Teachers at EMHS go the extra mile


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Teachers at Edmond Memorial work hard to teach their students and earn their masters.

Adeline Gruen, Staff Writer

While oftentimes schools focus on the accomplishments of their students, the teachers who work hard in the background also deserve recognition. Many teachers at Edmond Memorial High School (EMHS) are going, or have gone back to, school to earn their master’s or doctorate degrees.

Different teachers have different reasons for going back to school. For Advanced Placement (AP) Language teacher Kevin McDonald, who earned his masters in English Literature, and AP U.S. History teacher Dalton Savage, who earned his masters in Instructional Leadership and Academic Performance, it is by advancing their own knowledge to be better teachers for their students.

“I believe that it’s essential that teachers can continue [to learn], so as our students are learning everyday, we learn from our students,” Savage said.

Sophomore English teacher Nicole Damas is currently attending the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) to earn her master’s in Adult Education and E-Learning. She sees this degree as something that will be able to help her in the long run, no matter where she ends up.

“The degree that I’m getting is for higher education which interests me personally, but also it’s an e-learning degree so it is heavily focused on online facilitation which is the way our world is turning,” Damas said.

Another reason to go back to school in order to earn a master’s degree is the $1,000 dollar salary bump that teachers are given in Oklahoma. However, trying to earn this bump can be costly and hard to do when teachers are trying to start a family. While earning a masters is usually a two-year program, McDonald earned his masters over five years with help from UCO’s voucher program that gives three credit hours to teachers who have a student teacher from the university.

“I think the big thing I had to understand going in is that I was going to take one class, maybe two classes, a semester and that was just going to be the reality,” McDonald said. “That was the only way I could do it. My family was not in a financial position where I could take two years off from work and just go to school full time so if I was going to get a degree that was how it was going to happen.” 

Senior English teacher Christy Nieves, who is working on her master’s in Educational Leadership, tries to maximize her time at school so she doesn’t have to grade papers at home.

“I work through lunch so I can grade papers and set up Canvas. When I’m home I give myself about an hour break, then get dinner for my family. Afterward, I usually dedicate three to four hours a night working on my grad school,” Nieves said. 

Another way for teachers to make sure everything is being completed is by scheduling out their week. Librarian and Assistant Varsity Cheer Coach Bekah Joash is working on her master’s in Library Media in Education at UCO and tries to work on her homework week by week.

“If there’s a week that I know that I’m really busy, the other cheer coaches will step in. Mrs. Gilliam is really helpful as well because she has been working in the library for a long time. I’m able to ask her advice as I work on assignments,” Joash said. 

COVID-19 saw many teachers switch to online classes, but Savage, who completed his master’s in the fall of 2019 at the University of Oklahoma (OU), had to drive anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to go to class.

“It was difficult especially when I was living and having to commute to school everyday. I went to classes at OU a couple of times a week and driving back and forth was challenging, especially with other obligations at the schools such as coaching duties,” Savage said.

Because the schools are so supportive of their teachers pursuing higher education, many teachers and staff including Brook Bullock, Leslie Futrell, Myka Gilliam, Jacqueline Hirlinger, and Sally Stewart help those currently working on their masters achieve their goals whether they are working alongside them or have already achieved their degree.

“I have a group of teachers that I talk to about the things that I’m studying just to kind of bounce ideas off sometimes because I’m a bit of an extroverted thinker,” Senior English teacher, Melanie Stephens said.

Working on even one degree while teaching is a lot but Stephens is looking to also earn her Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) after she finishes her masters in Liberal Studies at UCO. She plans to participate in UCO’s foreign exchange program in Wales.

“I’ve thought about using it to teach college, but I know that getting a tenured position is kind of difficult and, honestly, I like teaching high school so it gives some extra opportunities and options,” Stephens said.

The Head Principal Dr. Tony Rose was able to recently earn his Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) from Oklahoma State University in school administration. He worked with other administrators around the district who were also working on the same degree.

“I was part of a cohort, a group of administrators in the metro area that finished the program together. It was really helpful having colleagues there that you’re kind of in the trenches with and being able to go with them through the classes and the coursework,” Rose said. “I would say we all helped each other and pushed each other to get through the program.”

These teachers are working their hardest for their students and furthering their education. The EMHS community is happy to have such hardworking and dedicated teachers.

Contact Adeline Gruen at [email protected]