The Career Doctor™

Dear Career Doctor,

I have a degree in English and want to teach high school English literature. Should I go for my master's in English now, or should I try to get a job teaching, and work toward my NY state certification credentials?


Dear Darcy:

You wrote two weeks ago, and I was tempted to give you a quick, easy answer – telling you that you could have it all -- work while attending a masters program that includes certification. (The local library can help you research such programs.)

But a good answer to your question required more thought and a few questions. First, have you ever worked as a teacher? Your love of literature is a very important part of being a teacher -- but the love of adolescents, including the ones who think literature is very boring -- is what makes a happy teacher. So, whenever I work with a career counseling client who wants to teach, I always suggest that they at least spend a few days in a classroom observing or helping a teacher. Most teachers are happy to have the extra help. (If you don't know any English teachers, ask your local high school principal to arrange for you to help/observe a classroom for a few days.)

The second question concerns your stamina and finances: Can you afford to go to school instead of work? It is exhausting to work all day as a teacher and go to school at night. You will have your students' papers to grade and your own to write. That's quite a challenge. If you have a high energy level, it's possible. And, if you want to teach in New York City, there are programs that will pay for your Masters while you are working. But that leads to the last question:

Do you have experience leading groups of young people? The thing that defeats most new teachers is their inability to control a class. Students test new teachers. Most people need to be taught how to take charge. If you are planning to teach before getting some instruction in classroom management, make sure you work in a school that pairs new teachers with experienced teachers who act as mentors and coaches. Likewise, if you are planning to get your Masters before teaching, make sure your program gives enough instruction in classroom management. Unfortunately, not all Masters programs do this.

You are planning to enter a noble, rewarding and exhausting profession. Just make sure you have the tools and support every new teacher deserves.

The Career Doctor



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