When Alma Lorena De León enrolled in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Mathematics Education online program at the University of Texas at Arlington, her family and friends thought she might be a bit in over her head.
"They were excited, but a lot of people told me I was kind of crazy to get my master's degree with a one-and-a-half-year-old son [Elijah Hernandez]," she said. "A lot of people told me that I needed to wait."
De León not only completed the program with a 4.0 GPA in August 2019, she did so after giving birth to a daughter, Rosa Lily Hernandez, in June.
"When I got pregnant, people said, 'How are you going to get a master's degree now that you will have two kids? How are you going to finish on time?'" she said. "All of the professors at UTA were very understanding. I knew I could reach out to them if I needed to so I could finish my courses on time, but I never needed to reach out to them."
Choosing an online format for her degree program was the only way De León could manage school, motherhood, pregnancy and her full-time job teaching algebra at Dr. Kirk Lewis Career and Technical High School in the Pasadena Independent School District in Houston.
"Being able to complete the classes online allowed me to be extremely flexible with my schedule," she said. "All I had to do was make a calendar and plan out due dates for my assignments. I enjoyed the flexibility of the program a lot."
De León, who just started her sixth year as an educator, hopes to use her degree to help coach and mentor other teachers in math instruction.
"I enjoy teaching, and I wanted to improve in my teaching practices," she said. "I thought maybe going back and getting a master's degree would be beneficial for me."
As a middle schooler, De León was inspired to become a teacher by her math teachers — Diana Solis (seventh grade) and Mignon Rhodes (eighth grade) — at KIPP 3D Academy in Houston.
"Their passion for teaching made me want to eventually go into teaching and specifically teach math," she said. "When I was growing up, I saw a need for more passionate educators."
De León graduated valedictorian of her class at Barbara Jordan High School for Careers before she graduated with a bachelor's degree in math and a 3.9 GPA from the University of Houston in 2014. She also obtained her education credentials by completing an education program, teachHouston, also through the University of Houston main campus.
"Its philosophies were very much aligned to the master's program at UTA, which made my transition to a master's program smooth."
When De León was researching her options, her desire for a fully online degree program in Texas placed UTA on her shortlist. The university's reputation and tuition rates drove it to the top.
"UTA's education programs had great reviews," she said. "The classes were very affordable. The fact that it was all online made it very flexible. Plus, it was still close to home."
De León also benefited greatly from working with fellow online students who teach in the Lone Star State long before she completed the master's degree program.
"Since we use TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), it made it easier for me to know what teachers were using when they set their lesson plans," she said. "Then, I got ideas for my own lesson plans for my class.
"Being able to do the courses and teach at the same time made a lot of the lessons and the things we were discussing in class relevant. It allowed me to have ideas I could almost immediately use in the upcoming weeks."
With college in the rearview mirror, for now, De León looks forward to spending time with her children and her husband, Nelson Ricardo Hernandez. She's planning a December road trip to Arlington to walk in the commencement ceremony and receive her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction — Mathematics Education in person.
"I'm going to wait for both of my children to be in school, but four or five years down the line, I want to pursue my doctorate as well," she said. "UTA has given me the confidence to know that I can still continue furthering my education – a Ph.D. is my long-term goal."
De León is living proof that almost anybody, in any situation, can handle earning a master's degree online with a plate that is beyond full.
"I would tell anyone considering the M.Ed. program to be prepared to make a calendar and set due dates," she said. "If you keep up with due dates, it's a good program. If you can meet those deadlines, which are not too difficult, anybody can do the program and enjoyed it a lot."
Even though De León made some sacrifices to return to college, she got exactly what she was hoping for by immediately improving her teaching practices and laying a foundation for her future.
"I learned how to conduct studies and how to conduct research in the education classes," she said. "I enjoyed doing my literary analysis and my proposal.
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Mathematics Education program.
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