The mere thought of trying to balance full-time teaching with getting a master’s degree may make you want to hide in your reading nook. To help, we decided to get the real scoop from five teachers who got their degrees while teaching full time. They promise that with some ingenuity (and a whole lot of caffeine), it is possible to balance life, work, and school. Here are their best tips:
1. Take chips-and-guacamole weekends.
“I declared the first weekend of every month my chips-and-guacamole weekend. I cleared my schedule and checked into a hotel with nothing but my pajamas, a bag of chips, and a carton of guacamole. Then I spent two days doing all of my school work. I read articles and books, wrote papers, researched, and watched lectures. Setting aside the time to really focus on graduate school made the rest of my crazy schedule feel much more manageable.” —Maria Z.
2. Meet your new best friends: audiobooks and Siri.
“I had a really hard time staying caught up with all of the reading I had to do when I was getting my master’s degree, so I came up with a somewhat quirky system. Most of the books I needed for my classes were available as audiobooks from the library, so I downloaded them onto my phone. I would listen while I was folding laundry, cleaning the house, taking long walks, riding the train to work—pretty much anytime I had a free moment. Whenever something I wanted to remember came up, I would pause the audiobook and ask Siri to take a note about it. At the end of the day, I would compile my notes from the day’s ‘reading’ as a review of what I read. I probably looked like a crazy person talking into my phone all the time, but it worked! I graduated with honors.” —Matt M.
3. Use your lesson-planning expertise.
“When my first grad-school paper was assigned and I saw that the due date was two months away, I was tempted to shove it to the back of my desk. Instead, I did something very teacher-y: I busted out my lesson-planning book and made a lesson plan for myself. Using my guide, I worked through the paper first with some research sessions, then some brainstorming, then drafting, then a final draft. I finished it well before the due date. I was in bed by 10 pm on the night before it was due, which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure if I [had fallen] asleep in class after an all-nighter, my kindergarteners wouldn’t [have done] so well on their own.” —Justin H.
4. Choose a program and a topic that you really love.
“Everybody gave me advice on what type of master’s degree program to go into. Some people recommended education administration because it has more money. Others recommended literacy because there is a need for literacy instructors. Then my friend suggested that I spend some time writing down the things that truly make me feel joy. For me, it was languages and travel, so I applied to a bilingual-education program. I was excited to come home and study every day because I was so interested in the content. (To be fair, the free-refill VIP membership to my local coffee shop helped quite a bit, too.)” —Megan F.
If you share Megan’s love for wanting to create a bilingual classroom, check out this video.
5. Bribe yourself.
“If you’re a teacher, then you know the power of a good bribe positive reinforcement. Well, I can attest that it works for adults, too. When I was in grad school, I spent Sunday afternoon creating a plan for the week with reasonable goals. Then, I bribed myself to get it done. If I read and annotated three chapters on Tuesday, I treated myself to a skinny vanilla latte. If I managed to complete a massive research project, I rewarded myself with a trip to my favorite sushi restaurant. The rewards didn’t give me more time, but they definitely gave me motivation to find time.” —Kim C.
Above all else, every teacher we talked to told us that the key to balance is giving yourself a whole lot of grace. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to get tired, to take a breather, and to really concentrate on the things that matter and let the other things slide a bit. Give yourself the respect you deserve because while it’s a lot, it’s worth it!
Are you feeling inspired? Learn about some of our favorite master’s degree programs in bilingual education from Universidad Europea del Atlántico. As you consider going back to school, we wish you endless energy, multiplying time, and a lifetime supply of chips and guac. You’ve got this.