In the past, K-12 educational institutions did not want their entry level teachers to have graduate degrees. Most teacher contracts had low starting salaries with more money going to those who had more education. While this is still the case, school districts have changed their way of thinking. Some of this is due to the current political climate and government regulations and some is due to the local financial situation.
In 2001, the federal government passed the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). This law requires that all teachers be highly qualified in their subject area, which means that a teacher will have at least 30 credit hours within the subject area one teaches. One of the results of these federal regulations is that many states have begun to require that teachers have a Master’s degree within ten years of receiving a teaching license. Thus, teachers can no longer enter the field and continue to teach with their bachelor’s degree for their entire career. Since the Master’s degree is now a state requirement, schools and districts are more likely to hire an entry level teacher who is already beyond the requirement. Moreover, the teacher who begins to teach at the Master’s level has fewer distractions than the teacher who must be working on the higher degree while maintaining a full-time teaching schedule.
From a local perspective, school districts have begun to see that it is financially more sound to hire teachers at the master’s level than it is to hire at the bachelor’s level. Why? When a district hires a teacher, that district is taking the risk that the teacher will continue to teach for an extended number of years. A master’s level teacher is considered to be more committed and stable, and thus, a safer long-term investment for the school. It takes money to hire new employees. There are costs involved to advertise, interview, hire and process a new employee. If a teacher is hired and then decides not to continue one’s career after a year or several years, the school must go through the hiring process over again. For example, when I began teaching 11 years ago, I was hired with another teacher who had just graduated with his bachelor’s degree. I had received my master’s degree. After one year, my colleague decided that he did not want to teach anymore and became a landscaper. I have been there ever since. In the end, the teacher who was hired to replace this one-year teacher had a master’s degree, and again, she remains in our school to this day.
Studying for and receiving a Master’s degree may seem to be a great expense and a real hassle. However, someone who is committed to a career in education is much better off receiving that degree before entering the field. This is because of the political and governmental requirements of education staff and the long-term needs of our school systems.