After high school in Mobile, Alabama, Katie Steadman knew exactly where she’d pursue her bachelor’s: The University of Alabama. “UA is a family thing for us. My parents met at UA’s law school, and my four older brothers all went to UA. It was always where I was going to go,” she said. In keeping with tradition, she graduated in 2018 with her bachelor’s in Elementary Education and began teaching kindergarten at Woodland Forrest Elementary School.
After a year and a half, she decided she was ready to go back for her master’s. “I felt like I had a handle on teaching and my day-to-day activities by then, so I was ready to learn more.” Once again, Katie knew where she wanted to go – and her little brother (the sixth Steadman sibling to attend UA) was already there!
“I loved the idea of continuing with some of my same professors from UA’s undergraduate program. I knew UA was where I wanted to be because these were the faculty I’d learned from, the experts I trust. Other options might have seemed quicker or cheaper, but I wanted that UA experience, and I knew I could learn a lot from my professors,” she said. “And UA’s online tuition is really affordable!”
After applying to graduate school, Katie finished her school year as a teacher virtually in May, and in June began her master’s online in Elementary Education. Instead of meeting a new crew of kindergarteners in the fall, Woodland Forrest allowed her to stay with her same students for first grade, which has allowed her to see their progression as she implements new tools and strategies in her classroom. “I’m getting to directly see the impact of what I’m learning and implement techniques. I’m being equipped to make choices that better engage my students so they can grow,” she said.
Not only has her master’s enhanced her pedagogy, but her classroom has helped her with her homework, too. “Coursework goes hand in hand with what we’re doing in the classroom. There have been times that activities I’m working on for my students have helped me check off items I needed to do for grad school.” Katie said that her students enjoy the fresh ideas that earning her master’s has added to their classroom.
“Last week, we implemented a new technology tool, and this week we filmed green screen videos so they could perform reader’s theater through the green screen. I don’t think I would have done that without the prompting from my master’s classes, but they love it and are begging for more! We have plans to use it for math, too, and I’ve shared it with other teachers. It’s really expanded the learning opportunities for me and my students because I’m trying new things I wouldn’t have otherwise tried.”
Online course delivery has been essential to Katie’s ability to earn a master’s while teaching full time. “As a teacher, work and my students are my life. Especially during a pandemic, it’s been tough because I used to have a planning period when students would leave the class for art and music, but now art and music are Google meets in our classroom, so there are no lessons being planned during those times,” Katie said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it if it weren’t online. My school day is typically from 7-5, and online was the only way I was going to be able to fit it into my life.”
When she began her master’s, she wasn’t alone. Her school neighbor, the teacher who shares a wall with her, went back for her master’s at UA as well, and they’ve taken classes together. “It’s been great to have a thought partner and to apply what we’re learning to our school and our students together,” Katie said.
She can already see the way her students are growing as a result of her own educational advancement. “From the strategies I’ve learned in my classes, I analyzed and adapted our math curriculum according to best practices for my students, and they have grown tremendously over the past few months. They get so excited and say, ‘We’re mathematicians!’ and I am so proud to say back, ‘YES! You are!’”
She has been encouraged by the way UA’s faculty have adapted their curriculum to incorporate items that have helped develop cultural competencies. “They have done such a good job teaching us how to include multicultural texts in our classrooms and to consider other perspectives and experiences. As a white educator, this has been really helpful for me to learn more about how to help promote social justice and change for my students,” she said.
Katie is on track to graduate in Summer 2021, taking one additional class beyond the required coursework so she can be dual certified at the master’s level for Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She’s excited that having her master’s will qualify her for a raise and says she may pursue further education to be an instructional coach or digital media specialist, but for now, the classroom is where she’s meant to be. “I have such a passion for my students. They’re why I’m getting the master’s — so I can help further their education!”
Published: May 10th, 2021