Professional Learning

Life as an AOEU Master’s Student (Ep. 116)

This week, a celebration is in order as The Art of Education University has enrolled its 300th student! Which prompts the question: what is it like to be an AOEU graduate student? Nic talks to 5 different Master’s students to get their take on the best parts of the program, how to make the schedule work, finding that elusive work-life balance, and so much more. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: Last summer I went down to AOE’s headquarters in Osage, Iowa, where I got to meet several of my coworkers through the Art of Education University. We came in from all over the United States to meet each other. Even though we work together, we were just meeting each other, and we had a little retreat. Just kind of going over the vision of The Art of Education University. The fact that it is a university now, and one of the biggest things that we celebrated, is the fact that we have a master’s program that at that time, just hit 200 participants.

Now, that was definitely something to celebrate, and we all did immensely. Now, we’re six-ish months away, and we’re looking at over 300 participants, in the program. This is incredible. I thought it would be a lot of fun to bring some of those participants onto the podcast, to talk about life balance, and what the program looks like, and why it’s beneficial to them. This is Everyday Art Room, and this is your host Nic Hahn.

Hello. Can you first introduce yourself, and just give us your background, where you’re from, and who you’re teaching?

Erica: Sure. My name is Erica Gorzan. I have been teaching for about 12 years now. I recently started a new job teaching strictly high school, but I have taught the past 11 years DK through 12th grade, so I’ve touched on all grades. I teach in Michigan, and have fun there. I have five different classes that I’m teaching this school year, and three of them are all new subject matters to me, that I have not taught before. So, it’s been a a fun change.

Nic: Yeah. What a challenge. And that’s good, after a extended time teaching to have something new and exciting. Right?

Erica: Yes.

Nic: All right. We are talking today about master’s program, and I just want to touch on with you, how are you finding a work life, and master’s balance in your world? How are you finding balance?

Erica: Oh. Yeah. It’s been fun, trying with this new change in job, along with the fact that I am also currently 36 weeks pregnant,

Nic: Wow.

Erica: And also planning for maternity leave. It’s been really nice that the program is online, and you can kind of pick and choose when you take classes, and when you pause classes, which has been really helpful as of late, making all of these big changes in my life.

Nic: So, you started the program, and you’re saying that if you need to like pause it, and let some months go by, you’re able to do that with this program?

Erica: Yes. I started classes last fall, and I took some classes all the way through the summer, and then once I got this new job, I was like, “I need to focus on my job, and the new curriculum I’m working on.” Though, I did take classes, kind of hoping that I would be getting this position. So, I took the ceramics class, because I’d be teaching ceramics this year and hadn’t done it in awhile. So, it was really nice that I could pick those classes, knowing it was coming, and then I’ve kind of paused them for right now, and plan on picking them back up again, once I’m done with my maternity leave. It’s been really helpful.

Nic: That’s interesting. I like how you pointed that out, that you took classes towards what you were teaching. So, you anticipated this change, you’re able to choose what kind of classes you take? Is that how that works?

Erica: Yes. You have so many different options, and you can gear the program for what you want it to be, which has been really helpful. You can look through all the classes that are offered through the AOEU, and then find ones that fit your style, what things that you want to use towards your classroom.

Nic: Awesome. Now, you mentioned that you have a little family at home, in addition to the baby. So, how has that fit into your personal life? Has it been difficult?

Erica: No. You find a way to work out the balance. I have two small children at home, we’re planning for our third. And, as I was taking classes, I mean I would find times throughout my day that worked best, once the kids were down for a sleep, I could work on my classes, my college classes. And then, even during the day, when I took the studio classes, if I had kids working on projects in my room, I was able to be like, “I’m going to pick it this too.” Which was awesome because my students were like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing that? Can I play with that too?”

Nic: Right. It does show intrigue, and also a love for the arts when the teacher is able to produce artwork at the same time. I agree. So, you were able to work on your homework a little bit, to a certain extent, within your classroom, and then you found nap time to be beneficial for this.

Erica: Exactly.

Nic: Okay. All right. Hey, I thank you so much for visiting today. I really appreciate it.

Erica: All right. Thanks for having me on. I really do enjoy this program, and all that it has to offer, and I look forward to finishing my master’s program.

Nic: Awesome. All right. Can you please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re teaching and who you’re teaching?

