To elaborate on the title of this article: not much beyond the walls of a school. I can attest to this. In recent months, I’ve sought high and low for a salaried gig (you know, just for something to supplement my wildly successful writing career). With no experience other than my work in schools, my Master’s degree is worth little. The jobs for which I qualify pay less than half of what I made teaching. No one seems to want me for any of these jobs, so the low pay doesn’t even get the chance to be an issue.
The lackluster versatility of a Master’s in education usually isn’t a problem for anyone who has one. Most people who get education degrees aim to teach for a living. Some enter the field with a Bachelor’s degree and stick around long enough to get a Master’s. Others enter laterally from other fields, adding a Master’s on top of some other degree. A Master’s in education is for people who want to teach. Most of these people don’t need to consider what else they could do with the degree.
An emerging problem might alter the way people view the Master’s in education. Evidence seems to point to decrease in the number of people who want to teach. Several states have been reporting decreasing enrollments in teacher training programs. The degree might become something fewer and fewer people even want. Meanwhile, many who have come to the field are becoming disillusioned with it. With teacher satisfaction reportedly plummeting, the potential exists for an exodus. This could send a glut of ex-teachers with Master’s degrees looking for second careers. Pickings could be slim for them.
Experience working in schools helps teacher develop what should be transferrable skills. Teachers have to be quick-thinking problem solvers. They have to have superb customer relations skills. Running a classroom demands splinter skills ranging from data management to ad hoc therapy. What working in a school doesn’t do is expose teachers to protocols and cultures of other fields. Teachers tend to become somewhat insulated from how anything outside of schools works. Employers apparently think this, even if it isn’t completely accurate. Despite the transferrable skills teaching might foster, some employers see former teachers as damaged goods.
Ex-teachers don’t starve, though. Many find work in industry as staff trainers. Some work for colleges and universities, sometimes as instructors, but more often as administrators. Still others become consultants, while a select few work for educational publishers. Doctoral candidates are often teachers seeking to use their existing degrees to leave the K through twelve hustle. A few discouraged teachers ditch the field entirely and move into sectors like insurance or real estate. Those who want to start in completely different fields either have to be extraordinarily deft at networking, or they have to go get new degrees.
An ex-teacher looking to use a Master’s in education for anything unrelated to education will find it has limited utility. Those supposedly transferrable skills don’t shine as brightly as does previous experience in sales or marketing. Training in IT or finance look much better in the competitive job market than a battery of pedagogy courses. The Master’s in education is good for jobs that have some relationship to the field, but many of these jobs aren’t going to offer even as much satisfaction or pay as teaching. Teachers could be in for a shock when they see what a drop off in salary waits for them in related human service-type fields.
Education isn’t the only field affected by this lack of transferability. Paralegals can’t just leap into nursing without jumping through some hoops. However, I’m guessing an engineer could break into teaching easier than a teacher could break into engineering. Complicating matters for everyone is the trend in higher education of granting highly specific degrees. Some Master’s degrees might be too specific to be practical. This might help in certain technical fields in which highly nuanced expertise is important. Otherwise, it seems more likely to help those higher education institutions who stand to profit from people having to continually acquire new degrees and certifications. I suppose this is a syndrome of the service economy.
Perhaps I’m completely off base about all of this. Maybe I’ve just had no luck finding a gig outside of education because I’m working under self-imposed limitations. I don’t own a car. I’m reticent to relocate. My work history has a few weird gaps. Networking kind of makes me sick. I’m holding to the crazy notion that I should be able to earn at least half of what I earned working in schools. A better title for this article might be “What a Master’s Degree in Education Gets Me.” I keep reading about other teachers who thrive after their teaching careers. Of course, I’ve also read stories about eight-foot-tall apes roaming North American forests.
I’ll close with this: seeking non-teaching jobs has made me almost completely dismissive of teachers who complain that they don’t get paid enough. Yes, I understand the notion of teachers deserving more for what they do, but I’m talking about the absolute value of their degrees combined with their experience. I’m talking about what worth they bring with them in the open job market. I invite those teachers who feel sour about their earnings to look for other work with their degrees to see what they can get. Of course, teachers know their earning ceiling when they sign up for the job. Of course, other degrees come with higher ceilings. Those with no degree at all sometimes can earn more than teachers. Even UPS drives can out earn them. Despite this, I don’t see much being available to teachers with Master’s degrees that will provide for them as well as teaching will. Considering all of this, someone has to really dislike this field to bail on it.