Teaching Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree or PhD in teaching? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree or PhD and potential careers.
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Studying Teaching: Degrees at a Glance

A master's degree in teaching program prepares graduates for careers as K-12 teachers or principals. However, in most cases you'll also need to earn licensure before you can work. Many teachers begin their careers with bachelor's degrees and pursue their master's degrees while teaching; in fact, this is required in some states. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of elementary and middle school teachers would increase by 17% over the 2010-2020 decade, while employment of high school teachers would increase only 7%. Employment of K-12 principals was expected to increase 10% during the same time frame.

Completing a PhD program in teaching is an option if you want to pursue teaching at the university level or if you want to become a postsecondary education administrator. The BLS predicted that demand for postsecondary teachers would increase by 17% from 2010-2020, while demand for postsecondary education administrators would increase 19%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who hold bachelor's degrees and seek advancement in their teaching careers or wish to become school principals Master's degree holders who wish to become postsecondary education administrators or teach students at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Elementary school teachers, except special education ($55,000)*
-Preschool, kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers ($56,000)*
-Middle school teachers, excluding career and special education teachers ($56,000)*
-Middle school special education teachers ($58,000)*
-Secondary school teachers, excluding career/technical and special education teachers ($59,000)*
-Secondary school special education teachers ($59,000)*
-Elementary and secondary school education administrators ($90,000)*
-Postsecondary teachers ($65,000)*
-Postsecondary education administrators ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 1-1.5 years full-time, 2 years part-time 3-4 years full-time, up to 8 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements -Roughly 7-11 courses
-Student teaching experience
-Independent research
-Approximately 15 courses
-Comprehensive exams
Prerequisites -Bachelor's degree -Master's degree
-GRE scores
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Teaching

Before entering a master's degree in teaching program, you must complete an extensive application process. Most programs require candidates to possess a 3.0 GPA or above in their undergraduate coursework. Programs also require that you have majored in or have completed some coursework in the content area in which you wish to teach. In some cases, you are required to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or state-specific educator test scores. An autobiographical statement, letters of recommendation and a writing test may be also be requested by certain colleges.

One you're enrolled in your master's degree program, you can expect to take courses that focus on acquiring a deep understanding of your chosen subject area. In order to fulfill graduation requirements, you'll also need to successfully complete a student teaching internship in a classroom setting. Completing a master's degree program can lead to a higher salary and career advancement opportunities, but if you are a teacher, a bachelor's degree may be all that is needed.

Pros and Cons


  • Teachers in public schools who hold master's degrees typically receive a higher level of pay than those with bachelor's degrees.
  • Opportunities for advancement exist for teachers wishing to move into administrative roles, such as principal.
  • Teachers who specialize in mathematics, sciences or special education are usually in high demand.


  • Most teaching positions in the public school system can be obtained by having a bachelor's degree. Teachers who hold master's degrees usually earn it over time as part of their continuing education hours.
  • According to the BLS, graduates pursuing positions as elementary, middle or high school principals can expect an average amount of growth in the field from 2010 to 2020.
  • Teachers who hold master's degrees are not immune to layoffs and may see their jobs disappear in the event of an economic downturn.

Common Courses and Requirements

As a master's degree student, you'll take courses in cultural diversity, decision making, learning and instruction. Master's degree program courses are integrated with opportunities to observe and teach students in classroom settings. Some common areas you may specialize in include biology, history, mathematics, literature or special education. This is more common for teachers who plan to teach at the secondary level than at the elementary level.

Courses you might expect to take at the master's level include:

  • Assessment principles
  • Decision making in teaching
  • Child abuse and related issues
  • Diversity in the classroom
  • Behavioral management in the classroom

You'll also be required to complete multiple field experiences and a student teaching internship. The internship part of the program allows you to gradually gain full control of classroom responsibilities under the guidance of a mentor teacher.

Online Degree Options

There are many online degree options for students pursuing master's degrees in teaching. Some programs allow you to take all of your courses and earn your degree completely online. Other programs are offered in a hybrid format, with some courses offered online and others on campus. Accredited online degree programs and courses offer flexibility and are often geared towards students who hold full-time jobs, parents and returning students.

Online courses can be taken for credit and are usually transferable to other schools. It is important to always double check with the school you plan on transferring to before enrolling in an online course. Most online courses cost less than those held at campus locations and can reduce the amount of money spent on tuition.

Stand Out with this Degree

While completing your master's degree, you can consider volunteering in local schools. This will help you practice what you've learned in the classroom while getting to know teachers and principals. It could also be a good networking opportunity. Another way to stand out is to keep current with the technology used in classrooms. Smart boards, computer programs and electronic textbooks are becoming increasingly common in many classrooms. Knowing how to use these devices will set you apart from other candidates.

PhD in Teaching

Obtaining a PhD in Teaching requires a significant amount of dedication. Graduates with PhDs are eligible for positions as professors at the university level, researchers, deans or provosts. To gain admission to a PhD program, you'll usually need to submit your GRE scores, a current resume, letters of recommendation and a written statement. Some schools may also require that you have a minimum amount of teaching experience in addition to a master's degree. Admission to PhD programs is usually competitive, and you're encouraged to apply early.

PhD coursework focuses heavily on research methods, in-depth teaching strategies and issues facing educators. Earning a PhD is a huge accomplishment that allows graduates to pursue job opportunities in teaching and research. PhD coursework can be intensive and time consuming. Depending on an individual's circumstances it could take up to 8 years to complete a program.

Pros and Cons


  • Graduates who have completed PhD programs can pursue opportunities teaching students at the university level.
  • Opportunities to conduct research and create academic curricula are available to graduates with PhDs.
  • Graduates may feel accomplished and distinguished after earning a PhD.


  • Completing a PhD program can be costly and time consuming. Some students never finish their degrees due to extenuating circumstances.
  • According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers had a median salary of $62,000 in 2010. Graduates may not feel fairly compensated after earning a PhD.
  • For graduates seeking employment at the university level, it can take up to 7 years to obtain tenure.

Courses and Requirements

A PhD in Teaching program offers you an intensive course of study that prepares you to become a leader in the field of education. Earning a PhD is a lengthy process that requires you to complete in-depth courses, exams and a final dissertation to receive your degree. PhD programs focus heavily on conducting research and being able to accurately convey findings. You need to pass a preliminary exam to assess your writing skills. You also need to complete a research practicum, which requires the oral and written presentation of a journal-length research paper.

Common courses that you may take in a PhD program include:

  • The psychology of teaching
  • Literacy in sociocultural contexts
  • The nature of knowledge
  • Quantitative research in education
  • Issues in literacy acquisition and development

The final step in completing your program is to research and complete a dissertation. Once a dissertation proposal has been accepted, a time will be scheduled for you to orally present your findings. This final requirement is often known as a dissertation defense.

Online Degree Options

Online programs leading to a PhD in Teaching are not available. Certain courses or schools offering hybrid programs may exist, but they are rare in nature. Most programs require you to attend classes on campus.

Stand Out with this Degree

After earning your PhD in Teaching, you can set yourself apart from the crowd by staying abreast of the latest developments in technology. Learning how to use Smart boards, projectors and computer applications can help aspiring university professors gain employment since these are often used on the job.

If your goal is to obtain a position in research or curriculum development, you could work to get your name in publications. Employers like to see candidates who have had their research published.

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