Tonnette Peters didn't hesitate to swing for the fences when life threw her a curveball. The Chicago native changed her focus to teaching while completing an undergraduate degree in sport management at Howard University.
"With sport management, everything I did was related to kids in some way, shape or form," Peters said. "I was a mentor at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, which used a baseball-themed curriculum to teach science, literacy and math. It was cool to see how they took the sport of baseball and transformed it. The sports-based curriculum piqued my interest in teaching."
After graduation in 2016, Peters accepted a position as a math teacher at YES Prep Public Schools in Houston. Peters is now enrolled in the Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction – Mathematics Education online program at the University of Texas at Arlington. She's due to complete the program in August 2019.
"My goal after this program is to create my own sports-based curriculum. I want to figure out how to incorporate information from sports and use it to teach math and bring those things together."
Peters had no time to dwell on being a rookie teacher while earning alternative certification. The experience of learning on the fly steered her toward returning to school for a graduate degree. Laura Myers, the former math intervention content specialist at YES Prep Public Schools, encouraged Peters to return to school and wrote her a letter of recommendation.
"I was teaching an intervention class and my resources weren't helpful," she said. "I had to create my own resources my first two years. That pushed me to think, 'Can I go back to get my master's degree?' and 'What could I do my master's degree in?' I have literally applied something to my job from every class in the program."
Peters discovered the UTA online education programs while researching schools and was impressed by the national rankings. The flexibility of the online format allowed her to work on the degree while teaching full time.
"I started teaching right after my undergrad, so I didn't realize there's a big difference between being an undergrad and drinking a lot of coffee and being a full-time teacher and being able to take a lot of classes," she said. "It's definitely manageable. I want to really understand my work, so I spend 8-10 hours a week on school. I'm a perfectionist."
The best part of the online M.Ed. C&I – Mathematics Education program for Peters is that everything she is learning is uncharted territory.
"There is something unique about the courses, like talking about culturally relevant teaching and social justice," she said. "I've heard about those things, but I've never had any professional development talk about them in all three years of my teaching. The program is definitely beneficial and gives me new ideas."
MAED 5355: Conceptual Geometry was the most fun and applicable course for Peters.
"That course was enjoyable because it was so hands on," she said. "I was creating the lessons and testing them out on my students. It was fun for them to be able to see what I was doing and the work that goes into the lessons that they receive. It really opened my eyes."
Peters also enjoyed the first course in the program, EDUC 5305: Effective Teaching and Learning for 21st Century Ec-12 Students.
"We did a lot of experiments and exploring science in that class," she said. "Understanding what science is helped me understand what math is. Even though I am a math girl, science and math go hand in hand. This class taught me how to effectively incorporate the 5E Instructional Model into my classroom."
Peters, who minored in French during her undergrad and spent a semester studying abroad in France, looks forward to graduation day and having her family come to Arlington from Chicago for the ceremony.
"My sisters all have their master's degrees," she said. "They were like, 'You're next.' When I graduated from high school, my mom got her GED and finished with me. Getting my master's was expected. Everybody was supportive."
Even though graduation is still several months away, the online M.Ed. in C&I – Mathematics Education has already opened doors for Peters.
"My first three courses at UTA were great and gave me the confidence to apply to be a curriculum writer in my district," she said. "I am now a curriculum writer for our Math Intervention course. We developed a curriculum for the entire year and changed some things up.
"I created lesson plans and projects after learning about that in class. I've also created some projects for us to incorporate and trackers to measure student progress. Everything that I've been able to implement into my class and district, I took from a class at UTA."
Peters has three pieces of advice for potential students in the online M.Ed. program. First, maintain an open mind.
"It's not an undergraduate experience, and you are not face to face with a professor," she said. "Keep an open mind to the infinite possibilities. That's what I feel like I have received from the program. It has given me knowledge, confidence and opportunities within my district."
Next, Peters encourages taking advantage of communicating with fellow students and faculty members.
"I have a core of about five people who all live in Texas," she said. "We talk and we meet up, even though we are all about three hours away from each other. Find the people you like and hang out with those folks. They will end up helping you. I've met people from all different parts of Texas and all different walks of life.
"The professors are really nice. They'll talk to you and respond to your emails. If you can't make a deadline, you need to communicate. The professors have no issues extending it and helping you."
Finally, Peters said to commit to finding meaning in each course.
"It's easy to say, 'I'm tired' and go through the motions," she said. "Because all of this information is new for me, I value every single class I take. I try hard to take that information into my class and apply it to my students. I even go on Facebook live and talk about the things I learn that are culturally relevant."
For Peters, the online M.Ed. program clearly has all of the bases covered.
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction – Mathematics Education program.
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