Elementary Education

Everything You Need to Know About Earning a Master’s in Elementary Education Online

Everything You Need to Know About Earning a Master’s in Elementary Education Online
There are different kinds of master's degrees focused on elementary education. All cover topics relevant to instructors and administrators working in institutions for children in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry May 6, 2020

Grade school teachers work hard, but most aren't paid enough to make taking time off for grad school feasible. Earning a master's in elementary education online is one way elementary ed teachers can enhance their skills and prospects without sacrificing income.

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Teachers at the elementary level are more than just instructors. They have to be gentle disciplinarians, continually reminding their naturally rambunctious charges to focus on their work. They have to stand in for parents when their young students skin a knee or lose a tooth. They have to answer hundreds of oddball questions each day. Interruptions threaten to derail every lesson; students in elementary ed classrooms have notoriously short attention spans.

Some might say that only extraordinary people have what it takes to thrive in challenging K-5 classrooms, and that may be true. There is, however, no shortage of master’s in elementary education programs available to them. These programs are designed to give grade-school instructors the skills and knowledge they’ll need to:

  • Become the best teachers they can possibly be
  • Design better curricula for elementary-level classrooms
  • Take on administrative and leadership roles at elementary schools

Some of these master’s in elementary education programs can even be completed entirely online, an ideal option for working teachers who can’t or would prefer not to take time off to earn a degree.

The jury’s still out on whether having a master’s degree can really make someone a better teacher. Still, there are plenty of good reasons to look into going back to school—like increased earning potential and the ability to transition into leadership positions. If you can do it without spending time away from your students, all the better.

In this article about earning a master’s in elementary education online, we cover:

  • Do all elementary school teachers get master’s degrees?
  • Are there different kinds of elementary education master’s degrees?
  • What will I study when I earn a master’s in elementary education online?
  • Where can I find the top online master’s in elementary education programs?
  • Is it possible to earn an accelerated master’s in elementary education online?
  • What schools offer the least expensive online master in elementary education programs?
  • Are online master’s in elementary education programs respected?
  • What are the benefits of earning a master’s in elementary education online?

Do all elementary school teachers get master’s degrees?

Requirements vary significantly from state to state. Most states require that teachers working in K-12 schools have a bachelor’s degree in education and pass the PRAXIS exams. Some, however, allow instructors to teach with a subject-specific bachelor’s degree, provided they commit to getting an education degree within a set period of time.

Other states require that teachers pass state exams before they can get a teaching license. To become a teacher in Ohio, for instance, instructors must pass the Ohio Assessments for Educators (OAE) exam, while Massachusetts teachers must pass the Communications and Literacy Skill MTEL test.

Only a few states require elementary school teachers to have master’s degrees in education. Still, you should be aware that the number of states requiring teachers to eventually earn a master’s degree to maintain full professional licensure is increasing. The number of teachers earning master’s degrees is also increasing. There may come a time when all public school teachers need to have master’s degrees.

For now, however, having a master’s in elementary education is optional if you’re working in a state that doesn’t require K-5 teachers to have advanced degrees. A bachelor’s degree in elementary education will get you into the classroom. If you’re driven to pursue a graduate degree, you can earn a master’s in elementary education online or on-campus in whatever timeframe works for you.

Check your state’s department of education website for details on local requirements.

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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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Are there different kinds of elementary education master’s degrees?

There are different kinds of master’s degrees focused on elementary education. All cover topics relevant to instructors and administrators working in institutions for children in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. A grade school teacher might earn a Master of Science (MS) in Elementary Education, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Elementary Education, or a Master’s in Education (MEd) in Elementary Education”—all of which can be earned online. While some people assume MAT and MEd degrees differ in name only, each of these degree pathways is designed to support different career goals:

  • MS in Elementary Education programs are typically designed for licensed teachers with bachelor’s degrees in education who want to enhance their teaching skills. Depending on the program, the curriculum might include educational technology, assessment strategies, and curriculum development. These programs typically last two to three years. They often include a research component.
  • MAT in Elementary Education programs are teaching degrees designed to help aspiring teachers obtain licensure. Students in these one- to two-year programs often have bachelor’s degrees unrelated to teaching and are looking to change careers. The curriculum in these programs covers teaching methods, and programs culminate in a full-time student teaching experience.
  • MEd in Elementary Education programs are geared toward teachers who want to transition into administrative or leadership positions in education. Some licensed teachers remain in the classroom after earning an MEd, but many others become curriculum designers, counselors, vice principals and principals, and consultants.

