Christy Miller never forgot the promise she made to her brother, Ricky, who passed away in 2012.
"He wanted me to go back to college," she said. "I had been praying about it. My son, Joshua (11), came home one day without knowing that and said I should go back to school to be a principal, so we decided together. There's nothing like that neon sign hitting you in the face."
Miller graduated from the Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies online program at the University of Texas at Arlington in May 2019.
After teaching for six years at Summit High School in Mansfield, Texas, Miller is the new assistant principal at James Coble Middle School in the Mansfield Independent School District.
"My son and I had planned an Alaska cruise, which was truly a celebration of me graduating and my gift to him for everything he sacrificed over the last year," she said. "I had an interview at 7:30 a.m. the day we left.
"Our connection to Seattle landed in San Francisco, and I had a message from the principal and called him back. As I was waiting to get off the flight and switch planes, he offered me a job. I was pretty shocked."
Although earning a master's degree was no easy task as a single mother with a full-time job, Miller had no intention of going back on her word.
"My sister, who is a teacher in the same district, asked me, 'Why do you want to do that?'" she said. However, it was evident the family supported her commitment to earning a master's degree.
"My parents were thrilled and over-the-top excited. My sister-in-law was ecstatic. She knew my brother wanted me to go back to college. It took me 20 years, but I did it."
Taking a Shot
Miller grew up in Clyde, Texas, where she was a standout basketball player. She played at Howard Payne University and on the pro-am circuit in the Dallas-Fort Worth area after graduating with a bachelor's degree in sports science with a minor in English in 1996.
"When I got into high school and started thinking about it, I knew I wanted to coach basketball," she said. "Teaching was the route."
For the first 15 years of Miller's career, she coached basketball and taught. After giving up coaching, she considered leaving the education field behind.
"I went home to visit my mom and was frustrated," she said. "Mom pulled out my schoolwork from when I was in elementary. On all of the different assignments, I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher. Apparently, I have wanted to do this forever."
Earning an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies affirmed Miller's calling, and she decided to stick with the profession she loves. She also found the right university.
"she said. "The admissions representative I spoke to was so nice and so easy to work with. He didn't pressure me, either. I told him in the beginning, 'When I am ready, I'll let you know.' When I was ready, he was on it."
The online format helped Miller fit a graduate degree into her busy life.
"My favorite part of the online experience was being able to pick which days of the week I wanted to work," she said. "If I had activities going on or I knew sometimes it was going to be busy, I could work in advance to free up my time for my son.
"He had to sacrifice just as much as I did. We talked about that. He knew that when Mommy was doing homework, he couldn't bother me. The only way to do it was online. This was our journey together."
Leading the Team
Miller has spent the majority of her 23-year teaching career working with at-risk kids. Now that she is in administration, she hopes to continue in that direction.
"I want to be able to help other teachers be successful with students who struggle in the classroom, whether it's academically or behaviorally," Miller said. "There are teachers who need more guidance in that area so that many of our students won't fall through the cracks."
The leadership courses in the UTA online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program laid the foundation for her to transition into administration.
"They helped me handle difficult situations and sometimes head them off ahead of time," Miller said. "My internship helped me understand and apply what the work was saying and what my administrators go through. I had the best internship ever."
Miller did her internship on her home campus at Summit High School. Her administrators were extremely involved and made sure she gained a lot of knowledge from the experience.
"They put me in every situation they could to put me in position to be successful," she said. "So much of what I was doing on campus applied to what we were doing in the master's program. All of my papers were on my internship."
Setting a New Goal
Now ensconced in her first administrator position, Miller hopes to eventually parlay it into a role in central administration. She'd like to work as an at-risk coordinator or an RTI (Response to Intervention) coordinator. She believes earning an M.Ed. helped prepare her for the next step in her journey.
"You have to be organized, willing to sacrifice, set that time aside and not let other things get in the way of what you have to do," she said.
"Everything that I've learned through this program has helped me become a better teacher — better than I've been in 23 years. Being able to help more students has been fantastic. This past year has been a lot of fun teaching, knowing what I know now. I wish I had known it the other 22 years."
Promise kept, ambition fulfilled, leadership career in bloom.
Good advice, Ricky.Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program.
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