Jennifer Sipe was excited about starting graduate school but anxious about how she was going to get everything done. A full-time teacher in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the mother of two young children, Sipe is used to planning a schedule and sticking with it. “Organization is key,” she says. “But I have to admit that getting back into ‘academic mode’ took more effort than I realized. It’s been a while since I’ve had to write a five-page paper using APA style!”

Sipe also had to adapt quickly to the many changes in technology since her undergraduate days. “Everything in my program is on Blackboard,” she says. “And I’m using apps I didn’t even know existed before I started taking courses.”

Today, nearly all states require additional training beyond a bachelor’s degree for teachers to achieve permanent certification or licensure. And some states even require that teachers obtain a master’s degree within a specified time period. So whether you’re returning to school for an advanced degree, national certification, administrative licensure, or simply additional training, there’s no question you will have to adjust to new educational demands and impositions on your schedule. With home and school commitments, you’ll need to plan carefully to find additional time to do everything.

Manage the Details

First, tell your principal that you are enrolled in courses so that she understands when you don’t volunteer to chair the discipline committee or chaperone the middle school dance. As teachers, we are often reluctant to say no to extracurricular requests, but you’ll need to be cautious about taking on additional responsibilities.

Resist the temptation to use school hours to prepare for your courses. To manage the time you spend preparing materials for your students, rely on tried-and-true units of instruction and use your planning time efficiently—some teachers choose to work in their rooms to avoid distractions like conversations in the faculty room.

Your decision to take classes needs the support of everyone in your family. Plan the week’s schedule together and include dentist appointments, athletic practices, dinner arrangements, and even that elusive exercise time for yourself. If personal time is not scheduled, it probably won’t happen.

Going back to school isn’t just about time; it’s also about money. Coming up with tuition can put a strain on your budget, and some teachers who receive stipends for coaching or other extra duties may find they cannot continue these activities if they are taking classes twice a week. Financial aid is rare for part-time study, and few schools reimburse teachers for tuition. On the other hand, you will eventually see a return on your investment; increased pay for graduate hours or an advanced degree will be part of your salary for years to come. In the short term, however, you will want to meet with an adviser at the beginning of your program so that you know exactly what courses are required, when they are offered, and what the entire program will cost.

Enjoy Your Personal Growth

Initially, you might view the additional coursework as a chore or an obligation. But this attitude can make a year or two of classes feel like drudgery, and expensive drudgery at that.

Instead, embrace the opportunity for personal and intellectual growth. Many  teachers say that taking courses allows them to look at their school with new eyes. You may learn about current research and programs that will change your own classroom behaviors. You will have access to the kinds of intellectually stimulating discussions that we don’t always get on the job.

Also, keep in mind that while it may test your patience at times, you will probably find yourself working more effectively with groups of people who have divergent points of view. By the end of your program you will have developed a cadre of colleagues and professional contacts for future endeavors or new opportunities. Despite the difficulties of going to school while working full time, many teachers actually miss the challenge when it’s over. As one of my former students recently told me, “It was a night out that was just mine to talk about interesting ideas with interesting people. You don’t get a lot of opportunities like that.” 

Suzanne Tingley is a former superintendent, principal, and teacher who writes about education issues. Her upcoming book is Smart Parents, Successful Kids.


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Image: Jeannie Phan