Sixth grade teacher Kimberly Olney has always been curious about what goes on beyond the classroom. She's wondered about responsibilities of administration, the tasks of assistant principals, and school funding. Recognizing her enthusiasm and interest, Olney's boss offered an encouraging nudge and suggested she pursue a master's degree that would open doors to leadership roles.
"He saw a lot of potential for me to be an administrator one day, and kind of planted the root," explained Olney. "So I looked into it and I realized I could probably do it, so I decided, 'Why not?'"
Olney's "why not" moment led her to the Master of Education in Educational Leadership online program at LSUS. She began courses in May 2018 and is on schedule to graduate in 2020. Because Olney is paying for her education out-of-pocket, she was drawn initially to the school's affordability. She also appreciates the diversity of the university's faculty.
"The professors weren't just from Louisiana," she said. "They had experience from other states, which is important because you never know if you're going to stay in the state you're living in or not."
Middle School to Master's
It didn't take Olney long to realize what a perfect fit the university is for her needs. In addition to her full time position as a science teacher and mentor, Olney is also expecting her first child.
"I have so much on my plate," she said. "I live in Monroe, which is about two hours from campus and I work in Ruston, which is about an hour from campus.
Online courses mean students never have to travel to the LSUS campus in Shreveport. Though she's never seen her teachers in person, Olney is in constant contact with them.
"I can email them anytime and they're really good about emailing back. They're awesome to work with. They're super helpful whenever you need anything," Olney said. One professor even gave out her cell number so students could text questions. "But I wouldn't want to be her," joked Olney. "I'm sure she got tons of text messages at night."
Olney's bachelor's degree is in secondary education and she always wanted to teach eighth grade earth science. When she got a position teaching physical science to sixth graders, she felt slight trepidation.
"To start off with I was like, 'Oh God, it's been a while and this is not my greatest,'" said Olney. "But I have so much fun with it and I love teaching sixth graders. They're not babies anymore, but they're not 'I hate the world,' yet for the most part. They're a little hormonal, but for the most part they're really good, and I have a great rapport with my kids, so I do have a lot of fun in my class."
Finding the Right Degree
Leading up to her enrollment at LSUS, Olney hadn't decided if she wanted to study educational technology or leadership. She figured it out when her school principal began introducing her to the behind-the-scenes details of his job.
"He started showing me different things that administration does, like the funding and that kind of thing and it just got me really interested," Olney said. "When I saw everything that a principal entails, I was sold."
Olney has found the program's online courses intriguing and thought-provoking. Each project and assignment can be directly correlated to her own school in Ruston. She's confident each class is preparing her deftly for a future in educational leadership. The course EDL 711: Funding Public Education really captured Olney's interest.
"I work in a Title 1 school district, and so it's real interesting to learn where the money comes from, how much the state has to pay, and how much the federal government puts into it," she said. "The first assignment was looking at the state breakdown of how much Louisiana gets from the federal government, state government and local government, percentage-wise. I did my assignment, and then I asked my principal, 'Hey, can you show me what we specifically get?' So he sat down with me and showed me."
Olney is already looking forward to what's coming next.
"I know we take a technology course and I'm really big into technology. It's probably because I grew up with technology. I know that's where we're going with the future, because we're going to less paper and more technology. I'm really curious to see what they're going to show me and what I can implement in my classes."
A Teacher's Advice
Now that she's completed nearly a year of online graduate courses, Olney has some sound advice for potential students. For those who plan to work full time while enrolled, she suggests taking things slowly and not overwhelming yourself. The LSUS online program is an accelerated degree option, but students can always choose to go at their own pace.
"It's a lot of reading," she said, "which is great, but I'm a teacher so I have a thousand things to grade every week, plus papers to write for school. I would definitely say only do one class at a time. Don't overdo it, because you'll get behind. Even with the baby I know I'm going to be able to take the time to do my studies and be able to complete my degree."
Olney also recommended looking ahead to see which readings and assignments are due beyond tomorrow, resisting the urge to procrastinate, and remembering professors want you to succeed and are available to provide support.
"Don't wait until the last minute to do your assignments, because the professors are definitely willing to help you and work with you," she explained. "If you at least look over the assignment before class, before the online meeting, you can ask your professor questions about the assignment like you're there face-to-face, instead of you just waiting until the night before it's due and going, 'I don't know what to do.'"
Olney has been enjoying her experience so far in the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program and thinks the degree is worth her investment.
"I'm definitely getting my money's worth," she said. "They're definitely preparing me for the administrator path."
Learn more about the LSUS online Master of Education in Educational Leadership.
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