The summer of 2020 seemed like a good time for Laini Brown to get started on her graduate degree. Being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic meant she had hours to spare. As a first-grade teacher in Kansas City, she is not required by her school district to have a master’s, but she always had her sights set on an advanced degree.
“I chose to pursue a Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction – General online at Northwest Missouri State University due to its flexibility. I could go into administration, be a teaching and learning coach (TLC), or even design curriculum for my district,” she said.
As a classroom teacher for the last three years, Brown enjoys the environment and is happy in her role. She still appreciates the applicability of the MSEd. degree to multiple positions within her school district.
Brown knew she would need to research her options to find the right graduate program, but it helped that some of her co-workers were enrolled or had graduated from Northwest and highly recommended the program.
“I chose Northwest for its reputation. There are so many teachers in my building alone who got their degrees there. And it’s close, well-known here in Kansas City, and offers a fully online program,” she said. “It’s one of the most affordable programs around, too, so that was also a plus.”
An online program was a must for Brown to keep working full time as a teacher and avoid a commute for night school. Another plus to Northwest: being able to reach the campus in 90 minutes should the need arise. Her advice to others considering the program is to start.
“The online program is really doable while you’re already teaching, and it’s so flexible,” she said. “I wanted to double up and take two courses at a time to finish in a year, but it’s also an option for others to take it at a slower pace.”
The course on Trends and Issues in Curriculum and Instruction opened her eyes to how other school districts manage the material students learn.
“It was interesting to talk to my online classmates from all over and hear about the trends they see in education that differ from what we are doing here in North Kansas City,” she said.
Brown learned that some policies she had accepted as the norm in education were indeed not, and she gained a new professional network of classmates to tap.
“I learned there’s a lot more that goes into curriculum, instruction and leadership than I thought there was with many lenses to look through,” she said. “This MSEd. program gave me the opportunity to see through those different lenses and showed me the skills to develop, so I can one day pursue a leadership position or write curriculum.”
The fast-paced structure of the program allowed Brown to finish her degree in less than one year and save money along the way. She graduated from the program in May 2021.
Brown always felt called to be in education. She was the first in her family to earn a four-year college degree, so her parents and family were not surprised she enrolled in an advanced education program to hone her skills and enhance her career.
“I wanted to be a teacher since I was little, always playing teacher and asking for teacher things for Christmas and birthdays,” she said. “It happened so fast. My parents were like, ‘What? You’re already about to graduate? You just started.'”
Now, Brown is the first in her family to earn a master’s degree. She was thrilled she could bring her mom, dad, grandma and fiancé to the graduation ceremony.
Learning to Teach
Should Brown decide to leave the general education classroom, she envisions herself leading a gifted education program or designing curriculum for the school district — or both. The gifted program at her school buses children from across the district to a central building one day per week for specialized classwork.
“I would have to go back to school to get a specialist certification, but I’d really like to do that. There are a lot of opportunities within this large district, and I love working for North Kansas City,” she said.
In the meantime, she plans to keep teaching and building future life plans with her fiancé. As a former, collegiate dual-sport athlete in pole-vaulting and soccer, Brown still likes to stay active. She plans to play in some recreational soccer leagues now.
She is grateful for her time at Northwest and credits her professors with making the online experience so fulfilling.
“The faculty were very responsive and helpful. If I had a question, they would respond quickly, which is what you need online. That builds trust when you don’t get to see each other in person. I am so thankful for this program at Northwest and definitely recommend it to others.”