What will I study when I earn a master’s in elementary education online?

The answer to this question depends on the degree you choose, your concentration, and how the college or university you select approaches these degrees. The MAT program at one school can look a lot like the MEd program at another, which might be nearly identical to the Master of Science program at a third school.

In all types of elementary education master’s programs, students take courses designed to expand their understanding of how young students typically approach subjects like language arts, science, and mathematics. Programs also cover developmental concepts, pedagogical theories, curriculum design, and teaching methods and practices. As you pursue a master’s degree in elementary education, you may take classes like:

  • Child Development
  • Classroom Management Strategies
  • Cultural Issues in Education
  • Curriculum Development
  • Educational Leadership
  • Educational Research
  • Foundations in Literacy
  • Methods of Teaching in Elementary School
  • Management Practices for Elementary Classrooms
  • Philosophies of Teaching

You’ll also likely be required to complete one or more action research projects in your own classroom and/or an internship or practicum course designed to allow you to hone your leadership and teaching skills in a real-world setting. At American University, for example, students complete a semester-long practicum that involves spending two days per week in a local classroom. Be aware that some MAT and MEd programs for distance learners help students find placements while others expect students to find internships on their own.

Where can I find the top online master’s in elementary education programs?

Some of the top online master’s in elementary education programs can be found at the following schools:

Is it possible to earn an accelerated master’s in elementary education online?

Earning a master’s in elementary education online typically takes 24 months of full-time study or longer when students are enrolled part-time. There are, however, accelerated online master’s in elementary education programs at these universities:

What schools offer the least expensive online master in elementary education programs?

The cost of an online elementary education master’s degree depends on several factors, but students typically pay anywhere from $8,000 to $22,000 in total tuition through graduation. The programs at the following schools are some of the most affordable around:

As you research colleges and universities that offer online elementary education master’s degree programs, make sure to check whether distance learners pay in-state or out-of-state tuition rates. At some schools, online students pay additional technology fees that make studying online more expensive than studying on campus.

Are online master’s in elementary education programs respected?

There are some fields where online graduate degrees are still treated as less valuable than degrees earned in on-campus programs, but education isn’t one of them. How you studied probably won’t matter when you’re looking for new positions after earning a master’s in elementary education—especially if you’re already a licensed teacher.

If you’re thinking about pursuing an online MAT in Elementary Education so you can become a licensed teacher, however, you need to be extra careful when choosing a program. “Students should really look at what their goal is in a master’s program,” Claudia Rinaldi, chairwoman​ of the education department at Lasell College told US News and World Report. “If they are looking to increase their knowledge level, then an online master’s will do—if they are looking to get an additional endorsement​, it is critical that they look at the requirements of the state.”

What are the benefits of earning a master’s in elementary education online?

People choose online master’s degree programs for many reasons, but flexibility is probably top among them. Many teachers can’t take time off to go back to school and some of those who could prefer not to. Studying online allows teachers to continue teaching while learning, which means they can sometimes apply what they’ve learned immediately in the classroom. They’re also able to continue to meet any other existing personal and professional commitments.

In other words, earning a master’s in elementary education online gives elementary school teachers and aspiring elementary school teachers who might have had trouble going to graduate school access to the benefits of an MAT, MEd, or MS in Education. Knowledge is one of those benefits, but for many, the biggest benefit of all is the salary increase. The average master’s in elementary education salary boost is about $2,800 in the first year after graduation and about $7,400 annually when a teacher maxes out their earning potential. If you transition into administration after earning an elementary ed master’s, you could earn even more, making this a graduate degree that truly can pay for itself.

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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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