Dear Sarah,

I have a question. Why should I pursue a master’s degree? I mean, it’s nice to have but in the end it’s not that much difference in my pay.


Advanced Degree or Not?

Dear Advanced Degree or Not,

There have been two times I’ve had to ask myself this question, wrestle to find an answer. One time I said, “yes” and the other time I said, “no.” Interestingly enough, the reasons for the different answers were more similar than I would have guessed. Here’s what happened.

The first time I asked myself this question, the answer came relatively quickly. I was a first year teacher and knew, even then, I wanted a master’s degree. I didn’t want it for the kick in salary (because like you said, it matters, but not so much that it’s a no-brainer), but because I knew I needed to extend my learning. The tougher choice for me at that point was the kind of degree I wanted to pursue. There was the administrative track, which I quickly set aside knowing that I couldn’t possibly be ready to move a school when I was still learning how to move individual students. There was the curriculum track, which I also set aside for similar reasons. There was the popular masters in education, which many teachers pursued and helped them think about their classrooms differently. Or there was the non-education related degree, the one I ultimately chose: a Masters in Literature.

It was the right choice for me because I knew what I most needed out of an advanced degree at that time was a keener insight into the content I was teaching. I needed to struggle the way I was asking my students to struggle. I needed to write more papers and this time pay attention to my process. I needed to read more complex literature and note how I muddled through it so I could teach with more clarity of process. Getting that advanced degree changed me as a teacher because it’s how I learned the language of struggle, the language my students needed me to speak.

Like many things, getting an advanced degree can be a series of hoops to jump through or the doorway of perception. That first experience was most certainly one of doorways and I count it as one of the three most important professional growth experiences of my career.

Almost as soon as I finished that degree I started wondering about another one. I started wondering if the Ph.D. was next and what shape it could take. I fumbled through research and conversations and pro/con lists for years. There’s no way the bump in salary would ever match the cost of the degree, so I quickly took that out of the equation. Instead, I started wondering what I wanted out of the degree.

  • I didn’t want to move to teach at the university level, but I wanted a place to channel what I was learning about the classroom and about this craft.
  • I didn’t want the title, but I did want to keep learning and growing and challenging myself.
  • I wanted the collegiality of a cohort of like-minded learners, but I didn’t want to give up the leadership roles in my own school I’d taken on.
  • I wanted to make room for the new challenge, but I wasn’t quite ready for the sacrifices it would mean.

I continued to vacillate until several years ago I had the opportunity to fulfill a full-ride scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. I went back to my list of wondering and I realized, the advanced degree alone wouldn’t make me a better teacher. And that’s what I most wanted. To become a better teacher. So I gave up leadership roles in my own school, I sought out new like-minded learners, I created challenges for myself and I accepted the ones in front of me. I created my own kind of advanced learning.

Believe me, I’m a huge proponent of educators continuing their education. I still really want that next degree. Many of my best friends and most respected colleagues have them or are getting them. But when you choose to do, do it for the right reasons because it’s not the advanced degree as much as how you’re willing to be changed by it.

Teach openly,
With Teacher2Teacher



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