Master's in Teaching vs. Master's in Education: What's the Difference? | NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency Program
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In many ways, a master’s in teaching and a master’s in education are similar degrees. Both focus on learning theory and pedagogy, curriculum development, child development and psychology, classroom management, assessment and measurement, educational technology, and research. Both can lead to careers in front of a classroom.

So what’s the difference? The primary distinction is that the master’s in teaching focuses more directly on teaching and classroom management. In contrast, the master’s in education is a broader degree, applicable to a classroom career but also to jobs in administration, curriculum development, and education policy. That said, it’s possible to become an administrator, curriculum developer, or education policy specialist with a master’s in teaching. It’s also possible to become a teacher with a master’s in education. The differences are not cut-and-dried.

Who typically gets a master’s in teaching vs. a master’s in education?

Your career aspirations will likely impact your decision on whether to pursue a master’s in teaching or a master’s in education. If you know you want to spend your career teaching, you’re more likely to pursue the teaching degree. If you hope to work in administration, policy, or academic research, you may opt for the education degree.

If you’re an aspiring teacher with a bachelor’s degree in an area unrelated to education, you should consider enrolling in a teacher residency program like the one at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. You’ll earn your master of arts in teaching (MAT) in a little over a year, plus you’ll accrue a full year of teaching experience as a resident teacher in. You’ll work under the supervision of an experienced mentor as you learn in your academic program. It’s an optimal opportunity to learn advanced teaching theory and practice and to put what you learn immediately into practice.

Career paths in education

A master’s degree qualifies you for a broad range of career opportunities in elementary and secondary education. Some are better suited to a master’s in teaching, others more appropriate for someone with a master’s in education. For many jobs, either degree is applicable. 

Careers with a master’s in teaching or a master’s in education

Education consultant

Education consultants work with school systems, individual schools, teachers, and students to address learning, training, curriculum development, program implementation, and other education-related challenges. What an education consultant does depends on their area(s) of expertise. They may train teachers in new teaching methods, work with administrators to address specific safety issues, assist a school in launching online education programs, or consult with a district on curricular options. Most education consultants have previously worked as teachers or administrators. PayScale reports that education consultants earn, on average, $63,092 per year in base pay, with additional opportunities for bonuses, incentives, and commissions. The website sets the range of total annual compensation at $43,000 to $153,000.

Education policy analyst

Education policy analysts work with individual schools, districts, state school systems, and national education policy organizations to identify challenges impacting student and teacher performance. They work in government, think tanks, school boards, lobbying firms, and education consulting companies. Policy analysts might study how teacher compensation, class size, absentee rates, family income, and a raft of other factors affect student outcomes, then offer policy prescriptions to mitigate the problems they identify. According to PayScale, education policy analysts earn a base income of $63,129, with total annual income – including commissions, incentives, and bonuses – ranging from $44,000 to $96,000.

Instructional designer

Instructional designers work with faculty and other curriculum developers to create effective learning materials. They are experts in learning theory and the design and technology required to realize finished educational materials. The job once focused on hard-copy materials – textbooks, worksheets, and posters – but today, many instructional designers work in online learning, creating lessons adapted to the demands of distance education. They typically work in a design firm office or from home, either as freelancers or remote salaried employees. According to ZipRecruiter, instructional designers earn, on average, $80,182 per year.

Teacher

Teachers lead classrooms and work with students individually in various subjects and specializations, depending on their training. They prepare lessons, create and grade assignments, track and assess student progress, and counsel students on academic and extracurricular matters. Elementary-level teachers typically teach across the curriculum, while those at the secondary level concentrate on an area of expertise, such as English language arts, mathematics, science, and history. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for an elementary-level teacher is $60,660; secondary-level teachers earn, on average, $62,870.

Careers with a master’s in teaching

Academic advisor

Academic advisors consult with students at the secondary and college level to assist in education-related decisions. Advisors help students keep track of requirements they must meet, set and assess progress toward various academic goals, and choose among future education options. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school and career counselors earn an average annual income of $58,120. 

Corporate trainer

Corporations need teachers to train employees in new policies, processes, and technologies. Corporate trainers design and lead corporate training sessions, monitor results, and adjust learning materials and teaching strategies accordingly. According to LinkedIn, corporate trainers earn between $36,600 and $80,000 per year.

