The Benefits of a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction

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An educator considering the benefits of earning a master’s in curriculum and instruction, standing in front of a row of lockers.

As teachers are asked to take on more duties, from helping students who are just learning English to teaching pupils to navigate the internet, a master’s in curriculum and instruction is more valuable than ever before.

Is a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction Worth It? 

Many schools are happy to reward teachers who go beyond the basics in their own education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the typical high school teacher makes $61,660 each year, while the median kindergarten/elementary school salary is $59,420

Getting a master’s degree is a good way to go beyond those typical numbers since teachers with advanced education to their credit can usually expect a bump in pay. 

For example, members of the United Federation of Teacher (UFT) in New York City who have a master’s degrees receive salaries that are $6,000 higher than what their counterparts with just a bachelor’s degree can expect, even with the same level of experience on the job, according to a UFT statement on the teachers' contract with the school district.

For teachers who use their master’s in curriculum and instruction to change tracks and go into administration, the difference in pay is even more striking. 

The BLS reports that instructional coordinators, who work with teachers and principals to develop materials for use in class and assess their effectiveness, earn a median salary of $66,290 a year. Meanwhile, principals in K-12 schools earn a median salary of $96,400.

The BLS also finds that all these professions within K-12 schools are expected to grow steadily in the coming years.

Why is Curriculum and Instruction Important? New Challenges in Education

In an increasingly globalized and tech-heavy world, young Americans can expect that they’ll need more skills and knowledge in their roles as workers and citizens in the decades to come. That means the nation’s schools are facing more and more pressure to prepare students for work and life.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Obama signed into law in December 2015, sets new rules for improvements in K-12 education. Replacing the 15-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA allows states to create new standards to assess student learning and help all schools succeed. It specifically requires that states and schools work to improve educational outcomes for students with socioeconomic disadvantages and making sure all kids graduate ready for college or a career.

Dr. Daniel Tanguay with the text Dr. Daniel TanguayDr. Daniel Tanguay, senior associate dean of education at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said teachers need to have the appropriate tools to adapt to new standards for the educational opportunities available to students, like the ones included in ESSA. 

“For educators, this means states will be given the authority to develop student performance targets that use multiple measures to identify the lowest-performing schools and underperforming subgroups,” Tanguay said. “Once identified, states will turn to the school districts to develop evidence-based intervention plans to improve student achievement and instruction, decrease achievement gaps, and better prepare and develop teachers.”

Tanguay said the master’s in curriculum and instruction program lets teachers develop their own plans, identifying content areas of interest to particular students. 

“Part of the learning process requires students to develop unit and lesson plans that incorporate differentiated instruction,” he said. “Upon development of these plans, students are encouraged to use these various documents within their classrooms or related educational settings.”

Becoming an Even Better Teacher

There’s nothing like real experience working with students to make a teacher great. But even experienced educators can learn new things that spark exciting classroom activities and insight into individual students’ needs. 

Courses in the master’s in curriculum and instruction program can help you learn to design curriculum units that serve the needs of different kinds of learners and find out about new developments in the education world. They may address ways to integrate modern technology into coursework and the use of modern assessment tools to guide students’ progress. The courses may also introduce you to ethical and legal issues in the education field and how to use qualitative and quantitative research to assess students' performance and improve teaching methods.

As we learn more about the diverse needs of students with different backgrounds and learning styles, teachers are working to ensure that their classes serve all learners. 

In a master’s program, you may learn about how to customize lessons for children based on their individual needs. You’ll also likely examine the ways racial, ethnic, economic and language backgrounds influence students’ academic needs, as well as the importance of recognizing the individual experiences of students of different cultures, sexual orientations, abilities, genders and socio-economic classes.

“Educators must be culturally responsive to adapt and diversify their instruction to address student learning needs,” Tanguay said. “Additionally, with the increase in English Language Learners, the use of technology can assist educators to meet this varied learning needs better, while maintaining an inclusive classroom learning environment.”

Perhaps most importantly, you can put the ideas and theories you’re learning into practice in your own classroom and document the results, taking the opportunity to lead the development of your own curriculum.

Possible Areas of Focus

In addition to the main master’s in curriculum and instruction program, you may have the option to choose a concentration. If you're interested in a particular area within the education field, from literacy to technology integration, look for specialized programs that can offer you a deep dive into a particular area of classroom instruction.

Here are some possibilities: 

  • Dyslexia Studies and Language-Based Learning Disabilities: Learning disabilities are the most common type of disability, according to the Pew Research Center. This concentration lets you become an expert on the struggles that these students face – and the tools needed to help them. You’ll learn about how dyslexia and related disabilities affect students’ organizational abilities, time-management skills and reading and writing. Classes also cover the latest research on how to address these disabilities. You’ll learn about appropriate assessment practices, ways to frame the writing process for learners with disabilities and practical strategies to help improve their reading fluency.
  • Education Leadership: This concentration helps you look beyond the classroom and address the larger processes that affect our schools. You’ll learn about school finance and strategies to engage with school boards and the wider community around the school budgeting process. You’ll also learn how to work with parents and other community members to enrich student experiences and find ways to build cultures of continuous improvement within your school. This concentration addresses tools like extended learning time that can be especially beneficial for underachieving students.
  • Online Teaching: In this concentration, you'll learn to adapt your in-person teaching skills to a virtual classroom. You'll develop strategies and learn technologies that help you support your students with different backgrounds and abilities – whether you're in the physical classroom or not.
  • Reading: Strong literacy skills are a crucial foundation for learning. This program provides tools for emerging and more advanced readers, including ways of assessing student ability and strategies to help students apply their skills in classes like science and social studies. You’ll also learn how to address the specific needs of students from different language and cultural backgrounds.
  • Special Education: This concentration focuses on the development of curriculum units and instructional techniques to support children with mild to moderate physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities. You’ll learn about the legal rights of students and families, and the best research-based methods for running inclusive classrooms. Courses in this program also cover diagnostic methods and the use of multisensory instructional strategies.
  • Technology Integration: In this concentration, you’ll learn about the latest methods for using digital technologies in the classroom. The courses cover the creation of digital portfolios and the use of online resources in content-area classes. You’ll also learn practical tips for running networks, creating policies for the use of technology in the school and budgeting for necessary resources.

