie Harrison profile
Melanie Harrison June 24, 2019

If you want to teach theatre in schools, is a master's degree the best use of your time and money?

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A master’s in educational theatre can open doors to numerous career opportunities. As New York University-Steinhardt explains, educational theatre “builds on your performing skills to help you become an educator in schools, cultural institutions, and community settings.”

In other words, graduates can teach in plenty of settings beyond the classroom and school auditorium holding roles as drama program directors, museum administrators, youth counselors, and more.

Becoming a theatre teacher—in public schools, charter schools, and private schools—is among the most popular options for graduates, but is a master’s in educational theatre worth it?

Who might consider a master’s in educational theatre?

The teaching artist

If your goal is to become a career teaching artist — i.e. a working actor or director who also teaches part-time — you do not necessarily need a master’s in educational theatre, as most teaching artist positions do not require a master’s degree. The credential may improve your chances of getting hired for some positions, but there are also plenty for which it won’t.

However, if you eventually want to transition into an administrative or management position within a teaching artist organization, a master’s degree may boost your qualifications.

Studying educational theatre at the graduate level will equip you with new pedagogical tools and immerse you in a community of like-minded educators. Still, if you have sufficient access to resources through your place of work or if you are proactive about seeking out resources like the Teaching Artist Guild or Project Zero, you may be able to sustain a long, healthy career as a teaching artist without investing in a master’s degree.

In short, for the teaching artist, the master’s in educational theatre is nice to have, but not essential.

The public school theatre teacher

If you plan to teach theatre in public schools, you will need a teacher certification. In New York state, for example, teaching candidates can attain initial certification by completing an “approved teacher preparation program.” For those with bachelor’s degrees in areas outside of education, enrolling in an approved graduate program is the traditional pathway to certification.

Master’s in educational theatre programs at New York University-Steinhardt, The City College of New York, and Adelphi University are all approved teacher preparation programs in New York state.

Candidates who cannot or do not wish to enroll in an approved teacher preparation program may seek initial certification through individual evaluation, for which they must demonstrate a minimum undergraduate GPA, an array of undergraduate liberal arts coursework, and documented teaching experience.

However, all New York state teachers are expected to progress from initial certification to professional certification within five years, and professional certification requires “successful completion of an appropriate master’s degree“.

So, even though initial certification is possible without a master’s degree, all New York state public school teachers need one eventually.

In New York state, public school teachers need to pass licensure exams. Approved master’s in education programs offer preparatory resources for those exams and, as such, may be the fastest track to certification as well as the safest way to maintain certification.

As with all matters relating to public education, the process varies from state to state. More states are requiring teachers to hold a master’s degree, but, if your state doesn’t, the investment might not be worthwhile.

The private or charter school theatre teacher

Private or charter schools do not usually require a master’s degree or certification for initial hiring. Job postings from both private and charter schools almost always list a bachelor’s degree as “required” and often list a master’s degree as “preferred.” Although policies vary by state, many charter schools eventually require certification from all teachers or from a certain proportion of their teachers. As mentioned, maintaining certification may require a master’s degree.

Some charter schools that require master’s degrees will partner with graduate schools in order to subsidize employee education (for example, the KIPP charter school network partners with Relay Graduate School of Education). In this case, you can follow the sponsor’s approved master’s program, which usually focuses on elementary or secondary education, rather than pursuing a master’s degree specifically in educational theatre.

Private schools are independent of the state certification system. Schools that prefer teachers who hold master’s degrees are probably more interested in your pedagogical development (impressing parents) than in your eventual certification.

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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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How much do you earn with a master’s in educational theatre?

A master’s degree can also significantly impact a teacher’s salary. In New York City, for example, where public school theatre teachers’ salaries are scaled exactly the same as all other classroom teachers, the salary differential between a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and a new teacher with a master’s degree is about $7,000.

According to the Center for American Progress, the median boost to teacher pay nationwide for earning a master’s is $5,192 (state-level increases range from $1,423 in Texas to $10,777 in Washington).

At private or charter schools, earning potential may depend on attainment of a master’s degree, longevity at the school, or a combination of both. If your school does not require a master’s, you may be better off accruing years of teaching experience rather than investing a chunk of your salary (and time) in a master’s degree.

So, is a master’s degree in educational theatre worth it?

If you have the time and resources to attend a master’s program in educational theatre, the choice is simple: go for it. A master’s degree will enhance your craft and help you to forge lifelong professional, artistic, and personal connections.

If you’re lacking time, resources, or both, the decision isn’t so simple. There are many ways to establish a healthy career as a theatre educator without a master’s degree, as well as resources to hone your teaching practices, including online courses, local theatre companies, and tapping colleagues at other schools. A master’s in educational theatre is a streamlined path to a career as a theatre teacher, but it’s not the only option.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

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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