Curriculum developer

Curriculum developers apply their teaching skills to the creation and development of new curricula. They write individual lesson plans, class activities, and learning objectives and track student outcomes, adjusting instructional strategies as appropriate. Curriculum developers may also take part in training teachers to use the curricula they have developed. They typically work for school districts, and most specialize in a grade level or subject area. According to Salary.com, curriculum developers earn an average salary of $77,100; the top 10 percent earn over $93,000 annually.

Gifted and talented program director

Gifted and talented programs serve students who “​​give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.” Gifted and talented program directors manage these programs to deliver excellent instruction, enrichment, and opportunities for students. Comparably reports that gifted and talented program coordinators earn an average salary of $70,000.

Literacy specialist

Literacy specialists work with teachers to train them in the latest advances in teaching reading, writing, and comprehension. Literacy specialists provide professional development and consultation. They travel among schools, meeting with teachers to discuss teaching strategies, assisting in creating lesson plans and assignments, watching teachers and providing feedback, and assessing data to find potential areas of improvement. According to Indeed, literacy specialists earn, on average, $62,197 annually.

Museum educator

Museums of all kinds – art, science, history, cultural, commercial, geographic – need teachers to optimize their museum experiences. Museum educators create programs utilizing museum assets so visitors can understand and learn from exhibits. They manage docents and teachers, deliver lectures and guided tours, conceive and organize events, and engage in community outreach. They often work with school groups and systems to coordinate field trips and other enrichment activities. Mint.Intuit reports that museum educators earn an annual income of $39,000, on average.

Private tutor

Private tutors work individually with students seeking assistance in one or more subjects. Many private tutors specialize in one subject; some focus primarily on a particular exam, such as the SAT or ACT. Private tutors tend to be independent contractors paid by the hour. Depending on where they live, whom they work with, and what they teach, private tutors can charge anywhere from $20 to over $200 per hour.

Standardized test developer

Creating standardized tests is a massive undertaking. Exam items must be written to exact specifications, then tested, and the results analyzed to ensure items measure what they purport to measure and that higher-achieving students are more likely to answer correctly. Tests must be balanced to cover the subject they test thoroughly and scrutinized for any unintended bias. It’s a rigorous process that requires extensive training and a background in learning theory and assessment. According to The Ladders, the average salary at Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that develops the SAT, is $110,813.

Textbook editor

The US textbook industry generates over $8 billion in sales annually; elementary and secondary school systems purchase new textbooks regularly, ensuring steady business. Textbook editors must have excellent writing and teaching skills, obviously. They also need to know and understand the various learning standards required by each state to fashion texts that meet multiple states’ requirements. On top of all that, they must navigate the exacting and often contradictory standards of liberal and conservative states. ZipRecruiter reports that textbook editors earn, on average, $48,257 per year.

Careers with a master’s in education

Curriculum designer

Curriculum designers create the blueprint for school curricula, which are then built by curriculum developers. The work of curriculum design focuses on the big picture, aligning content to learning objectives to ensure that they are taught thoroughly and effectively. Their jobs involve research and project management as well as creativity, and it requires a mastery of the latest educational technologies. According to ZipRecruiter, curriculum designers earn, on average, $64,457 per year. The top 10 percent earn over $105,000 annually.

Director of digital learning

Many institutions employ digital learning, including schools, corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Whether used to teach public school curriculum, public policy, or corporate practices, digital learning technology requires management by someone well versed in education theory and the technical requirements of learning applications. According to Glassdoor, directors of digital learning earn, on average, $89,587 per year.

District administrator

School governance is divided into districts, with each district maintaining its own superintendent and administrative staff. District administrators oversee the management of all schools in their district, supervising budgets and monitoring academic performance. District administrators must see to a host of essential operations that are not strictly educational, such as building maintenance. Zippia reports that district administrators earn between $44,000 and $85,000 per year.

Guidance counselor

Guidance counselors work with students, primarily at the secondary-school level. They assist students in enrolling in classes and guide them in the college application process, assisting with standardized test enrollment and the selection of potential colleges. They can also provide therapeutic assistance, helping students bolster self-esteem, identify areas of growth and skill development, and manage challenges at home and in school. According to PayScale, school guidance counselors earn a base salary between $38,000 and $74,000.