Heather: Sure. My name is Heather Anderson, and I teach at Baker Prairie Middle School. It is my third year at that school. I took a long break before, when I raised my kids, and before that, I kind of taught on the Southern Oregon coast. But, I’m teaching middle school. I’m the only middle school art teacher at my school. And yeah, it’s pretty good.

Nic: Okay. And so you did take a break. You mentioned children. Are your children older or…

Heather: Yeah, they are older. I have a junior and an eighth-grader actually at my school.

Nic: Okay. I’m loving this. We’re really having a good variety of families, and where people are in different stages of life. So, that’s nice, good information to know, when we’re talking about this master’s program. How long have you been involved with the AOEU master’s program?

Heather: So, as soon as it sort of came on board or online, I was interested, because for me, it’s a really good time in our life, because my kids are older, they’re more independent, and I have a daughter that’s actually looking at college. So, I’m sort of modeling good studious behavior, as she’s getting ready, and looking into college.

Nic: Oh, that’s great.

Heather: So, I would say February, last year, I started.

Nic: Okay, so you have a little bit of time under your belt, and I’m assuming that has allowed you to make some different connections with the your classmates, basically. Can you tell us a little bit about what connections you’re making with your classmates, or peers, or instructors ,as you’re progressing through this program?

Heather: Yeah, so I feel really lucky. But, I’ve been thinking about it. It might not be luck, it might be how the classes are structured. But, I would say that in every single class that I have taken, I have felt a connection either to a classmate, or an instructor. And, I think because there are so many variety of art teachers out there, and that are taking the classes, I can usually find somebody in class that is either another middle school teacher, and we kind of are like, “Oh yeah, I get you.” Or, our philosophies around something are similar.

Heather: Right now, I’m taking the Managing the Art Room class, and I find that there’s a woman on there that I’m always looking for her answers. I always interested in replying to her discussion board, because we get this very authentic conversation going, which is really nice.

Nic: So, you just mentioned you’re replying to them. Can you tell me the structure of the class? How does it work? What do you mean, replying to their answers?

Heather: Yeah. So, in each class we have an assignment, and we prepare the assignment, and then there are some discussion board questions. And we post our questions, or answers to our questions. And then, we are looking at everybody’s assignment, and their answers to the questions, which is really interesting, because you want to see kind of different perspectives. And it’s, I think, a lot like a room of a college class where you’re listening to your peers, but you’re just actually reading it. And so, part of that structure, is that you are responding and providing other resources to the other students in class. And so, I’m usually looking for somebody that I’m connecting with, and responding to their answers.

Nic: Okay. Do you find yourself being inspired by some of your peers’ responses?

Heather: Yeah, for sure. For sure. There are those moments, I think, that I look and I’m like, “Oh, I wish I would’ve thought of that.”

Nic: Right. But then, you get to benefit from that though, right?

Heather: Yeah. I was like, “Oh they did that assignment really well.” And it’s almost like I want to go back and rework mine a little bit. “I like how they did that.” So, definitely inspired by other teachers.

Nic: Right. And I get that little bit of, oh I don’t know if it’s called competition, but like that internal like, “Oh that was a really good idea.” But, I think that’s the benefit of these online classes, is you are seeing how other people are approaching it. And even if you don’t use your assignment in your classroom, you can use ideas from your peers. That’s a really cool benefit.

Heather: There’s also, I’ve been in a few classes where there have been international students, so it’s really cool to see sort of the perspective of how they’re structuring their class, and kind of getting to know like what an art classroom looks like in Australia.

Nic: Yes. It’s really interesting that way isn’t it?

Heather: Yeah.

Nic: So, international and then throughout the United States. And you mentioned that we have teachers teaching kindergarten, maybe even preschool? Have you run into that at all?

Heather: I have not run into a preschool teacher yet. For sure, raptive art, but not a preschool teacher, yet.

Nic: Okay. And then all the way through 12th grade, for sure. And, what’s interesting is that you’re saying, and I can seek out those middle school teachers, where like my experience in my master’s program, is I had to seek out others specialists. There wasn’t even another art teacher in the room.

Heather: Yeah, my undergrad program to a tee.

Nic: Right. Right. And to just have this whole space, made for art educators. Wow. Wow.

Heather: Yeah. That has been so important, because… I’ve mentioned that I’m the only art teacher at my school. I have other art teachers in the district to call, but when you’re on your own, I really needed that connection that I’m getting through AOEU.

Nic: Is there any last comments that you’d like to make, before we wrap our little interview up?