Education in the 21st Century

Preparing students for life in the modern world can be a challenge for schools, especially when you consider the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on education. Many schools swiftly shifted to distance learning, and some continue to teach K-12 students and beyond in remote environments today.

As online and hybrid learning at all age levels becomes more normalized, technology integration proves to be an increasingly crucial element of curriculum and instruction. While learning how to teach online may have been an unexpected priority for teachers, it will continue to be an important skill to have as education evolves to fit the needs of a changing society and prepare students for the future of work. 

So much has changed since today’s teachers and school administrators were in school themselves. We all know teenagers, and even younger kids, who seem to understand modern culture and technology better than their parents. Yet it’s the job of teachers and other educators to make sure that students get the most out of the resources that our interconnected world offers.

To help students use all kinds of available resources for deep learning, not just educational games, teachers must have a wealth of knowledge about lesson design, learning styles and the capabilities of the technology itself. 

“Technology within the classroom allows educators to enhance the learning experience for all students but more importantly provides educators the capability to meet the diverse learning needs of students,” Tanguay said. “The key component to properly integrating technology is the educator's ability to identify the appropriate technological resources to implement, as based on the student's learning needs.”

Beyond the Classroom

Joshua Evans with the text Joshua EvansFor some program graduates, getting a master's in curriculum and instruction provides a way to move from the classroom into a new role. SNHU alumnus Joshua Evans '13G came to an education career in an unusual way. After earning a bachelor's degree in sociology, he worked as an orchestra pianist, but after a while, he felt drawn to the classroom. He began working as a paraprofessional, but he found his lack of a formal degree in education bothersome.

"I was motivated to return to school because I felt that I missing a solid educational foundation," Evans said. "I chose SNHU because of the growing reputation of the School of Education, the small class sizes and the personal relationships that you are able to build with both peers and classroom teachers and professors."

Evans said the things he learned at the university, and his relationships with his instructors, helped him gain confidence as a leader. Working with SNHU staff, he overcame self-consciousness about his educational knowledge and abilities and mapped out a path for his career. 

"Over the three years I was enrolled at SNHU, I grew immensely as an educator and a person and was able to accomplish many goals," he said. "My educational experience was relevant and directly related to my practices. The power of education affords you the tools to achieve, accomplish goals and have a positive impact on the global community. I feel that my experience at SNHU has equipped me to become the leader that I am today."

After moving up from paraprofessional to special education teacher, Evans became a school administrator at the middle and high school levels. Based in a small Massachusetts learning community, he plays an integral role in serving the diverse needs of his students. "Without the education that I received at SNHU, I wouldn't have the confidence and knowledge base to be the school leader that I am today," he said. "With the opportunity to take risks and put my ideas into practice, I can help to shape the lives of students and prepare them for their global future."

The Value of Leadership

While some graduates of the master’s in curriculum and education program, like Evans, go on to full-time administrative work, others play different leadership roles while continuing their work in the classroom. Some teachers may take on responsibilities for coordinating curriculum planning among groups of teachers or participate in advisory committees to help set school policies.

Whatever kind of leadership position you’re interested in, you can be sure that providing informed strategies for improving learning can help your school do even better work with students. Teach Hub, a news site run by K-12 Teachers Alliance, a professional educators’ association, reports that administrators make a difference in teachers’ success. Using methods that empower teachers tends to increase morale and improve classroom instruction. Teachers who are able to collaborate and participate in big-picture decision-making at their schools end up more satisfied, and with more engaged students.

By receiving your master’s degree, you’ll be better prepared to help forge this kind of collaborative leadership structure as an administrator or a highly engaged classroom teacher.

Balancing Education and Career

With the time commitments that teaching involves, including preparing lessons, grading student work and creating an inviting classroom environment, it can be hard to balance work, life and your educational goals. Finding a program that's available entirely online is a great way for many teachers to get their master’s degree and the professional and financial rewards that come with it while continuing to put in 100% at work and in their home lives.

Deborah Minassian with the text Deborah MinassianDeborah Minassian '12 '19G said the online program allowed her to find that balance. As a single parent and full-time teacher at a regional career technical high school in New Hampshire, Minassian returned to earn her master's in curriculum and instruction just a few years after completing a bachelor's in business administration.

She said one big reason she wanted to continue her education was her daughter. Not only did Minassian want to ensure she had the resources to pay for her college education, but she also wanted to be a strong role model. “I hope that my motivation and spirit is an inspiration to her,” Minassian said.

While she experienced some tough times in her program, she said the staff – particularly her advisor – helped her push through her personal and academic challenges so that she can earn her degree.

Now she's reaping the benefits. "Not only did I earn a pay increase, but I also believe I have a better understanding of how to develop curriculum with a focus on pedagogy that meets the needs of students as individuals," Minassian said.

The program also equipped her with the tools she needed to quickly shift her computer science and computer networking classes to a virtual learning environment when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. "The knowledge and experience that I gained allowed me to flip my classroom and give my students the learning opportunities that they deserve during a difficult time," she said. 

Emily Dennison is a marketing director at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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