Researcher

Educational practices rest on a foundation of theory and data, all of which require research. A master of education trains you to become an expert researcher, positioning you for a career in education research. You’ll support school districts, policy analysts, policy advocates, government agencies, colleges, and universities. According to Comparably, education researchers earn between $30,400 and $45,600 per year.

School principal

A school principal is the chief executive officer of a school. They oversee the school staff, monitor education objectives and curricular standards, ensure assessment is administered regularly and effectively, approve extracurricular activities, manage the budget, arrange professional development for staff, and oversee daily operations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that school principals typically earn $98,490 annually. 

School psychologist

School psychologists work with students who have acute mental health, emotional, and behavioral issues. They typically work within a school or school district (larger schools may have their own school psychologist; smaller ones may share a psychologist with neighboring schools). Additionally, school psychologists develop policies to promote mental and emotional health and assist in supporting students with learning differences. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school psychologists typically earn about $77,500 annually.

School superintendent

School superintendents oversee school districts, ensuring that each school in the district operates efficiently and effectively. They set and communicate policy, oversee curriculum implementation, manage instruction and assessment, supervise human resource management, and provide leadership for all schools in the district. Additionally, superintendents represent their districts at the county and state level, advocating for them when policy is formulated and budgets are determined. According to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), school superintendents can earn a median salary between $140,172 and $180,500 per year, depending on the size of their district.

Training and development specialist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, training and development specialists “plan and administer programs that improve the skills and knowledge of employees,” making this an excellent job for someone with an education background. Training and development specialists work in nearly every industry and field, “working with people, giving presentations, and leading training activities.” The BLS reports that these professionals earn an average annual income of $62,700.

Vice principal

A vice principal is second-in-command at a school, serving directly below the principal. A vice principal’s duties can vary depending on which tasks the principal wishes to delegate, but typically vice principals are actively involved in the day-to-day running of the school. If the principal is the school’s chief executive officer, the vice principal is its chief operating officer, enforcing rules, monitoring schedules and calendars, handling student discipline, supervising operations, and liaising between faculty and administration. According to Salary.com, vice principals earn an average annual salary of $90,381.

MAT vs. MEd: What do you learn?

Whether you earn a master of arts in teaching (MAT) or a master of education (MEd), you will likely complete a curriculum of approximately 30 credit hours. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree in education, you may be required to complete additional foundation courses.

In either master’s degree program, you’ll likely complete core course work in education theory, research, education technology, classroom management, curriculum development, and assessment and measurement. The focus of these classes may differ slightly – the teaching master’s will likely emphasize in-class applications while the education master’s will take a more academic approach – but the subject matter should be similar.

Most programs offer the opportunity to specialize in a specific subject or skill area. You will complete your graduate degree specialization by taking several elective courses in your discipline of choice and, in some programs, completing a thesis, capstone research project, or field placement/internship.

MAT vs. MED specializations

Specialization options in master’s teaching degree and education degree programs include the following.

Master of arts in teaching (MAT) specializations

Early childhood education

A focus on early childhood education prepares teachers to instruct at the birth through grade 2 level. You’ll learn to recognize the different stages of childhood development and what interventions are appropriate for students demonstrating developmental issues.

Elementary education

An elementary education specialization provides the theory, pedagogy, and practice required to teach at the kindergarten through grade 6 level.

English as a second language (ESL)/teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL)

ESL and TESOL specializations prepare teachers to work with students whose native language is not English. Different programs use different distinctions, but ESL and TESOL are interchangeable terms. A third distinction, English as a Foreign Language (EFL), is used for teachers who plan to teach English overseas. Some programs offer ESL and TESOL as a certificate but not as a specialization track.

Language arts education

Learn to teach students to speak, read, write, and understand written and spoken English. English language arts (ELA) teachers teach grammar, spelling, phonics, reading comprehension, speaking, literature, and research skills. A language arts teaching master’s typically focuses on grades 7 through 12 content, the grades at which teachers specialize in a single subject.

Mathematics education

Mathematics encompasses everything from basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) to geometry, algebra, and trigonometry. An MAT in mathematics education typically focuses on grades 7 through 12 content.