Heather: I would also say that the instructors have also… I’ve connected with several of them, and honestly feel that even after taking the class, if questions came up related to what we’ve studied, I could easily go back and ask them, and that is a really great asset.

Nic: Yes. And I will just speak to that. These are my colleagues, right? And I know them personally, in many cases, and they are phenomenal, true blue people. So, I can agree with you on that. Yeah. Okay. Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Heather: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Nic: All right, we have another master’s participant, can you please introduce yourself and who you teach?

Chrissy: Hi everyone. My name is Chrissy Grace, and I teach middle school art full time. I teach sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

Nic: Awesome. And where is that at?

Chrissy: Oh, it’s in Central Florida.

Nic: Okay. Florida. Okay. And have you been teaching for many years?

Chrissy: So, I have a little bit of an unusual situation. I started teaching art in 2004, and I was originally elementary art. And I taught elementary for a couple of years. And then, when I had my third child, I decided to stay home for a while. And then over the years, I taught part-time at a Montessori school. I taught art for them. And then, I taught at the Orlando Museum of Art, during the summer. And then, I started teaching actually from my home. I did private lessons, like kind of an after school thing. And then three years ago, I went back to work full time, and I transitioned into middle school.

Nic: Wow. So you have the whole gamut. That’s good.

Chrissy: Yeah, I do.

Nic: That’s a good background. Okay, so you’re in the master’s program now. When did you start your classes?

Chrissy: So, I’m in a little over a year.

Nic: Okay. And, you wanted to talk a little bit about life balance with the master’s program, and I think having a year under your belt really gives you a good perspective on that. How are you balancing your family? You mentioned children, and work load and then taking classes for yourself. How are you balancing all of that?

Chrissy: Well, I will mention just as we were getting this call, that I came literally straight from a baseball game, from my son. So, sometimes it’s messy, and kind of last minute, and it’s not always picture-perfect, but I manage to do it, just really one week at a time. I usually spend about three to four hours on the weekend on my homework assignments. I kind of allot that time for myself. And then, usually two evenings a week I’ll spend about 30 minutes to an hour.

So, knowing that I need that time carved out of the week into my schedule, and letting my husband and kids know that those are the times that I need to do my homework, and having that clear, kind of makes it important, just like it would be if I was going to work, or those kinds of things. And a lot of times, my homework assignments for AOEU, they correspond to things that I’m doing in the classroom. So, it actually saves me time in the classroom, because I’m working on lesson plans, like anchor charts, things like that. So, the further along I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been able to work on things simultaneously. So, I feel like I’m starting to save time on a lot of things.

Nic: So, two keys that I’m hearing you right now say is communication with your support team, which is your kids and your family.

Chrissy: Definitely.

Nic: And yeah, communication, right? And then the other one, is that it’s not necessarily an additional part of your life, but it’s really strengthening what you do in your profession.

Chrissy: Definitely. So, going back to my family, before I decided to sign on, I talked to my husband, and to my kids, and I said, “This is something that I really want to do. I think it will make me a better teacher, and advance my salary. And is it worth it? Is it worth it for our marriage? Is it worth it for our family time?” And we decided the commitment short term, was definitely outweighing the long term. So, we decided as a family, that it was something that I was going to do. So that is important. I think, you don’t just jump into something like that, unless you’re single, and it’s something that you don’t need to worry about if it’s affecting anybody else.

Nic: Right.

Chrissy: And then, I would say, the first semester I was a little nervous. I think I probably… Just being a student again, in terms of doing homework and stuff. But the further along I’ve gotten in my classes, it’s helped me so much in the classroom. And definitely simultaneously, working on lesson plans, it’s actually saved me time in the classroom, because I’m working on things for my homework assignments.

Nic: That’s great. That’s great that it can… And really, that’s what a master’s program should be. Right? And the education is supporting the profession that you’re already doing.

Chrissy: Oh, definitely.

Nic: So, I’m glad to hear that you’re finding that.

Chrissy: Yeah, definitely.

Nic: Okay. Any last tips on balancing life and school?

Chrissy: I will say last year, I had some stuff come up with my family, and I had needed to take a semester off and so I did. Classes are two months, or eight weeks, and I needed that eight weeks to focus on my family. And so, I took those eight weeks off, and then I was able to jump right back in. And so, having that flexibility, was really important to me, and I didn’t feel like I lost any traction. I felt like I did what I needed to do, and then I was able to kind of slide right back in. So, I really appreciated that part.

