Johnna Johnston is a true Maverick.
After carving out a career as a corporate trainer in homeland security preparedness, she discovered her calling as a high school teacher, switched gears, and never looked back.
Johnston, 55, graduated with a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies from the online program at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in May 2019.
"My mom, Mary Ellen Hallberg, had Alzheimer's," she said. "I took care of her and started substitute teaching. I found my passion and went back and finished my undergraduate degree. I instantly knew that I wanted to get my master's degree because, as a teacher, I am a lifelong learner. I wanted to continue that path."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in multidisciplinary studies from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2015, Johnston landed her first full-time teaching job at La Porte High School in the Houston area. She will continue teaching senior English at a new job at Galveston Ball High School for the 2019-20 school year.
"You really need your master's degree to be an instructional specialist, which is what I hope to become," Johnston said. "I feel like there's a need for it in the high school level — especially with post-secondary success for students. A lot of them are having to go into remediation before they can take college classes, so that was a driver for me."
Johnston grew up in Magnolia, Texas, and enrolled in a bachelor's degree program at Baylor University after high school.
"In my mom's family, everybody was an educator except for my mom," she said. "It was in the genes, so to speak. I also did some corporate training, so I was kind of in the realm without being in public school. I originally majored in history and political science. Now, I teach English. Life changes."
Once Johnston got her feet wet in the classroom, she became a long-term substitute teacher at Clear Creek Independent School District. She was eager to enroll in a graduate degree program once she gained more real-world experience.
"A UTA representative came to our district and told me about the online M.Ed. programs," Johnston said. "I was instantly interested. I signed up that fall and started in January 2018. Being a lifelong learner keeps your brain young. You have to keep yourself motivated."
The flexibility of the online format allowed her to add a graduate degree program to her busy schedule. Johnston and her husband, Todd Doerre, have a daughter, Madison Doerre, who recently graduated from Colorado College and plans to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.
"It was very manageable," Johnston said. "I can't say enough about the professors at UTA. If you have questions and there is something that you do not understand, they help you get back on track. I had their phone numbers if I needed to call them, which I only did a couple of times. The program was clear and laid out very well."
The ability to plan ahead with the online program was a big reason Johnston was successful.
"The way UTA sets it up, you can easily manage a schedule," she said. "Most of your discussion questions are due at 11:59 p.m. on the first day. Then, your assignments were usually due at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday or, on the rare occasion, Saturday. You could plan your time accordingly because it didn't change every week. As a working person, you need that."
LIST 5326: Pre-Adolescent & Adolescent Literacy was Johnston's favorite course in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
"Because I teach high school, I was pleasantly surprised that I liked the elementary class," she said. "I learned a lot from the elementary school teachers. They really inspired me. I drew on their knowledge. I was able to take it and tweak it and apply it at a different level. Because of the reading part of English in high school, the classes are more writing-focused. I was able to use both of those together, and it's been a treat."
The Next Step
Johnston made the trip to Arlington to walk the graduation stage at commencement and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Her post-graduation celebration included a trip to Greece with a friend.
"My friend chartered a sailboat to congratulate me," she said. "We took our daughters. It was wonderful. They are all very proud of me. Another friend said, 'OK. Are we going to do our doctorate?' I said, 'I need to breathe first.'"
Given her experience in the online M.Ed. program at UTA, Johnston isn't ruling out a doctoral degree down the road.
"I firmly believe that if you stop, everything stops," she said. "I feel younger. It makes you feel alive. You get to be around younger people. You get to be around people our age. It keeps life interesting."
Johnston believes earning a master's degree has her in position to achieve her goal of becoming an instructional specialist.
"Your undergrad gets you to a starting place, where the master's strengthens what you know because you have the research and the data to support it," she said. "It starts making sense why it's so important. You get the value out of that research and data by seeing why it was formed and what makes it applicable."
Although Galveston Ball does not currently have an instructional specialist position, Johnston hopes to pioneer the school's efforts in that direction.
"That is my next step," she said. "I think the master's degree will help me get there.
Take it from a true Maverick.
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
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