The stars aligned for Paul Menard to enroll in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Teaching (Non-Licensure) online program at Fitchburg State University.
“I was looking for community service for my wife, Cynthia, when the master’s program at Fitchburg State popped up,” he said. “It was serendipity. It fit.”
Menard, who teaches behavioral sciences and history at Nashua High School North in New Hampshire, also knew from experience that he would be enrolling at a quality university.
Though he took a course at Fitchburg State in 2003, young children and homeownership kept him too busy to follow through and earn his master’s.
“I already had a lot of faith in Fitchburg State, the professors and curriculum. When I saw this program, I knew it would work for me,” he said.
The M.Ed. program checked all the boxes for Menard, who has worked for the same school district for over 15 years.
“I knew I didn’t want to be an administrator — that’s not where I see myself,” he said. “The flexibility, the price and the fact that many courses were on subjects of interest drew me to the program. I saw a direct correlation to my teaching with classroom management.”
Menard and his wife have two sons, aged 16 and 11, so the asynchronous online format was his preferred option for becoming a student again.
“I found the coursework to be very manageable,” he said. “Some of the courses are more demanding than others, but the flexibility to work when I had time was advantageous. I could manage the work/life balance because of the schedule.”
Son of New England
Menard was born in Vermont, grew up in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and now lives in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. He knew early which career path he would walk.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history and social studies education from Notre Dame College in New Hampshire, in 1992, Menard taught at Applewild School in Fitchburg.
“I knew my sophomore year of high school that teaching was what I wanted to do,” he said. “I saw myself as a high school teacher. I was right. I love what I do.
“I am on the list of people who are not allowed to complain. I teach high-level students who are upperclassmen in an interest-based elective. I have fun every day.”
EDUC 7203: Using Technology to Enhance Student Achievement was one of Menard’s favorite courses in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching (Non-Licensure) curriculum.
“When I started teaching in 1992, ‘Oregon Trail’ was the groundbreaking technology,” he said. “That course gave me an opportunity to go out and investigate what’s out there, forcing me to consider how to use it.
“As a full-time teacher, I find the calendar goes quickly when the school year starts. It’s hard to use prep time to explore applications and programs and ignore the pile of tests and essays that I have to correct.
“That class was of most use when the pandemic hit. I was quickly able to pivot to creating podcasts and lessons that I turned out because I had explored that technology. That was a real gift.”
Menard also enjoyed EDUC 9510: Capstone: Implementation of Best Practices and EDUC 7610: Curriculum and Assessment for Teachers.
“I got my initial licensure at a time when a master’s degree was not required, so I was grandfathered in,” he said. “Not that I am looking to change jobs, but the degree has given me greater insight if I want to advance on the teaching side.”
No Time Like the Present
Menard credits a strong support system with helping him complete the program and enhance his knowledge base for the remainder of his career.
“My family and friends are very excited for me,” he said. “I don’t work with a lot of people who talk about the craft, so my wife saw a lot of my frustrations addressed. I could work out curiosities in class.
“The Fitchburg State community is also supportive. They manage the workload for working professionals. There really is no excuse not to start. It’s a wonderful resource that’s available.”
Now that he has an advanced degree, Menard is eyeing the next step in his career once he leaves the classroom.
“I would love to be a department head someday,” he said. “This degree has given me the ability to work with colleagues and create a better learning environment for students.
“It has fueled discussions around the lunch table and allowed us to have concrete evidence to draw on.”
Seeing Menard hit the books impacted his eldest son, a soon-to-be high school graduate pondering his own future.
“If anything, it has made my son realize that pressure to go from high school to four years of college has lessened,” Menard said. “He sees firsthand that degrees and education are not a one-off. You can go back and add to it.”
Although it took a while for Menard to find the ideal return to Fitchburg State and finish what he started, he is happy for that serendipity.
“In the broadest possible sense, I would tell anyone considering the program to begin,” he said. “I kept putting it off and telling myself it was not the right time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started immediately.”