Nic: Yeah, the flexibility of the program.

Chrissy: Yeah, definitely.

Nic: Okay. All right. Hey, thank you for taking the time and chatting with us today.

Hello? Can you please introduce yourself?

Heather: Yeah, sure. Well thanks, Nic for having me on today. My name is Heather White, and I teach K-12 art on a little island that’s 15 miles off the coast of Rockland, Maine. It’s called Vinalhaven, and I feel pretty lucky to have that job.

Nic: Yes. What a unique situation. I love that you’re teaching K-12. Most of the time, that’s a fairly small school, if you’re teaching K-12. Is that accurate?

Heather: Very accurate. I have 180 students total in the school, and I probably see about 160 of them. Not all high school students have to take art, but it’s really exciting that most of them still do.

Nic: That’s great. That says a lot about you. How long have you been teaching?

Heather: Well, I’ve been teaching for 20 years, but I actually taught third and fourth grade for 11 years, before I switched to the art position at my school.

Nic: Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s interesting.

Heather: Yeah, I thought it gave me really great perspective into the grade-level classroom, managing curriculum design, and stuff like that. And then, when the art position came available nine years ago, I sort of said to my administration like, “Hey, I kind of want to do that.” And then they kind of let me, and-

Nic: That’s awesome.

Heather: … it was wild. I just was all of a sudden the K-12 art teacher at our school. I know that’s a pretty unusual way to do it, but I still feel pretty lucky about it.

Nic: Yeah. Yeah. What a neat perspective. So, I’m assuming, that might be a large reason of why you’re taking your master’s right now. Can you tell us why you chose to take the Art of Education University’s master’s program?

Heather: Well, yeah, sure. When I did switch positions at my school, I needed a lot of classes for certification, and it was really fun to take all those classes. I really enjoyed it. Well, that was nine years ago, and I thought, “Okay, it’s time to do this again.” I want to stay up to date in the art room. I want to avoid getting stale. And yeah, I think I was just ready for it. So, when AOE turned into AOEU, I thought that was the perfect opportunity to pursue my master’s.

Nic: Right. Yep. And what are you finding? What are the benefits in your classroom, or for yourself?

Heather: Well, so far, every single week I’ve had an assignment, I’ve turned around and used something from that week’s assignment directly into my classroom. And, I think that that’s a pretty amazing opportunity to be doing something so relevant. You’re not lost in some master’s program with a couple of math teachers, a couple of science teachers, a lot of ELA teachers. I mean, this is so specifically for art educators, that every single thing we do, every article we read, every toolkit we put together, it goes directly into use, sometimes less than 24 hours later. I think that’s pretty exciting.

Nic: Oh my gosh, that is. I’m glad that you’re finding that to be true. What other things am I missing? What about your experience with AOE? What are some final words that you’d like to share with your experience so far?

Heather: Well, before I decided to take my master’s through AOEU, I had taken a class through AOE called Studio: Printmaking, and I was a little skeptical trying to take a studio class online. I thought, “Oh, this ought to be great, no professors, no demos, no classmates.” But I was so wrong. I took the class, because I was really interested anyway in just giving it a try. But I wasn’t sure what to expect. The classes through Schoology are so intuitive, like working on that platform. It’s so easy to navigate. Questions are answered quickly. I’m very impressed by the professors. I had Juanita Harmon for a professor. My first professor.

Nic: That’s great.

Heather: Oh, she’s so great. She gave great feedback, she started great discussions. I really wasn’t expecting to feel so connected to fellow art teachers. I figured, “Oh, I’m on my couch with my dogs, they’re on their couch with their dogs. We’ll never meet.” But I really do feel like I’m part of a thing. I talk with these fellow art teachers every day, it seems like, through the Schoology platform. So, every day has been a good experience. I know that sounds like I drank the Kool-aid, and I did. But, [inaudible 00:23:29] highly enough. I mean, I really wish that all the unified arts had an AOEU, like music, theater, PE. I just wish they are own AOEU. I feel like art teachers are really, really lucky.

Nic: Yep. Yep. I agree. Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Heather: Thank you so much. It was great to be on.

Nic: Hello. Will you please introduce yourself to our audience?

Tasha: Hi, this is Tasha Newton. I am a kindergarten through fifth-grade art teacher in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, and I also teach two adaptive classes, once a week.