Middle grades education

Middle school is a period of intense social and physical development. Middle school teachers require training in the pedagogy, psychology, and physiology of students in this age group. A specialization in middle grades education prepares teachers to lead grades 6 through 8 classes.

Science education

Science at the secondary level encompasses chemistry, physics, life sciences, and earth sciences. An MAT prepares you to teach science at the middle and high school levels.

Secondary education

A master of arts in Teaching with a specialization in secondary education prepares teachers to teach at the grades 7 through 12 levels. Not all schools use this distinction, and most that do require enrollees to specialize further in a single subject, such as language arts, mathematics, or science.

Social studies education

Social studies covers a substantial range of subjects, including ancient history, US history, world history, geography, world cultures, civics, economics, and sociology. An MAT in social studies education prepares teachers to lead grades 7 through 12 classrooms in these subjects.

Special education instruction

Special education training prepares teachers to work with students demonstrating autism spectrum disorders, cognitive impairment, emotional impairment, physical impairment, or learning disabilities. Course work focuses on diagnosis, pedagogy, possible interventions, education technology, classroom management, and diversity.

Master of education (MEd) specializations

Applied Human Development

Applied human development concentrations focus on the physical, psychological, and emotional development patterns young people experience. This specialization typically leads to careers in academic research, youth program management, or work with NGOs and foundations.

Curriculum design

Curriculum design is how curricula are mapped against various learning standards and compiled into yearlong sequences of objectives and corresponding lessons. A curriculum design specialization typically leads to careers in federal, state, and district-level administration, textbook publishing, or research.

Curriculum and instruction

Curriculum and instruction is a broader specialization than curriculum design. Its scope includes instructional methods, education technology, cross-disciplinary learning, and fostering collaborative classrooms. A curriculum and instruction specialization may lead to a career in front of a classroom or in school administration. 

Education administration

Running a school requires expert management skills and knowledge. An MEd in education administration prepares you for the challenges of keeping a school operational and effective. Those who pursue this specialization typically aspire to be superintendents, principals, vice principals, or administrative specialists.

Educational leadership

As its name indicates, an educational leadership specialization focuses on leadership skills within education. It’s an appropriate degree for aspiring lead teachers, department heads, school administrators, and policy experts.

Educational psychology

Educational psychology focuses on child and adolescent development, cognition, and motivation in education. Careers include non-clinical roles in education, training, and research.

Educational technology

Computing permeates nearly all aspects of modern life, including education. As more and more learning activities migrate to apps and devices, the need for educational technology experts grows ever greater. Learn education web design, e-book publishing, app management, virtual reality learning, assistive technology, and social media. Careers include instructional designer, trainer, and technology coach.

Experiential learning for early childhood

Experiential learning for early childhood explores learning theory and pedagogical design for young learners. Careers include curriculum developer, policy advocate, and program director.

Higher education administration

College and university administration presents a unique set of challenges. An MEd in higher education administration trains you for a career in the front offices of a higher education institution. You’ll learn to anticipate developing problems, design and implement student support programs, and maintain the smooth operation of a large and complex institution. 

Instructional design and technology

Apply learning theory to the creation and implementation of learning materials, with a particular focus on technology-driven education. You’ll study learning theory and how to apply it to develop interactive tools that promote learning. This degree can lead to careers in public and private school systems, curriculum development and instructional design firms, and corporate training.

Global and comparative education

Teaching techniques and learning theories vary around the world. Global and comparative education specialists study these different approaches to determine whether they are effective and can be applied or adapted in American classrooms. This degree typically leads to careers in policy and academics.

Measurement and evaluation

Academic testing is a massive industry in the United States and around the world. MEd in measurement and evaluation specialists learn the science behind accurate and effective testing as well as the essential validation processes employed to ensure test validity. Graduates typically pursue careers in school administration, research, testing organizations and companies, or private business (companies also like to test their employees’ aptitude and skills).

School counseling

School counselors work one-on-one with students to promote personal, academic, and career development. Counselors assist students in managing institutional obstacles, coping with trauma and other challenges, and plotting their academic trajectory and college choices. Most counselors work within school systems, although some operate independently.

