Life after your Master’s: Interview with a Teacher

Odds are you’re going to need a master’s degree in education if you’re hoping to become a teacher. No matter where you decided to go to school, what you earned your bachelor’s degree in, or whether you choose to earn your online master’s degree in education or on campus, after six or more years of preparing for your career you may find yourself asking “What’s next?”

The short answer is: everything. Take it from Coury Osbourne, a teacher at Marion County High School in Lebanon, Ky.—becoming a teacher is a fluid ordeal. Teaching is a rewarding career that challenges you to never stop growing or learning. You can read Coury’s story below. Coury Osbourne

Becoming a teacher

What made you want to become a teacher? 

As a teenager, teaching seemed like an obvious choice for me. I loved to read and write, I enjoyed working with people and my father was a teacher. Two of my own high school teachers helped give me the confidence and passion needed to pursue a career in education. As a junior, my English teacher called home to brag on a piece I had written in class. That single telephone call helped inspire me to write more and helped show me the power a teacher has. During my senior year, my English teacher and yearbook adviser convinced me to accept the yearbook’s editor-in-chief position because she saw a future teacher in me. She wanted me to gain leadership skills and get a glimpse of what the job would be like. To this day, she is my mentor any time I need professional advice.

What skills or qualities do you feel are necessary to be a teacher? 

The greatest quality I think a teacher must have is a love of students. While other qualities are important, the smartest people do not necessarily make the best teachers. It takes someone who cares enough about the students to slow down and reteach if students are not grasping the concepts; someone who acknowledges students may have struggles at home causing their troubles in the classroom; someone who wants to continue to adapt and change and learn in order to best meet the needs of students.

What advice would you give to an aspiring teaching student? 

For one, make sure you are going into the profession for the right reason. Do not become a teacher because you think they get the summers off and get to go home at 3 during the week. So much of that is a misconception. If students are trying to decide if they want to pursue the profession, I would tell them to visit schools and classrooms. Although everyone has been a student before, you do not know what it is like to be a teacher until you’ve stood in front of the room.

Education

What was your education like?

I got my bachelor’s from Bellarmine University. At Bellarmine, if you plan to be a high school teacher, your degree is in your subject area (English) and you receive your certification in secondary education. It is similar to having a double major. I took a variety of English courses, from creative writing to British literature, but I took numerous education courses, which required us to observe in the local high schools and study different theories of education. During my senior year, I student taught at Waggener in Louisville. Student teaching was the most eye-opening experience for me in regards to what it took to be a teacher.

After graduating college, I decided to go to graduate school full time to begin my master’s program (in Kentucky, teachers have to start their master’s within five years and complete it within ten). I received my master’s in library science from Spalding University, which certifies me to be a school media specialist. For that degree, I studied the Dewey Decimal system, but spent most the time learning ways to use technology in the classrooms and how to help spread literacy among students. I also did student teaching at Hawthorne Elementary School and Male High School.

What type of time commitment or work schedule should students prepare for? 

With my particular major, the majority of my time commitment came from the loads of reading I had to do. When you are taking two or three English classes per semester, you are constantly reading novels, short stories, nonfiction, etc. The most time-consuming part students should prepare for is the semester of student teaching. During this, you are working a full-time job. You prepare the lessons, you teach, you grade papers; however, you do not get paid, therefore some people still have to work a “real job.” That semester helped teach me the time management skills necessary to be a teacher (and how to put my professional life before my social one).

How did getting your master’s degree change your occupation? Your outlook? 

So far, it hasn’t changed my occupation, but I hope that it will; I am certified to be a media specialist. Since having children, I’ve thought about going into that field so that I can eliminate the time I spend working at home grading papers and preparing lessons. I would actually recommend that new teachers wait a few years before starting their master’s. Although it helped me to get most of mine out of the way before having a full-time job, I think I would have pursued my degree in administration if I could do it over. At the time, I never thought I’d be interested in it, but I am now.

Work life

What is something about your job that surprised you when you started? 

It surprised me that I couldn’t start being the teacher I wanted to be. Most of the time, when someone goes into teaching, it is because he or she had a teacher who made a difference; that teacher was someone inspiring, engaging, thoughtful, etc. The word that comes to mind when describing that teacher isn’t a disciplinarian. However, in the first year or two of teaching, you really do have to be a disciplinarian. I wouldn’t say you “can’t smile until December,” like the old advice goes, but you do have to be possibly more strict than you’d like to be. You have to set a reputation for yourself, and most of the time, that may mean writing up students and assigning book work even if that isn’t the teacher you envisioned yourself being. After a few years, though, you figure out the discipline part and then you can relax and be who you want to be.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The moments when students come back to you and say “You really prepared me for college,” or “I’ll never forget the time you made me smile on a really bad day,” or “Can you help me apply for college? I don’t have anyone at home to help” or “You saw a talent in me that I didn’t know I possessed.” The students are the reason I do this and the reason I haven’t changed fields. It is because of them that teaching, in my opinion, is the greatest job there is.