July 8, 2010, was an important day for Rachel Perry Burgess ’02. She handed her comprehensive examination to Director of Graduate Studies John Meyer, marking the culmination of her graduate work at Martin Luther College.
Emphasis: Of the three emphases—instruction, special education, and leadership—Rachel opted for leadership because the classes seemed most applicable for her work as an ECE director. She says she didn’t necessarily start out trying to get a degree, but just wanted to take courses that were interesting and practical. (Cognitive psychology is just one of the courses she really loved.) When she realized she was well on her way to her degree, she decided to finish the program.
Her call: Rachel is currently the director of an ECE at Trinity-Caledonia WI, where she teaches children ages 3-5 five mornings a week. Previously, she served in ECE ministries in Baton Rouge LA, La Crescent MN, and Inver Grove Heights MN; as a kindergarten teacher in West Allis WI; and as director of a KinderCare Learning Center in Brookfield WI. (Why so many places? As the wife of a seminary student and new pastor, she moved quite a bit.)
Flexibility: The flexibility provided by the online facet of the program was important to Rachel. “I knew I’d be moving three years in a row, so it was good to have it online, because I could do it anywhere. It was nice to be able to work on Saturdays. My husband is a pastor, so he’s busy on Saturdays, and I could set my schedule according to his. Also, if we were planning a camping trip, I could work ahead. I also worked at the YMCA till 10 pm, and I could work online after that or early in the morning.”
Community: She also appreciated the online community. “Almost every course starts with introducing yourself. Profs make sure that everyone is communicating and working together. And most students had a WaterCooler line on Moodle, which is for more personal things: carpools, recipes, baby news, calls, that sort of thing.”
Applicability: “The projects weren’t just assignments. They were applicable right away. And most of the profs were open to you tweaking the assignments to make sure that they fit your situation.
“My courses on assessment and administration were directly applicable. I immediately made small changes in my class the very next day, and now that I’m done with the program, I want to go back through my notes and see what I want to implement first. There are so many things, but which do I want to do first?”
Variety: Some may wonder whether coming back to MLC means they’ll just get more of the same. Rachel says, “No! I only had one of these profs before—Dr. Menk. Everything changes. You have a variety of people with different pasts, including profs from WLC and profs who’d never even set foot on the MLC campus before. There’s a variety of new methods and perspectives—and even the content is different. The profs are not teaching the same thing you learned in undergrad work.”
Rigor: “People who’ve taken courses elsewhere say that MLC courses are harder, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I didn’t feel overworked, but I did have to work. It stretched me, and there were times when it was a lot, but it is a master’s program.”
Professional growth: “The biggest change in my ministry would be that I have a better communication system with the families and communities I serve. Open-ended communication with parents affects so many things. I’ve also found that parents are looking for their children’s teachers to be seeking more education.
I’m an ECE director, but I don’t have any children, which is a stumbling block for some parents. So for me to be able to tell parents that I have my master’s degree—that’s a marketing tool. Parents are looking at the teacher’s education and the school’s accreditation. It gives credibility.”