It took Elizabeth Stuart a while to see the writing on the chalkboard.
“For years, everybody told me, ‘You need to be a teacher,'” she said. “I said, ‘No, no, no. I’m not going to do that.’ I did some internships in public relations and corporate communications and enjoyed them, but it didn’t feel perfect.”
Then, Stuart thought about Liz Hankins, her English teacher at Germantown High School, in suburban Memphis, who first suggested education as a possible career path.
“She told me that. My parents told me that. Everyone told me that,” she said. “I really felt led in that direction. Nothing else felt right, so I said, ‘I’ll at least try one class.’ As soon as I started that first education class, I knew that was it.”
Hankins, who passed away 13 years ago, would be proud.
Stuart recently completed her 11th year teaching at Germantown High School. She also graduated from A-State’s online Master of Science in Education in Gifted, Talented, and Creative program in May 2018.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to get a master’s degree,” Stuart said. “I actually enrolled in a master’s degree program right after I finished my undergraduate work, but my high school called and offered me a job. I let the master’s program go and started working.”
Stuart already had more than two years of teaching gifted and talented students under her belt when Arkansas State representatives came to her school to convince teachers to also become students.
“They talked about the flexibility of the program,” she said. “They offered this affordable, fully online program that I could do around my kids’ schedules. Plus, they said, ‘We have a gifted program.’ That’s what I was teaching and I found it so interesting. I thought, ‘This is meant to be.'”
New Lesson Plan
Stuart decided during her senior year in the Bachelor of Arts in English program at the University of Mississippi to become a teacher. She stayed at Ole Miss for an additional year and completed a second bachelor’s degree in secondary English education in 2004.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I could get a master’s degree instead,'” she said. “But, nope, you’ve got to have a teaching license, so I had to go for one more bachelor’s degree to get the teaching license. It was just one more year. I wasn’t upset about going to college for a fifth year.”
After that, Stuart enrolled in a master’s degree program at the University of Memphis before her high school alma mater came calling. She and her husband, Houston, have two children, Mack (10) and Lydia (8). Stuart took three years off from teaching after Lydia was born.
“Being a full-time working mom, I was worried that a master’s degree was never going to happen,” she said. “I was kind of down on myself for that. My husband has his master’s degree, so I want the kids to see that earning a graduate degree is not just a guy thing — it’s an ‘everybody’ thing. They knew that I had stopped my master’s program. I wanted them to see that it’s never too late to achieve your goals.”
The flexibility of the A-State online program and some babysitting help from Stuart’s parents, Debbie and Ken Glenn, made fitting the MSE program into her busy schedule manageable.
“I stayed after school for a couple of hours most days, and my parents took the kids after they got out of school,” she explained. “That’s when I did a lot of my work. It’s much easier than doing it when you get home and there are chores, kids, dinner and after-school activities. The flexibility worked to my advantage.”
Stuart had some reservations about online learning, but she quickly adapted to the unfamiliar format and thrived in the program.
“The last time I graduated from college was in 2004, when online was barely a thing,” she said. “I felt like I might miss something by not sitting in lectures. Maybe because I am an older learner, I didn’t really feel like I missed anything. I used the material provided. I was able to learn a lot more than I thought I would going in.”
Stuart applied the information from all of the courses in the online MSE in Gifted, Talented, and Creative program curriculum to her profession as soon as she learned it.
“Because I’m already teaching in a gifted class, my kids are my Guinea pigs,” she said. “It was very applicable. I have one coworker who teaches gifted and talented classes with me, and we spent a lot of our lunches discussing my course material and going back and forth about the theories — what’s usable and what’s not. It’s definitely helpful.”
ELSE 6033: Affective Programing in the Classroom and ELSE 6433: Creativity were Stuart’s two favorite courses in the program.
“You look at the standards and think, ‘I’ve got to hit all of these academic things,’ and don’t think about the emotional side of education,” she said. “Affective Programming in the Classroom made me very deliberately think about what my students needed to hear and learn about their own learning, their emotional needs. Creativity is also a huge part of learning. Those two courses influenced me more than any other because there are things that I think are lost in education a lot these days.”
In addition to Stuart’s family, her friends provided a support system throughout her 16 months in the online MSE program.
“They thought I was a little crazy at first,” she said. “It’s not that they thought that I couldn’t do it, but they were asking, ‘When are you going to find the time? What are you going to do? You’ve got two kids and are constantly running.’ They were also very proud of me for sticking with the goal I had 14 years ago — that I never got to accomplish — and going after it.”
The Gift of Teaching
While Stuart teaches at the same high school where she learned from her mentor, it’s hard for her to imagine being anything other than an educator. Stuart’s goal is to teach one more year of ninth grade and then to become the school’s international baccalaureate senior English teacher and extended essay coordinator.
“I want to stay in the classroom,” she said. “I’m sure most people want to step up, but my passion is being with the students. I don’t feel like I’ll get that anywhere else. My ultimate career goal is to get better at what I’m doing.”
Stuart is thankful for Hankins’ guidance and for A-State online’s visit to Germantown High School at the right time in her life.
“The program was perfect,” she said. “You can’t be afraid of online education. It’s doable with kids. It’s doable with a full-time job. It made for a busy year-and-a-half, but when you look back at it, it’s just a year-and-a-half. It’s quick.
“You get out of it what you put into it. If you are willing to put in the mental brain power that it takes to critically think about the information, you are going to get a lot out of it.”
Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Gifted, Talented, and Creative program.