If Aaron Wood takes the leap from teacher to school administrator, he will have plenty of experience making the best of difficult situations.
After the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced his school to close down temporarily in March 2020, the physical education teacher started the YouTube channel, P.E. with Coach Wood.
Each day, Wood posts fun, energetic videos to keep people active while self-quarantining. His channel has nearly 6,000 subscribers and more than 200,000 views. His wife, Marissa, came up with the idea.
"She said, 'You should make some videos for your school,'" he said. "I laughed and said, 'Alright, let's make it work and do something.' We made the first video, and it kind of blew up. I said, 'Let's keep making them.'"
Wood, who is in his seventh year at Hixson Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, graduated from the online Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership program at Arkansas State University in 2017.
"The biggest reason I got the master's degree was it gives me the potential to move up in the future," he said. "If administration is something I want to do at some point, it gives me that opportunity to say, 'Hey, let's try something different.' Plus, getting a master's degree put me on the master's pay scale at my district."
In addition to making videos while school is closed, Wood is preparing to become a father. He and his wife are expecting a baby boy in April.
"When our little guy comes, we're going to try our best to continue putting out videos as long as we can," he said. "It gives us something to do."
Wood grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, and moved to Tennessee to attend Lee University. He initially wanted to become an athletic trainer, but the desire for a family life, predictable hours and better pay prospects had him seeking other options. Then, a nudge to pursue teaching came from his adviser.
"'You have the personality and heart for it,' my adviser told me. That was my start into teaching," Wood said.
Three years after he graduated with a bachelor's degree in health and wellness and began his career, he enrolled in the online MSE in Educational Leadership program.
"I waited a little bit out of undergrad to do it," he said. "A-State sent me a handful of emails. I also did quite a bit of research, and I remembered those emails."
The flexibility of the online format allowed Wood to plan school around his schedule and earn a degree while working full time.
"The online format made it incredibly manageable," he said. "Every time I talk to friends who are teachers or people graduating from undergrad programs, I usually bring up Arkansas State. I say, 'It's a great program you can do at your own speed.'
"It's also such a reasonable price for a good, accredited public school. You can easily to go to other universities and drop $20,000 or $30,000 on a degree. You can get one at Arkansas State for under $12,000."
While Wood believes that the online master's degree program prepared him to face the challenges of being an administrator, he also benefited immediately from the program as a teacher.
"My biggest take-away was all of the moving parts it takes to run a school and run it effectively," he said. "You don't realize there are so many gears — teachers, the administration, people in the community and parents — trying to work together for the success of our kids.
"A lot of these classes are about how if you want to be a good administrator, you need all of these people on board. It opened my eyes more to how a school is run and how it works and, as a teacher, how I can better help with that."
His favorite course in the online MSE in Educational Leadership curriculum was ELAD 6073: School Law.
"I had never known the complexities of law when it came to school," he said. "There were a lot of case studies we had to do where there were multiple correct answers."
Looking back, Wood is amazed by the journey he has taken since moving from Michigan to Tennessee fresh out of high school.
"If you would have told me, 'You're going to get your master's at some point,' I probably would have laughed at you," he said. "It was exciting. My family and friends were all excited for me."
If the day comes when Wood decides to leave the classroom, there's a chance some of his students will already know him from YouTube. Even if they don't, he will know A-State online helped him move ahead.
"The biggest thing is you can do it at your own pace, which is great," he said. "It gives you the flexibility to take your time or get it done as quickly as you can. It's an accredited state school, which was big for me. And the affordability was a big ticket, too. You're not going to find that anywhere else."
Go big, indeed.
Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Educational Leadership program.