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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

Summer trade-off: Area teachers use vacation to take their turn as students

Friday, June 9, 2006

SIKESTON -- Summer vacation? Not quite.

School faculty aren't only interested in promoting the educations of their students, but their own, too. During the three months off, many become students, taking classes to earn advanced degrees. These degrees help them move up the pay scale, learn about new advancements and give them the opportunities to teach higher levels of courses.

"It puts another tool in their toolbox," said Andy Comstock, principal at Sikeston Junior High. "Teachers are constantly honing in their craft."

Comstock has finished the coursework for his doctorate, but is working on his dissertation this summer, focusing on student motivation. "This is my little last hurrah," he said, adding that he has been both a student and teacher for 12 years.

"I tell my students all the time education creates doors of opportunity," Comstock said. "For me, it is an opportunity for advancement not only in my workplace, but also after I retire."

Comstock said he hopes to eventually teach at a university.

Others working to further their education have different reasons. "Every teacher that I know that has done this has done it for the pay raise," said Heather Warren, who teaches art to seventh through 12th grade students at Portageville. Teachers' pay is based on both their amount of education and the number of years they have taught.

Ideally, Warren would like to receive a master's more related to her area of teaching, like art or art history. But with a husband who farms and an 11-

month-old child, going to classes through SEMO -- which would be a long drive and possibly coincide with her school schedule -- was not an option.

Instead, she is obtaining an administration degree through a William Woods University satellite program, which meets once a week in Haiti. The program does not offer specialized options, like art, math or English.

"It's a year-and-a-half program and you go straight through," she said. "Once you finish one class, you start right into the next."

Warren isn't being reimbursed for her courses because she isn't studying her emphasis area. "That's a big disadvantage," she said. But, she likes that the program is accelerated which is why she thinks it is so popular, she said.

A math teacher at Charleston High School, William McNeary, will begin his first master's class at SEMO next week to earn a degree in math. Teaching is a second career for McNeary, who worked at Texas Instruments and his father's computer business before beginning to teach four years ago.

"I'm a little concerned," he said. "It has been 20 years since I took a math class. I do have a little bit of a learning curve to get back into."

Unlike Warren's intensive program, McNeary's is more relaxed. He has six years to complete the 33 necessary hours.

His reason to obtain the degree isn't to earn more money, but to teach a dual credit course. In fact, he can't go higher on the pay scale based on his education, because he already has a master's in business.

McNeary wants to teach the college math course students can take through SEMO. The course was previously taught at the school, but students have been learning through SAHEC since the instructor left. "Once I get 18 hours into the master's program, SEMO will hopefully approve me to teach it," he said.

Transitioning from teacher to student is nothing new for him. "I've been in school periodically throughout my life," McNeary said, adding he has taken summer courses to receive alternative certification so he could teach.

Warren's reaction is different. "It is totally overwhelming," she said. "I'm running like crazy trying to get stuff done."

But the learning environment is relaxed and has prompted her to change her classroom structure, Warren said. "We talk as a group and see what's going on in other school districts across our area," she said.

McNeary shares that sentiment. "There is a social element that's nice - common interests and common careers," he said.

And for some, being a student just gets them ready for another year as a teacher. Comstock had to spend four weeks during some of his summers on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus to take courses in his doctoral program. But it was a good time, he said.

"It kind of revitalized me," he said. "You get to talk to other people, get ideas and get focused for the upcoming year."