Rachael Blizzard was still waiting for the curtain to open on her career two months after she graduated with a bachelor's degree in theatre arts from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).
"I was working at Starbucks and thinking there had to be something with more meaning I can do with my life," she said. "As an actress, there is a desire to motivate and inspire the audience. Essentially, you hope to change a life. That's when I said, 'I could teach and inspire the next generation like so many of my teachers inspired me.'"
Blizzard returned to UTA and graduated from the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program in May 2013. Now, she teaches theatre at the McLean 6th Grade Center in the Fort Worth Independent School District.
"I cried after receiving my acceptance letter to the master's degree program," Blizzard said. "I knew that it was going to change my life and my future students' lives for the better."
The online format appealed to Blizzard because she could prepare for classes much like she prepared to take the stage to play a role.
"I find online learning easier than learning in a classroom," she said. "I like seeing the schedule completely mapped out and examples outlined for me. It allows me to work at my own pace. I loved being able to do several assignments ahead of time. If something popped up in my life, I had some leeway."
With the ability to plan out an entire week of schoolwork for the program at a time, Blizzard balanced attending college while working as a substitute teacher for Arlington ISD.
"The online classes worked wonderfully with my schedule," she said. "Thankfully, most online classes post assignment examples way ahead of time. This allowed me to work on the weekdays doing discussion board postings and reading the assigned chapters. On the weekends, I worked on the writing assignments and PowerPoints."
Flipping the Script
After developing a passion for acting while growing up in Leander, Texas, Blizzard knew she wanted a career in theatre. She attended McLennan Community College in Waco for three years on scholarship before transferring to UTA. Blizzard graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre in 2010.
"Since I had obtained my undergrad at UTA, I went on the education website to see which program might be the right fit for me," she said. "I knew I loved 'the littles,' so early childhood was where I wanted to be."
Blizzard taught kindergarten for four years in the Mansfield ISD after graduating from the online M.Ed. program.
"I loved teaching the little ones, but I knew after four years I needed to teach my passion — theatre arts," she said. "I knew there was something bigger for me than what was currently on the table. After being hired for the FWISD theatre position, I did a celebration dance and cried. After starting in August 2018, I knew this was the best decision I have ever made."
The experience of teaching kindergarten and earning an M.Ed. online helped shape Blizzard's current role.
"It was essential to being the teacher I am today," she said. "I am always intertwining my kindergarten experience into my 6th grade lessons. I find it's easier to teach cross-curriculum education. It truly enriches my lessons and makes the students feel very successful."
Blizzard's favorite courses in the master's degree curriculum were the English as a Second Language courses taught by Dr. Carla Amaro-Jimenez and the literacy courses taught by Dr. Kathryn Pole.
"One thing I took away from both of those professors was to always make a conscious effort to put literature and multiculturalism into my lessons," Blizzard said. "Adding those two components enriches my lessons far beyond what I could have done without them. Those upped the game for me, big time!
"I still feel connected to UTA because of the professors. I love them. They genuinely cared about my learning. Their passion for teaching ignited my passion for learning."
Life Is Grande
Blizzard has come a long way from serving coffee to thirsty Texans. She would like to be an instructional specialist for fine arts teachers or work as a coordinator someday, but she loves where she is in life now.
"All of my experiences at UTA and Mansfield ISD led me to this point in my life," Blizzard said. "I truly feel successful where I am. I am constantly inspiring my students and their parents as I work to build a new theatre department from scratch. The parents, faculty and administrators are blown away by my efforts."
The experience of earning a master's degree online at UTA opened the door for Blizzard to land a job in the field she loves. She is the first woman in her immediate family to earn a master's degree.
"When I apply for teaching jobs, my M.Ed. has employers taking a second glance at my application," she said. "My job interviewers always ask me about it and are impressed. If you are a hard worker, an achiever or just want to better yourself, getting a master's degree is for you.
"Why should anyone stop you? The professors are great, the environment at UTA is fun, and distance learning makes life so much easier. Do it."
As an added bonus, Blizzard was enrolled in the online M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction — Literacy Studies program at the same time her father, Roy Blizzard Jr., was earning an online master's degree in biblical studies from another university.
"I will always look back at my graduate work and giggle," she said. "It became a race to see who would get their master's degree first — me or my dad. Naturally, I did by three months. Ha! My family was shocked and very proud of me at the same time. They didn't know I had a desire to go back to school or that I was going to apply for a graduate degree."
When Blizzard wants to convey passion to the budding actors she teaches, she can rely on the emotion she feels after making the decision to return to UTA.
"If I did not get my M.Ed., I honestly do not know where I would be today," she said. "The program changed my life. I met some of the most amazing professors through the program whom I can call friends.
"I have met co-workers whom I call family. My students are wonderful, and I am always encouraging them to work hard. I went into the program wanting to inspire people and I get to do it every day. How cool is that?"
Learn more about the UTA online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
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