It's been quite a six-month stretch for George Gibson.
The Boston native moved to China to teach music at a school right after he enrolled in the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Teaching program at Fitchburg State University in August 2019.
"I came home for vacation in January, but my return [to China] was interrupted by the coronavirus (COVID-19)," he said. "I am back in Boston and substitute teaching, so I am visiting a lot of different schools a day. That ties in nicely with my online classes."
Gibson has a two-year contract to teach at Hurtwood House in China. The Qingdao campus of the private British school opened in 2018. Hurtwood House also has campuses in Ningbo, Shanghai and Beijing.
"Right now, we are on hiatus," he said. "I'm not sure when I am going back to China. It's been very different. I like foreign languages. International schools are a viable means of travel. I am studying Mandarin, which is extremely hard."
The flexibility of the online format is helping Gibson navigate the uncertainty of his situation without missing a beat.
"It has been manageable," he said. "I do one course at a time. I am very happy with the program. Even being in an online situation, I am learning a lot and have plenty of support from the university.
"I taught in Boston Public Schools for a while. I love teaching, but it's hard to stop working to attend master's program. This program fits my schedule."
Striking a Chord
Gibson has been playing music for most of his life. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2012.
"I started out teaching drum lessons," he said. "I liked that I could pass something on that I was excited about to someone who was also excited about it. That's cool."
When Gibson was considering a return to higher education, a Fitchburg State representative came to the school where he was teaching to talk about the online programs.
"I also talked to some other teachers who had done the program or were going to do it," he said. "Initially, I looked at another master's degree program at a for-profit private school. It turned out that the program wasn't fully accredited.
"The program at Fitchburg State seemed very real and manageable. It also seemed like it would help me achieve my goals."
Even though Gibson moved to China and started a new job, he had no trouble navigating the online format from across the globe.
"I had not done any online courses before, but I acclimated to it quickly," he said. "I always get good feedback quickly. It's been nice. The online program has been helpful."
So far, EDUC 7610: Curriculum and Assessment for Teachers is Gibson's favorite course in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching program.
"That course focused on the unit-plan level of planning," he said. "I got a lot out of it. As a music teacher, I have to write most of my own curriculum, so that course was especially beneficial."
Whether Gibson remains in Beantown or returns to China in the foreseeable future, he continues to work toward a December 2021 graduation date at Fitchburg State.
"I will be the first person in my immediate family to get a master's degree, so I will be the most educated person in the family," he said. "They are all excited for me."
After the first six months of being back in college, Gibson believes that time management is the key to success in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching program.
"There is a lot of reading involved in the program," he said. "Because you are not physically in class, you have to make sure to set aside time to complete the work or it will catch up with you."
Although being in limbo is not ideal, Gibson is enjoying the bonus of being back home for a spell.
"I am in a few different bands," he said. "I play in rock and jazz bands. I also play solo and sing and play piano. Being back in Boston for an extended amount of time, I was immediately able to get some performance opportunities."
Once Gibson completes the degree program and his two-year commitment to Hurtwood House, he hopes to move into a leadership role and utilize his experience and education.
"I want to be a leader of some sort in a school — a department head or a teacher coach," he said. "I believe having this degree will help create some opportunities for me down the road. So far, I have definitely got good value out of it."
Learn more about the Fitchburg State online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching program.
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