Master’s in teaching: curriculum 

The MAT degree is a graduate-level teaching credential focused on both theory and practical skills required to lead a classroom. MAT programs typically cover learning theory, curriculum design and development, classroom management, assessment and measurement methodology, and cultural and societal factors impacting student performance and achievement. Prospective teachers in these advanced degree programs typically specialize. If they seek to teach at the middle or high school level, they often specialize in the subject they plan to teach.

Residents in the NYU Teacher Residency program earn an online master of arts in teaching while completing a teaching residency, which is a form of apprenticeship. The program is designed for teacher candidates who aspire to develop a practice that is culturally responsive and equitable. It allows them to accrue the requisite classroom experience and training necessary to lead a classroom upon completion of their degree (which takes a little over one year).

The academic portion of the NYU Teacher Residency consists of 10 to 12 modules, commencing in the summer preceding your apprenticeship and concluding at the end of the following summer. The Secondary MAT is a 10-module, 30-credit master of arts in teaching (Grades 7-12) and the new Inclusive Childhood MAT is a 12-module, 35-credit master of arts in teaching (dual degree in Childhood Education and Childhood Special Education, Grades 1-6). Early modules focus on understanding the roles and identities of teachers and students and how they impact classroom dynamics. Prospective teachers also learn the importance of engaging parents and community in education, how to recognize their own blind spots concerning diversity and inclusion issues, and the importance of creating an environment of mutual respect.

Residents then concentrate on promoting student success and managing the classroom to optimize participation and learning. For the master of arts in teaching in Secondary Education, residents begin work in their content area, developing unique approaches and techniques to teach their chosen subject or skill area (e.g., special education). They also study curriculum planning and development, including methods for tailoring instruction to students’ individual needs and integrating their subject with content taught elsewhere in the curriculum. They learn to utilize tests, assignments, projects, and other assessments to measure progress and identify areas requiring further instruction and practice.

Later modules focus on teaching reading and writing in the context of other subjects, special education and disability education, low-incidence disabilities, and the professional and social responsibilities of teaching. Master’s students also engage in a participatory action research (PAR) project, a “collaborative process of inquiry and action for change in response to organizational or community problems.”

While earning their master’s degrees in the evening, residents complete a teaching residency under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Working alongside a mentor for a full school year, residents accumulate the experience and knowledge they’ll need to ultimately lead a classroom of their own. Full-time residents receive a stipend and tuition support in return for their work. 

Master’s in education: curriculum 

A master of education (sometimes called a master of science in education or a master of arts in education) covers a broader range of practices than a master of arts in teaching. The latter concentrates almost exclusively on classroom leadership. The master’s of education, in contrast, can explore everything from curriculum development to policy leadership roles to educational administration. Accordingly, curricula for MEd programs vary significantly, not only from school to school but also from one specialization to another. To get some idea of what you’ll study in an MEd curriculum, review the MEd specializations listed earlier in this article.

Why get an MAT from the NYU Teacher Residency Program?

Why launch your teaching career through the NYU Teacher Residency Program? If you have a bachelor’s degree in English, mathematics, social science, or natural science and you have a passion to teach, the residency program offers a fast and effective way to earn your master’s degree and licensure in a relatively short time. As you complete your degree and your residency, you’ll benefit from expert mentoring, coaching, and advising, and you’ll enjoy moral support from your site supervisors, program instructors, and peers. You will learn and develop in a safe, nurturing environment.

The NYU Teacher Residency curriculum focuses on state-of-the-art pedagogy alongside a commitment to social equity and restorative justice. You’ll work in an urban, high-needs school helping students who are traditionally underserved. You’ll also take part in a program that works to redress the demographic imbalance in teaching. In a profession in which only 20 percent of teachers are people of color, the NYU teacher residency has enrolled at least 60 percent of teachers of color each year. Your students will include emergent bilinguals and students with learning and physical disabilities, providing you with experience in teaching students of all backgrounds and abilities.

To be eligible, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in English, mathematics, science, or social science (elementary-level residencies are available at select sites). Your application must include:

  • A request form for an official transcript
  • An unofficial undergraduate transcript
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • A résumé
  • Essays 
  • A 90-second video introduction
  • GRE or MAT
  • English proficiency exams (if your native language is not English)