What makes a great teacher? When one researcher at Alabama State University posed this question to aspiring educators, the responses received were surprisingly similar. “She was the most creative teacher I have ever had!” wrote one; “I was never bored in his class,” wrote another. Over and over, respondents cited the ability to keep the class engaged.
That doesn’t happen by accident. The ability to maintain students’ attention, Richard M. Felder writes on the Stanford University Teaching Commons blog, requires identifiable skills: energy, creativity, and, above all, preparation.
How does one cultivate these qualities? A master’s degree in teaching is the traditional way to improve one’s classroom abilities. But which master’s degree is for you? The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or the Master of Science in Teaching (MST)?
Both are designed to teach teachers to teach (try saying that three times quickly), but their approaches vary. In theory, anyway.
The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) takes a creative, liberal arts-focused approach to pedagogy. A Master of Science in Teaching (MST), also trains instructors, but with a more empirical, science-based approach. At least that’s how it should work.
In practice, many schools offer only one degree or the other, with the degree designation depending primarily on how the university classifies teaching itself. The curriculum in such programs typically blends the aesthetic and scientific approaches, rendering the distinction between the MAT and MST blurry at best. To make things even more confusing, some universities offer both options. Even at some of these schools, it can be tough to tell the difference between the two degrees.
Both degrees allow students to focus on a wide range of subject matter as part of their teacher education. Where the two programs do occasionally differ, however, is that many MST programs place more emphasis on STEM subjects. This makes them a better choice for teachers of science, mathematics, and computer science.
Regardless of which degree you pursue, a master’s in teaching will provide the tools you need to become an effective teacher, one capable of engaging and inspiring students.
If you derive immense satisfaction from seeing students master challenging material; if you enjoy leading a classroom; if schools feel like home to you; then you are likely a born teacher. You love what you do, and you want to do it as well and as long as you can. An MST will advance your career in the profession you love.
Master of Science in Teaching programs impart pedagogical skills and strategies you can use in class. You’ll learn more, and more deeply, than you could in a certification or professional development program.
Not all Master of Science in Teaching programs focus on STEM education, but some do. If you’re committed to a career teaching science, technology, engineering, or math, there are MST programs out there that can help you:
The country faces a shortage of teachers in general, but the need is greatest in the STEM fields. An MST with a STEM focus can position you to take advantage of that trend.
With an MS in teaching, you can position yourself for leadership opportunities at a school or district. The degree may be able to help you advance to supervisory roles in academics or student services. A master’s degree also qualifies you for some administrative positions.
According to the Center for American Progress’ state-by-state report, a master’s can increase teacher salaries significantly. In Washington, for example, teachers receive a boost in salary of more than $10,000 after earning the degree. At the other extreme, Texas thinks a master’s is worth a mere $1,423. On average, a teacher with a master’s degree can earn 10 to 20 percent more per year than a teacher with just a bachelor’s.
MST programs typically have a field experience component, where you can practice what you’ve learned. As an MST student, you’ll work with a mentor and teach in the classroom together for a set time frame. Some programs even allow you to select your own mentor. Mentors and faculty support you during your field experience and help you reflect and improve before you move on to your own classroom. If you take a program online, you’ll work with an approved school district locally.
If you’re someone who is seeking a career change—or if you’re currently teaching—you can take advantage of flexible programs. You can work during the day and take classes at night or on the weekends. Or, you can find an online program that fits your interests. Fordham University offers an online MST with several different tracks, including early childhood education and childhood special education.
Universities often offer an option for students to earn a teaching certification and master’s simultaneously through a full-time program; this option takes about two years, including the field work experience. Some universities even offer working adults a full-time option; for example, McDaniel College offers convenient class times.
There is a constant shortage of teachers. According to a 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute, this shortage is “real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.”
The EPI cites a 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute that estimated the shortage at about 64,000. The same report estimated that by 2025, the United States could suffer a shortage of 316,000 new teachers.
A teacher would be fibbing if they told you that teaching is easy. It’s not—it’s hard. Creating lesson plans with engaging activities each day and keeping up with grading, among other administrative duties, are challenging. You’ll have days when your activities, however carefully planned, will fall flat. But on other days, you’ll see students who are working hard and inspired, and that’s gratifying.
A teaching career allows you to interact with people all day; some days students will gather around you after class, and you’ll feel like a rock star. Think Jack Black in School of Rock, or Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society—or, if math’s your thing, Edward James Olmos, who overcame obstacles in Stand and Deliver. While certainly Jack Black’s character did not have a master’s, he did have the passion. If you’ve got the drive, you can learn the rest. An MST program will help you learn.
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