Guide to Master of Arts in Teaching Degrees

We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master.
--Maria Montessori

What Is a Master of Arts in Teaching?

The future depends on teachers. Classrooms all over the world are full of tomorrow's politicians, doctors, artists, parents, and scientists. Students look to teachers not only for information, but also for inspiration and the motivation to learn, do more, and grow into effective and successful adults.

The field of teaching and education is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the world's increasing population of students. In order to remain relevant and successful, teachers must always strive to learn more about the subjects they teach and to keep abreast of educational research and technological advancements in schools.

The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) allows teachers at all levels to broaden and deepen their knowledge and instructional skills. MAT degree programs are designed to help new or experienced teachers hone their classroom skills, advance their careers, and refine their pedagogies, while bringing student teachers up-to-date on advancements in technology, theory, and methodology in the field of education.

In fact, numerous school systems now require new hires to earn master's degrees within a certain time period. As a result, many working teachers with bachelor's degrees are enrolling in online Master of Arts in Teaching programs, in order to meet these requirements without stepping off the tenure track. Online degree programs offer flexibility in location and scheduling, but may still require an in-person student teaching component if you are not already a licensed teacher.

The best MAT degree programs encourage student teachers to:

  • increase their knowledge of specialized subjects,
  • to examine theories of education, and
  • to develop skills in areas such as curriculum design and educational leadership.

Many Master of Arts in Teaching degree programs offer a wide range of concentrations for both new and experienced teachers. While some MAT programs cater specifically to mid-career teachers, other programs also admit students who have no classroom experience so they can transition from other careers to teaching.

Preparing for a Graduate Program in Teaching

Eligibility requirements vary from school to school, but most on-campus and online Master of Arts in Teaching programs generally require applicants to hold bachelor's degrees. Some programs require applicants to be licensed teachers, while others admit students who have no previous teaching experience. These programs may allow students to complete their credential requirements while currently enrolled in the master's program.

Master of Arts in Teaching: Coursework and Degree Requirements

Many graduate-level teaching programs include coursework that is focused specifically on one subject area such as literacy, ESL, special needs, or technology. Many programs require completion of a master's thesis, while others entail a certain amount of fieldwork. Students considering enrollment in MAT degree programs should consider the subjects they wish to focus on in their studies. Possible concentrations vary by school. Program length also varies, generally ranging between one and two years.

What to Expect

Students enrolled in a Master of Arts in Teaching program should be prepared to study both practical and theoretical educational research, and to conduct research on their own. Students should expect to work toward the development of a refined personal teaching ideology as they engage in advanced coursework and intensive research, writing, or fieldwork. During the course of the program, students will, in most cases, be expected to narrow their focus of study and research in order to master a specialized subject in the field of education. In general, students enrolling in MAT programs should expect that a relatively heavy workload will pay off in the end.

What to Consider

Potential applicants to Master of Arts in Teaching degree programs should consider the following questions when choosing a graduate program:

  • Does the graduate program require applicants to have prior degrees, licenses, or certificates?
  • Do I meet the applicant eligibility requirements?
  • May I obtain my necessary state certifications or licenses while enrolled?
  • In what direction do I wish to take my teaching career?
  • Will the graduate program help me reach my career goals?
  • What level of teaching do I wish to concentrate on?
  • What are my potential areas of focus?
  • What areas of focus does the graduate program offer?
  • What kinds of skills and experience do I wish to gain?
  • How long is the program?
  • What is the program's philosophy?
  • What is the program's application process?
  • Does the program require that students write a graduate thesis?
  • Does it require any fieldwork?
  • Does it require extensive research?
  • Will classroom observation be a necessary facet of the program?
  • Can I enroll part-time?

Master of Arts in Teaching: Areas of Focus

MAT degrees can prepare you to teach at nearly any level. In most cases, your Master of Arts in Teaching will include a concentration in a particular subject or age group.

Careers in Early Childhood Education

MAT graduates may become teachers at the preschool, kindergarten, or primary school level. They also often pursue careers as curriculum developers, designing classroom coursework and determining whether the academic performance of a child indicates that he may advance a grade level. Many MAT graduates in this area have also gone on to become involved with school administration, overseeing and managing an entire school or a system of schools.

Careers in Elementary Education

Most Master of Arts in Teaching graduates with concentrations in elementary education return to their established careers with a better-developed grasp of educational theory and practice. Some graduating teachers may become Master Teachers, who remain in the classroom, but take on the added responsibility of curriculum development and the incorporation of heightened educational standards or new classroom technologies and resources.

Some elementary education degree programs prepare graduates to become school administrators, using their skills in an academic management position. Other students go on to become full-time educational scholars or researchers.

Careers in Secondary Education

Many graduates of secondary education MAT programs may have already established a teaching career prior to enrollment. These teachers often bring their careers to an advanced level, becoming even more sophisticated in their classroom techniques and educational philosophies.

After graduate school, some secondary education teachers go on to begin careers as Master Teachers, who add curriculum development to their teaching duties. This often involves incorporating new teaching methods and technologies into the classroom. Some secondary education graduates eventually become school administrators, bringing their skills out of the classroom and into a management position, while still others become educational scholars and researchers.

Careers in Adult Education

Master of Arts in Teaching programs with a concentration in adult education offer an astounding array of specialized focus topics, providing student teachers with the opportunity to pursue a wide variety of new career paths, or to enhance careers already in progress. These programs prepare graduates to enter any one of numerous related career fields. They may become family and financial crisis counselors, for example, or be professionally involved with adult education in a variety of contexts such as religious organizations, human resources departments, and business training centers. Graduates may use the adult education Master of Arts in Teaching degree to educate adults in:

  • Community colleges
  • Four-year college and university continuing education departments
  • Vocational schools
  • Prisons
  • Senior communities
  • Community centers
  • School or organization administrators

Teaching Licensure and Certification

Teachers who wish to work in the public school system must hold state certification or licensure. Credential requirements differ in each state and for each level of teaching. Most state teaching requirements include student teaching experience, successful completion of state examinations, and an advanced level of coursework and study. Most MAT programs enable students to obtain appropriate state certification or licensure while enrolled in the program.

The National Association of State Boards of Education provides information about state certification and licensure requirements, state and national teaching standards, and state school districts. The National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards is a non-profit organization that provides information about education reform, state credentials, and more.

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