Nic: Oh really? I didn’t know that about you. I do know you personally, but I didn’t know that part about you. Is it just adapted for your whole school? Like age levels? Mixed group?

Tasha: Yeah. I got an additional licensing two years ago, because I noticed some of my kids that had special needs, I didn’t feel like they were getting as much out of their art class as they could be getting. So, I thought if I could take them once a week to kind of increase their intake of art, it could help them kind of meet those needs a little bit better. So, I’ve been doing that for about three years now and it’s one of my favorite times of the week, for sure, so…

Nic: Wow. Okay, good to know. Okay. Let’s get right into the master’s stuff. You are taking the masters through the Art of Education University, and you have been doing it since the start, right?

Tasha: Correct. I was actually one of the first people that got to apply, because I had reached out to the Art of Ed University in regards to a master’s program, after I had taken their curriculum course, just because I really got a lot out of it, and I wasn’t seeing as much out there in regards to master’s programs that would work with what I needed. So, I was really lucky to jump onboard right away with that program.

Nic: Why was it important for you to seek out a master’s program, and then through the Art of Education?

Tasha: I had looked at a lot of different programs. Being a mom of a young child, a full-time art educator, and I also have an Etsy shop on the side. I needed something that was going to be really extremely flexible and could work with me as I go. I didn’t want to have a huge load. I wanted to be able to take small amounts at a time, and just slowly get through the program. And that’s what the Art of Education University master’s program offers you, which is phenomenal.

Nic: Okay. We’ve heard a lot about flexibility. Are you finding some flexibility in the programming?

Tasha: Definitely. You have to have the program done within five years, but if you need to take a break off you can. So, I pay as I go, which is really nice. So, if I don’t have the funds that month, then I just don’t take a course that month. Luckily, I haven’t had to do that yet, but I do take just one course every eight weeks, because they’re eight-week-long courses, and I spend about four to six hours per week on that course load.

Nic: Okay. So you’re budgeting about that amount of time. Now, you mentioned you have a young kiddo at home. Where do you find the time?

Tasha: Yes, that’s a great question. So early mornings on Sunday, is when I usually try to get all of my reading done for that week, and then I try to get as much done for, we have a discussion board weekly, and a task weekly. So, I tried to start it a little on the task. And then every day at school, I spend an extra 30 minutes at school just working on those additional tasks. So, I’ve never actually felt super overwhelmed with it. A lot of the coursework can actually go directly into what you’re doing right now. So you feel like you’re just double-dipping constantly because they’re things you’re actually wanting to do, and provide for your classroom.

Nic: Wow. Yeah, that makes sense. And, I like the idea of like going to school that extra half hour early, or staying after, and just making it your dedicated time to the program.

Tasha: Yes.

Nic: But then again also towards your classroom, right? I mean, you’re right, it really does coexist.

Tasha: Yeah. I just actually finished taking the classroom management course, Managing the Art Room, and it was literally everything I needed at that point in my classroom, was what we were working on. I’m like, “This is exactly what I needed to be working on.” So, I didn’t feel like I was wasting any time at all because that’s things I actually needed to do.

For instance, we had to do a lesson plan on just using materials correctly or a routine that you wanted to teach well. And my kindergartners this year, I’m telling you, we are just struggling. So, I did a whole lesson about scissors, because I’ve never seen such an issue with scissors, until I had this group of kindergartners. So, I got to write a lesson on that. I created a video, I created some visuals for that, all working towards my classroom, and they’re part of my master’s program, so it was a really good experience.

Nic: Win, win. That’s awesome. Okay, any last details? I know we could probably talk about this for another hour, but like last details that you just want to mention about the program itself.

Tasha: I’m telling you, if you love growth and education, you want to provide the best art education program for your students, jump into this program. It is exactly what you need as an educator. No matter where you are, you will see major growth. So take advantage of it. If you’re just thinking about it, make the time for it, because you will become an educator that you’ve always wanted to be.

Nic: Thank you so much.

Tasha: Yes, of course. And I’m really in love with this program, so I am excited to get to share it with everyone.

Nic: Oh, that’s great. Thanks. One big final thank you to all the participants who took the time to chat about the master’s program today. In every single one of their voices, this is what I heard. I heard a passion for the program. I heard that there is flexibility, so if life happens, you can still continue. I heard that it’s relevant, that it is absolutely a program that when you learn something, you can put into your classroom the very next day. All of these things are true benefits to taking the masters through the Art of Education University. As always, thank you for listening, and we will chat again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.