An Interview with Brooke Hall
“I chose to get a masters degree in elementary education because I wanted to enter a field where I could work with younger people, and I thought teaching was the best way to work with this age group while maintaining some creative autonomy.”
Brooke Hall is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Elementary Education program at Antioch University in Seattle, Washington.
Brooke earned a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Fairhaven College in Bellingham, Washington. She teaches at The Valley School, a private school in Seattle.
In your own words, what is elementary education?
Elementary education is the constantly evolving study of how to best impart basic academic and social skills to children during their formative primary school years.
Why did you choose to get a masters degree in elementary education?
I chose to get a masters degree in elementary education because I wanted to enter a field where I could work with younger people, and I thought teaching was the best way to work with this age group while maintaining some creative autonomy. I came to these conclusions after working as a social worker for about 8 years, and interacting with teenagers and young adults extensively.
When you first considered pursuing a masters degree in elementary education, what were your expectations?
When I first considered the program, I did not fully appreciate the workload of a condensed masters degree, and realized I would not be able to maintain a job while studying. It was important for me to prepare in advance for being without a job for 18 months. I also realized quickly how important it would be to make friends within the program since I would have no time for friendship elsewhere. I recommend prospective students do the same, or else the time commitment may catch them off guard.
What do you find most enjoyable about studying elementary education?
The coolest thing about studying elementary education is being able to continually develop how my classroom will function. Teaching is a job that constantly changes and evolves, not only because new techniques and ideas enter the field, but because every year a teacher receives a new set of students, a new set of challenges and a new set of parents. Elementary education is full of variety.
How did you choose your graduate school?
I chose to attend Antioch University for my masters degree because of the school’s location, the relatively short program duration and the learning atmosphere. I live in Seattle, and did not want to move in order to study. Also, I wanted to start my career as soon as possible, so the fact that Antioch offered a condensed 18-month program with certification was very appealing. Finally, I enjoyed that Antioch was like my alma mater, Fairhaven College, in its concern for social issues and diversity. The ideological perspectives of schools was important to me when considering programs.
What was your program’s curriculum like?
The condensed 18-month program was an intense combination of reading, writing and fieldwork. Students had to participate in teaching internships as well as a full load of classes totaling 28 credits. All courses were required, and there were no electives to choose from.
The few people who worked full time in addition to pursuing their masters degrees were absolutely exhausted. I considered working as well, but realized there was no way I could effectively complete the program if I held a job at the same time.
What parts of your curriculum or particular classes do you think will be most valuable for your future goals?
My assessment class, my English language learner class and my educational foundation class all proved valuable for my future goals.
My assessment class explored different methods of assessing children in order to figure out how they are most effectively taught. I use those methods in my own classroom every day.
The English language learner class was highly relevant to what I do now, since many kids speak more than one language in my classrooms. It helped me teach those students more effectively, and I feel all elementary school teachers should be trained to teach English language learners.
My educational foundation class proved very useful as well. It was essentially the history of American education. It emphasized the differences in international education systems in addition to how, as products of the American education system, we may not recognize those differences.
What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in an elementary education program and what traits would hinder success?
Dedication, creativity and cooperation are the most important traits that a student of elementary education can possess. Students need to be dedicated to becoming teachers, or else they may not make it past the daily rigor of the teaching environment. Creativity and flexible thinking are also necessary in order to run an efficient classroom.
And finally, students of elementary education as well as teachers need to be able to cooperate with peers. The field requires all kind of cooperation with diverse people, and young learners suffer if not all the adults involved in their education are on the same page.
Did you have an advisor, and if so, how did your advisor support your academic progress?
I had an awesome, very hands-on advisor. He acted as a general mentor, and helped place me in my teaching internship. The internship is a necessary step in being able to qualify for a teaching license, which has been the most significant outcome of my graduate education. Internships can be competitive, so it was important for me to have a capable advisor helping me through the process.
What was your weekly schedule?
On most weeks I attended 2 class sessions, each from 4:00 to 9:30 p.m. The amount of time I spent on homework was intense, usually several hours every day.
During the 5-month internship phase of my study, I began each day in a classroom with my mentoring teacher. We prepared a lesson and I observed her while she taught, and once or twice a week I would get an opportunity to teach. While teaching I was being observed by someone from Antioch, which was nerve-wracking, but I got used to it. I received constant feedback, and occasionally had to set aside my ego while hearing it. After the internship was finished for the day, I would do prep work for the next class.
How did you balance your studies and your personal life?
I entered the program with the understanding that it would be a very intense 18 months, and did not expect to have much, if any, free time. There were times when I was completely absorbed by work and any sort of balance with my personal life was impossible. I thought graduate study would resemble undergraduate study, but I was wrong. It was quite overwhelming. At best, my schedule allowed me to occasionally exercise.
What have you done since graduation?
After graduating, I applied for a third grade teaching job at The Valley School, a private elementary school in Seattle, and was soon accepted. I chose a private school over public school because I wanted to teach small classes and focus on arts integration. I enjoy teaching, and so long as everything continues going well I do not plan on pursuing an advanced degree. I work hard every day to improve my style, and be the best teacher that I can be.
Now that you have completed your elementary education graduate program, if you could go back to college, what would you do differently?
I am very happy with the educational path I chose, and would not do anything differently if I had the chance. I am happy I chose a condensed program, because I felt I was very ready to start working. It is possible that I may have gotten better grades if my program was not condensed, but it has still served me very well.
What advice do you have for students who are considering a masters degree in elementary education?
If you are considering a masters degree in elementary education, yet must work while you study, do not choose a condensed program. If you do, you will be unable to produce quality work.