Making the unmanageable manageable: studying for a masters alongside teaching

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I embarked on a distance learning Masters in Education. As a teacher I want to be as well-informed as I can be. My inspiration? When I was a school student myself, it was teachers who had a genuine passion for education and imparting knowledge that in turn fuelled my passion for their subjects. Although a Masters is not essential for enthusiastic teaching, it was the right thing for me. Indeed, earning my Maters has benefitted not only myself, but also colleagues and, most importantly, my students. I feel excited to try new approaches and better equipped to contribute to curriculum discussions. For me, being better-informed gives me confidence to contribute.

When I decided to apply for the Masters, I didn’t exactly shout it in the staff room during rush hour, but I did let a few colleagues know. While everyone thought it was a great idea, and some shared their own experiences of gaining additional qualifications, most queried whether it was the right time. I was about to start my ECT induction years and my colleagues’ concern was that the workload would become unmanageable. Were they proved correct? Although, of course a Masters requires time and attention, finding time after my working day to commit to my studies wasn’t as difficult as many first feared.

Partly this was due to the flexibility offered by a distance learning programme. This allowed me to juggle my professional and academic commitments in a way that suited my own context and time. I was very well-planned, a must, but the work was definitely manageable. My planning system was simple- I worked backwards from a submission deadline, breaking the final assignment into chunks, and breaking the chunks into smaller tasks, to complete in the time available.

It is strange being classed as a student outside work, and then walking into my classroom every day as a teacher. I do take advantage and claim a student discount every so often! However, this has been an invaluable opportunity for reflection on the experience of being a learner. I can relate to students so much more so when they talk to me about managing their workload- this has been especially relevant when talking to my sixth formers. I truly understand the pressures of juggling multiple demands they are experiencing.

Of my learning itself, this has been invaluable. I specialised in applied linguistics and teaching and learning. This provided me with broad experiences in conducting pupil voice, pedagogies to promote literacy and English language, which further improved my skills in my own area of interest; supporting disadvantaged learners. The academic development has had hugely positive impacts on my classroom practice.

As I near the end of my Masters, I look forwards to continued research through an Ed.D and other forms of CPD. Of course financial realities mean any further study will have to be completed alongside my professional role. However the experience of studying for a Masters whilst teaching has encouraged me further to nourish my own love of learning, as much as anything to develop my students’ love of learning.

If you’re considering applying for a Masters or any other CPD, I would say go for it! Of course it is a commitment, but remember that it was your love of learning that brought you to teaching in the first place. Moreover, investing in yourself is also an investment in your students. As a teacher, you are used to making the unmanageable manageable anyway!


Oli is a Teacher of Religious Education and Post-16 RE and Core RE Coordinator in the West Midlands

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