Fiscally Responsible Lifelong Learners

The need to ensure educators are abreast of the latest and best practices is deeply engrained in our profession. School calendars across the nation include time off for students to make sure their teachers have time to learn. Most districts have minimum professional development requirements for teachers because there is an expectation that they build their capacity to better meet the varying needs of their students. While some teachers do just enough to meet the minimum requirements, many go above and beyond in their quest to quench a never-ending thirst for knowledge.

In the world of education, as one seeks an initial opportunity to influence learning experiences for children, a common response during an interview communicates the candidate’s willingness to be a lifelong learner. Traditionally, educators are expected to attend workshops throughout their career, despite research that says only 30% improve as a result of district led professional development. In 2015, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) conducted a study and compiled their findings in the report, “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development.”

According to the research, the cost of teacher professional development outweighed the impact it actually had on student learning. So, if the required hours of teacher learning fail to increase academic outcomes for students, what is the benefit of hiring lifelong learners?

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To advance within their profession, a teacher needs an additional degree to serve as an administrator. Some districts initiate programs to offset the cost of graduate coursework. For example, as an aspiring administrator in the one of the largest urban school districts in the country, I earned the privilege of acquiring a master’s degree that was partially funded by the district. However, I benefitted most from the full-time paid internship that accompanied the coursework. I had the advantage to shadow a principal for a year to observe the ins and outs of leading a campus. We were referred to as the million dollars babies, but was the investment worth it for the district with an approximate sixty-percent success rate?

As educators continue to grapple with whether or not graduate coursework improves teaching and learning, it is important for aspiring educational leaders to establish a plan to gain experience and credentials. But what is a reasonable plan?

According the United States Census Bureau, in 2018, over 48 million people in the United States had a bachelor’s degree, which establishes a vast pool of potential teachers who meet the minimum requirements to enter a classroom.

These findings come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Educational Attainment in the United States: 2018 table package that uses data from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.


I decided I wanted to become a teacher my senior year of college, and Teach for America (TFA) provided an accelerated entry into the profession. Within the first five years of my career, I initiated a pursuit of an administrative position, which required me to earn a graduate degree. Ten years after earning a master’s degree, I acquired superintendent certification to enhance my six years of principal experience. Although many doubted my decision to earn a certification over a doctorate, it was a fiscally responsible next step. Principal experience along with the certification helped me to secure a principal supervisor position without the hefty financial burden of a doctorate. I waited until I gained four years of central administration experience before determining whether or not I could afford to further my education. My plans validated a need for me to obtain a doctorate, especially, as I enter the remaining ten years of my career and seek to qualify for senior level positions.

So, what is the point of sharing my journey? I have observed educators go into debt to obtain higher degrees with no clue about what they wanted to do at the next level. Before enrolling in graduate coursework and taking on expensive tuition fees, please reflect on your goals. Ask yourself how your experience coupled with another degree will bring job satisfaction or increase your financial income. Yes, there are people who just want to learn, and that is fine too. However, please be cautious about becoming over credentialed. Dr. Jones, the teacher, may have a difficult time securing a position as an instructional coach or assistant principal. An unfortunate consequence to further your education, but a reality discussed in the article, “Your Credentials Are Holding You Back.”

Doctoral programs will offer rationale to encourage you to invest in furthering your education. In the blog, “The Doctorate in Education: Is it Worth It?”, the author provides a compelling argument to foot the bill, however, in contrast, The Economist presents several reasons “Why Doing a PhD is Often a Waste of Time.”

There are professional development opportunities that look great on a résumé until you can afford another degree. Discover your strengths and market your talent in order to land a job that will increase your experience and pay you a higher income. Then consider whether or not a higher degree is relevant to your career plan.

Yes, as educators, we are lifelong learners, but you do not have to break the bank with additional degrees. Wait until you know how it will enhance your career and create a fiscally responsible plan to accomplish your goals.


Kettisha M. Jones is the lead principal coach at Ensemble Learning and uses her experience as a successful school and district administrator to support school leaders across the country. To continue the conversation, reach out to Kettisha at To learn more about how Ensemble Learning can partner with your school or district to build educator capacity, contact Ensemble CEO Elise Darwish at

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