An advanced degree is a great way to advance your career – especially in the field of education. If you’re interested in moving from the classroom into administration and taking your career to the next level, you’ll need a Master’s or Doctorate degree to get you there. Most graduate education programs allow you to earn your degree while working full-time – but heading back to school while you've already got a full-time job is no walk in the park. In order to meet the challenges of grad school while continuing to excel in your teaching position, you’ll need to find a healthy work-life balance. Make the most of your time – and your job – with these tips to organize, strategize and succeed:
Inform your school that you’re going back to school. The first step is to get your administrators and colleagues on your side. Most districts encourage teachers to pursue higher degrees and improve their teaching skills. Getting those “higher-ups” on board with your plans from the start is important for fostering communication and building good relationships. Letting your fellow teachers know your plans is also essential, especially if you need to rely on someone to cover an after-school obligation so you can leave a little early on exam day, for instance.
Combine forces. When possible, let your classwork overlap with your schoolwork. For example, if you have a class that asks you to develop curriculum and lesson plans, design a plan that works for your students, too. Doing double duty will save you time and cut back on your stress. Not only is this a timesaver, but it provides you with “real world” feedback that can help make you a better student, as well as demonstrate to your instructors that you're fully involved in your classwork. Plus, you can gather data that you may be able to use in any follow-up reports you may need to create for your own classwork.
Get comfortable with saying “no” to extracurricular activities. Between your job, your classes, and your family and personal obligations, your time is going to be stretched thin. Don't make things more difficult by offering to chaperone a dance, chair a committee, advise a club or coach a team. It may be difficult to say no (especially if there's a stipend involved), but it's important not only to your success at work and in school, but also for managing your overall stress levels.
Come early – and stay late. To avoid distractions at home, tack on study time to the beginning or end of your workday at school. One of the problems of going back to school once you have a spouse or kids is trying to find some quiet time at home to do your work without continual distractions. But if you can arrange your schedule so you can arrive at work early or stay late, you can use the relative seclusion of your classroom or school library to minimize distractions, stay focused and get your coursework done. That said, you’ll also need to:
Set strict boundaries. Don't use work hours to study or complete your own homework. One of the surest ways to annoy your superiors is to let your workday obligations suffer. Avoid the temptation to use prep periods to work on your own homework and focus instead on the things they actually pay you to do: grading, preparing lessons and other work-related duties.
One more tip – don't forget to reward yourself on a regular basis for achieving even small goals. Combining teaching with grad school isn't easy; by looking forward to small rewards, it'll be easier to stay on track and push forward to your next goal.
Need more pointers for better time management in a Master’s program? Check out our post “How to Create Work-School-Life Balance” for some tips on getting organized, setting priorities and managing your sanity.