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Arkansas State University

Special Ed Teacher Angela McKinnon Looking to Future With MSE Degree

Arkansas State online master's degree student Angela McKinnon

Special education is a mainstay in Angela McKinnon’s 26-year teaching career that she plans to carry on after she closes her grade book for the final time.

“I still have five more years in the classroom,” McKinnon said. “After that, I would really like to work with high school students who are about to go into the community with their life skills and functional skills.”

McKinnon is enrolled in the Master of Science in Education — Special Ed — Instructional Specialist K-12 online program at A-State. The fifth-grade math and science inclusion teacher at Lewisburg Elementary in Olive Branch, Mississippi, plans to complete the program in August 2018.

“My principal at the time, Amanda Samples, was really encouraging me to go back to school for a master’s degree,” McKinnon said.

Persistence eventually won out.

“The following year, Amanda was working on her specialist degree and came back to me and said, ‘You already have your certification in special education. Arkansas State has a great program,'” McKinnon said. “Several teachers were interested in going back in different areas, so she invited A-State to come talk to our group of teachers. Of those 10 teachers, seven of us enrolled in different programs.”

McKinnon previously considered enrolling in a master’s program, but cost was an inevitable roadblock.

“When A-State came along with different financial possibilities, my husband @Harold and I looked into it, researched and discussed it,” she said. “We felt like I could do it that way and that’s how we’d go. He’s helped me a lot throughout the program. He’s my proofreader.”

From the Outset


Angela at the State and Federal White House STEM Summit

Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, McKinnon developed an early passion for teaching.

“I always worked with the children, youth groups and counselors at my church,” she said. “I intended to go the secondary route. When we did our field experience before going into the school of education, I fell in love with the third through fifth grade areas. So, I switched to elementary education.”

McKinnon graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education from Mississippi College in 1992. The following year, she started her teaching career in Moss Point, Mississippi. McKinnon has spent the last 23 years at DeSoto County Schools and has worked at Lewisburg Elementary since the school opened.

“I’ve been certified in special education for years,” she said. “I worked with students in the transition program in my early years of teaching. Special education is even more significant now because my husband’s uncle, Sammy Joe Ard, just passed away. He was 72 and had Down syndrome. I enjoyed learning from him, and I always like making things better for people who have disabilities.”

New Territory

McKinnon understandably needed some transition time for her return to higher education 23 years after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree. It was also her first experience with online education.

“In the beginning, I was stressed,” she said. “I was not used to being online. I’m kind of older and used to being in a classroom. It took some time to learn how to adjust to the fact that school wasn’t directly in a classroom. After that first semester, I got comfortable enough and was able to manage everything.”

The time management aspect of the online MSE program was the biggest hurdle McKinnon had to clear.

“Students really need to know how to manage their time — especially if they’re working and have a family,” she said. “You’re going to have to spend at least 20 hours outside of your job doing classwork. Plus, my age group may not be as tech savvy as the younger generation. Time management is the number one priority.”

ELSE 6183: Teaching Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders, taught by Dr. Gwendolyn Neal, and ELSE 5043: Educational Diagnosis and Assessment in Special Education, taught by Dr. Kimberley Davis, were McKinnon’s two favorite courses in the curriculum.

“There are more and more issues with teaching students with autism coming up in the classroom,” she said. “That course gave a little bit more information as far as techniques and strategies to use. In the assessment course, I liked hearing about how the district goes about administering tests because not every student is given the exact same test. You learn about the different kinds and different purposes of tests.”

Down the Stretch

With graduation day coming up, McKinnon is excited about making the trip to Jonesboro to walk the stage while donning her cap and gown.

“I’m going to be there for that,” she said. “I would not miss that unless I couldn’t get there. I believe I got solid value out of the program. My friends and family were all very supportive of me along the way.”

A lot has changed since McKinnon started the MSE — Special Ed — Instructional Specialist K-12 online program in August 2016. Now that McKinnon is almost finished, she is glad Samples, who starts a new districtwide position in 2018-19, introduced her to A-State and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“I’ve been in the classroom for 26 years, and special education changes every day,” McKinnon said. “I’ve learned a lot of different strategies, and I would like to work with children and adults with exceptionalities. It’s really helped with the collaboration with the individuals in the program between general education teachers and special education teachers. This program was a great way to go.”

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online MSE — Special Ed — Instructional Specialist K-12 program.

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