Elementary Education: Picking a Graduate School

[flickr id=”6208448426″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

Once I knew that I wanted to pursue my masters, I have to admit that I hoped for a bit of quick clarity in choosing the school I would attend. I wish I could say that simply knowing I wanted to go back to school was enough to inherently point me to the right program, but that was not the case. After all that soul-searching (What do I want to do?), came even more soul searching (Where do I want to learn to do it?).

Here are some of the questions I considered:

  • If networking is a large component of graduate school, how will the program’s location impact my teaching career?
  •  If I want to be an urban teacher (but I don’t want to live in New York or LA), how feasible would it be for me to consider programs outside of the Chicago area?
  • Do I want to go the traditional route, or are there alternative programs that would better suit my learning style?
  • Is the program full-time or part-time? If the program is part-time, will I realistically be able to keep a full-time job? If the program is full-time, how will I pay for it?
  • How long will the program realistically take? What prerequisites are required of me before I start?
  • What is the focus of the program? What kind of teacher will I be when I complete it?
  • What is the curriculum’s approach? Will I be getting a hand’s on, “how to be a teacher” education, or will it be more theoretical in nature?

[flickr id=”6208448478″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

I asked these questions about each program that I considered and started crossing off programs if they didn’t share my priorities: a high value of the arts, a curriculum that offers a hands on approach to teaching, a program that would give me a bit of room to discover my own teaching style, an urban city (and an urban focused program), and the ability to network in the community. And that list of schools? It got a lot smaller quite quickly.

I did narrow my list down to two viable (and very different) options. The other school I considered was an alternative program. I would have taken graduate courses for 40 hours a week over the summer and then been in a classroom as an assistant starting in the fall. The assistant role was salaried, the program took just one year to complete, and at the end of it I would have had a master’s degree and a four year commitment to a school in the CPS system. Monetarily it seemed like a great option, but on interview day the program did not feel like a good fit. The instruction style of all the teachers coming out of the program was prescribed.  They molded urban teachers who would be extremely strict, rigorous, and would not have any room to bring their individual style into the classroom. In fact, it seemed like any individual teaching style was rooted out. I knew quite clearly that this was not the kind of teacher I wanted to be, or the way that I wanted to learn about being a teacher.

[flickr id=”6208448330″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

I’m happy to say that I know I made the right choice and that feeling has been reinforced as I’ve progressed through the first month of classes. I was awarded the Follett Graduate Merit Award, so the majority of my school expenses have been covered. Classes are at night, so I have also been able to work part-time and expand my teaching portfolio. Although things have worked out for me, I am really glad that I did take the time to investigate my options and ask questions. If you’re reading this post and thinking about Columbia, please feel free to email me so I can help you answer any questions that you have!

See you next week!