A teacher's first years in the classroom can be grueling. And in some states, teachers must get their master's degree within five years of being hired. Add the stress of completing a master's, a doctorate, or some other advanced degree to adjusting to teacher life, and you have a recipe for total exhaustion. Working while in college is, for many people, the only option.
Getting another degree, whether a master's or a supplementary one in special education or English-language learning, can have many benefits, such as a salary bump, an increase in your knowledge base, and more (and possibly better) employment opportunities. Indeed, the rewards are tangible: a Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center study found that students who work during college earn higher salaries when they finish their studies. But the struggle is real: on the other hand, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforcefound that students who work while in college are more likely to drop out.
Further Reading: How to Achieve Work-Life Balance As a Teacher
How can teachers balance work and taking classes at the same time—and succeed at both?
1. Study Online
Taking courses online can save an enormous amount of time and ease the stress of working while in college. Take my friend Mike: He's a full-time teacher, and he's also a dad to a three-year-old, which throws another ball into the air to juggle. So Mike opted to take courses offered online.
The biggest advantage of online courses, he tells me, is that he doesn't have the pressure of fighting traffic and time to get to campus during the week. Instead, he can work in the comfort of his home.
2. Take It Slow
Like Mike, many teachers who work while earning a degree opt to take one class at a time instead of burdening themselves with a full load. If this is an option for you, I'd highly advise it. The downside is you won't get the pay bump that usually comes with a master's degree until a bit later. But if it saves you from a total collapse, then it's totally worth it.
Many teachers told me that the slow-and-steady approach made balancing work and school much less hectic, and made earning their degree less stressful. I earned my master's this way, and I was able to absorb more information and earn higher grades as a result.
3. Schedule Courses Carefully
Build your course load around your schedule. Vanessa, who is working toward her master's degree, told me that she schedules difficult courses with heavier workloads in the spring because she can utilize vacations in February and over spring break to get ahead of the syllabus.
Other teachers told me that summer courses, although they're much more intensive, are usually a bit more manageable than courses during spring and fall semesters. Mike recommends enrolling in summer sessions; you usually don't get slammed with work, he reasons.
When I was getting my master's, I took many of my classes on Saturdays. While that was usually a weekend buzzkill, the course was more manageable—and, in the end, it freed up more time.
4. Manage Your Time Wisely
Making a schedule and sticking to it can help you manage your workload and feel less frazzled. Vanessa blocks off Tuesdays and Fridays to prep the classwork she gives to her students, and she schedules one day a week to work on graduate school assignments. (She calls that day her go-to-the-coffee-shop-and-work-my-butt-off day.) This helps her stay on top of work and allows her at least some of the weekend for fun or rest.
5. Lean on Your Support System
If you're lucky enough to have a strong support system, utilize it. Partners, siblings, parents, and friends can all be extremely helpful in picking up the slack and easing your workload. If you're the primary family caretaker for your family (your kids, your spouse, your parents, whomever), identify your support system both for taking care of them and for taking care of you.
My friend Anne told me that when she started her program, she told her husband not to discuss nonessentials for the next two years. He was happy to oblige.
6. Keep Up with Self-Care
I find that when I'm really busy, I tend to abandon my exercise program and eat terribly. As a result, I feel twice as bad as I have to. Exercise relieves stress, and replacing caffeine and high-fat foods with energizing foods such as lentils, oranges, apples, bananas, nuts, spinach, and blueberries can keep you feeling healthy. Take breaks and vacations to recharge and relax. Get together with friends, enjoy nature, and get plenty of rest and relaxation.
Further Reading: Taking Online Classes While Holding Down a Job: 3 Tips from Real Students
Working while in college can be tough. Taking online courses, scheduling carefully, tapping into your support system, managing your time, and taking care of yourself can help you achieve your goal—and help you avoid a breakdown in the process. In the end, it will all be worth it.