Anna Cummings was looking to make a bigger impact. So she enrolled in Fitchburg State University’s M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching (Non-Licensure) online program in July 2019.
“I want to be a part-time college professor, and I’d like to be able to teach early childhood and general education courses,” said Cummings, a lead preschool teacher at Making Opportunity Count in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. “You need at least a master’s degree to be part time, and when I researched different programs, one of the top ones was the Fitchburg State program.”
The choice to return to school at Fitchburg State was as much about location as it was about familiarity.
“My uncle is an alumnus, and my aunt is an alumna,” Cummings said. “A couple of my friends are currently going for either bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and they said that it’s an excellent school.”
Cummings also has her 17-month-old son, Gunnar, to think about in addition to her full-time job, which made the 100% online program at Fitchburg State all the more attractive.
“I researched a couple of different master’s programs, and some of them had hybrid programs,” she said. “At this point, with my son being so young, being able to be home and doing everything online definitely worked out.”
Having taken accelerated courses for her bachelor’s, Cummings felt Fitchburg State would be the perfect place to earn an advanced degree and get a better feel for the type of classes that she hopes to lead one day.
One of the best experiences Cummings has had in the program so far is learning from her cohort, which consists of different kinds of teachers from all over the country.
“Right now, I’m taking Dynamic Perspectives in Education [EDUC 9005]. It has you look at the different things that are affecting teachers nowadays,” she said. “I don’t teach in a public school, so it’s been nice hearing from fifth grade teachers and kindergarten teachers discussing administration and law features. It has helped me understand different perspectives and different age groups in teaching.”
No matter one’s length of experience, a master’s program is sure to turn up new ideas and ways of thinking.
“I was able to see some staff who had been in the field for a really long time come up with some fresh ideas that they use with their students,” she said of trading insights with her online peers. “They were also doing some of the same things that my students were doing. I was able to share some of my experiences within my classroom to help them.”
The faculty at Fitchburg State have made quite the impression on Cummings. She has found them to be experts in their field due to their years of dedicated research and real-world teaching experience.
“I’ve always admired going into college courses where the professors are either still working actively in the field or have years of experience,” she said. “There are many tough questions you’re always thinking of, and it’s nice to have somebody who has been in that situation that you can talk to and use as a resource.”
Cummings has ultimately found that the digital learning environment is collaborative. Just as her fellow teachers learn from one another in the cohort, professors and students engage in a two-way exchange of knowledge in the online classroom.
In addition, Fitchburg State’s online M.Ed. program has changed the way Cummings teaches, with educational tools seldom seen in a preschool classroom.
“[EDUC 7203: Using Technology to Enhance Student Achievement] showed me different types of technology that teachers can use to engage students who may be too shy to speak up,” she said. “In preschool we don’t really use a lot of that, but I was still able to use some of it. There was a program where I could use a sound recording to do an animal study with my class.”
There is no question that making one’s way through a master’s program is difficult — no matter the platform. Cummings says that staying organized allows her to navigate it with ease.
“It takes a lot of dedication, patience and planning out,” she said. “I like how Fitchburg State organizes its online classes. If I put in an hour or two at night, the course and the readings are very manageable. Fitchburg State really understands that students have families and are working full time. They make it manageable for you to be able to learn without feeling overwhelmed.”
Cummings does stress that prospective students should do some soul searching before deciding to commit to a program like this.
“It is hard doing a 100% online program, and students really need to see if they have the dedication to be able to do it,” she said. “First, they need to sit down and think about what major they want to do, look at what the future holds for them and where they want to go with their career.”
Cummings’ family helped to ease the stress that comes with working on a master’s program.
“My husband Robert is extremely supportive of me going to school and always has been,” she said. “I have a bunch of aunts and uncles who have gone through college and become speakers in special education or are teachers in the public school systems. Their understanding has absolutely helped me with completing my coursework.”
Cummings also says that the university itself offers a lot of support for students whenever an issue might arise.
“The faculty and staff at Fitchburg State are helpful if you are having problems,” she said. “Most of the professors that I’ve had get back to you within the same day or the next day. There are a lot of resources within Fitchburg State.”