Kansas local Kaleigh Kear encountered more than a few obstacles when she enrolled in a master's degree program the first time.
"My husband (Cole) and I were starting a family and having a baby at the time," she said. "The program was lengthy and expensive. We were paying out of pocket. I took a break after having a baby. If I had finished the degree I started, it would have taken two more years since each class was a semester long."
Instead, Kear regrouped and enrolled in the online Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction – Instructional Coach/Teacher Leader PreK-12 program at Emporia State University. She graduated in December 2021.
"In the same amount of time it would have taken to finish the degree at a different university, I got a new degree at Emporia State," she said. "I was teaching special education, so that's what I started my master's degree in.
"The need for the master's degree was different this time, so I started fresh. Emporia State was appealing because of the 7-week courses and the cost. The online format was also great. I would recommend the program to anyone."
Kear no longer works in special education but teaches fifth grade at USD 256 Goddard Public Schools in Kansas. She is in her seventh year as an educator and is expecting another baby in 2022.
"I was able to manage being a full-time teacher, wife and mom and get the degree in the time frame I wanted without sacrificing the time I wanted to devote to it," she said. "I couldn't find that anywhere else.
"No matter what, there's a sacrifice by devoting time to the assignments in the different courses, but it's well worth it. All of the professors at Emporia State are easily accessible and willing to take time out of their day to be in contact with you."
There's No Place Like Home
Kear grew up in Cheney, a small town near Wichita. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Wichita State University in 2015.
"I appreciated the relationships I had with some of my teachers growing up," she said. "I graduated with 70 people, and it was a close-knit community.
"It was a different perspective seeing teachers as humans and the importance they gave to relationships with students. I like helping others and learning myself. Good teachers continue to learn and love to learn."
While enrolled at Emporia State, Kear developed a relationship with Dr. Kirsten G. Limpert, who taught the Designing Instructional Programs, Designing Authentic Assessments, and Brain-Based Learning for Education courses.
"They were rigorous courses, but I learned a lot," she said. "I could transfer all of it to my classroom. It pertained to what I was doing. I could customize the assignments to be what I wanted them to be."
The knowledge gained in the online M.S. C&I – Instructional Coach/Teacher Leader PreK-12 program gave Kear a broader view of how schools operate.
"Some of the courses are dual, so they also include administration aspects," she said. "I could have gotten the dual degree but chose not to at this time.”
"It's helpful to have a little bit of that background and know where administration is coming from when we are talking about curriculum. I have had a different range of conversations with the knowledge I gained in the program."
Building the Nest
Kear had a strong support system in place from her family and friends as she worked toward graduation day. She hopes she inspired her younger siblings to continue their educations.
"They are proud of me," she said. "There are not many of us in my family with a master's degree.
"My husband and I were both a little nervous about me taking time away from the family. I took two classes at a time for several of the sessions. It was worth it to be done quickly and I am thankful for the opportunity to set up my classes like that."
Even as a recent graduate, Kear is already seeing a solid return on her investment. She believes the degree will continue to pay dividends.
"First and foremost, it helped out financially," she said. "I wasn't going to have many years of financial advancement unless I moved over on the pay scale. I have already received several opportunities.
"The master's degree classes have sparked more passion in me. As job opportunities become available, I am excited to have the opportunity to apply and learn and go through the interview process in the future when I am ready. I gained a lot of value out of the program."
Kear hopes to apply her degree even more once she takes the next step in her career.
"I would love to be an instructional coach in math," she said. "I never would have thought that about myself when I was younger. The more I have learned about math, the more I have enjoyed it. I want to extend that to others."
The willingness of instructors to bond with students was key to Kear's success in the online program, mirroring her experience in high school.
"The professors at Emporia State understand I am a working mom and a wife with a toddler," she said. "I appreciated their willingness to be available and flexible with my needs.
"That was my favorite part of the program. I wanted to do it before I had another baby. It's done, and I have a lot of knowledge to show for it."
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