M.Ed. in Special Education
"Online was my only option. When I found that you had a 100 percent online program, I was so excited. The University of Arkansas has a spectacular reputation for excellence and academic achievement. So far, in the two semesters that I have been in school, the professors are rock stars and so helpful, and I have had nothing but a great experience in the online program."
It has been almost 20 years since Jennifer Terry attended college, so it was understandably daunting to return for a Master's in Education in Special Education. She found within herself the determination to become an example of perseverance for her four young children and, most especially, a staunch advocate for children with special needs.
“I want to be a great example to my children of hard work paying off,” Terry, 42, said. “I want to make a better life for my children and be able to reach all of those children who need that extra-special care.
“In future, I see myself being a special education teacher, although I could become a special education team leader at some point,” she said. “It’s possible for me to get a teaching position before I obtain my degree, but it’s unlikely, and I would have to complete the degree anyway, so yeah, this master’s degree will help me to get there.”
Terry, a single mother of children ages 5, 6, 9 and 11, received her bachelor’s in education and her teaching license in 2001. Afterwards, she homeschooled her children, due in part to her eldest son having autism. When her husband left four years ago, Terry found it hard to get back into the workforce, she said.
“Since I was out of the workforce for 10 years or so, it was hard for me to get a teaching job right off the bat,” she said. “I am currently working as a paraprofessional in a special education elementary classroom. I do not write the IEPs, but I teach based off of the IEPs.”
An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan that lists the student’s needs and goals. It is a legally binding document, and Terry follows those plans when teaching students individually and in small groups. She also assists with personal care and behavior management.
“One great way to give myself the professional boost that I need is to go back to school and get my master’s degree,” she added. “I still am interested in elementary education, which was my original degree, but I also really have a heart for special education. I have a sister who has special needs, and I took care of her for a lot of her life. Finding out what amazing things early intervention could do for my son really makes me want to be an advocate for those with special needs.”
Terry said she loves her work and is determined to continue her education, but she has a life outside of both. She was pleased to find a master’s in special education online program that lets her tailor her study schedule to fit her lifestyle, she said.
“I was researching online programs because there’s no way I could attend classes and work and raise four children,” she said. “Online was my only option. When I found that you had a 100 percent online program, I was so excited. The University of Arkansas has a spectacular reputation for excellence and academic achievement. So far, in the two semesters that I have been in school, the professors are rock stars and so helpful, and I have had nothing but a great experience in the online program.”
Having a structured, documented course schedule helps Terry organize her semesters around work and family needs, she said.
“The degree program tells you which classes you need to complete the degree and whether there’s more than one choice,” she said. “For example, there are different classes based on whether you already have a license or if you need to get one. The nice thing about online learning is that you do it when you have time to do it. It’s asynchronous, which means there’s no live classes, at least the ones that I’ve been in have not been live classes.
“Your teacher either records a lesson ahead of time or gives you written (material),” she said. “There are learning modules. There’s a schedule of work to be done each week. You log into that week’s work, and it’s all laid out for you, what you need to do, and you turn in your assignments on Blackboard. It’s really, really simple to learn.”
Blackboard is the online learning management system used at the U of A to deliver online course.
Terry also receives valuable guidance from her academic advisor, she said.
“I didn’t meet with Kathleen until after my first semester was completed, and since the COVID pandemic—it was still in full swing at that point—we talked over emails,” she said. “She answered any questions that I had and pointed me in the direction of anybody else that could answer my questions better than she could. It was very nice. It was a great process.”
Other resources that Terry found helpful was online access to the university library system and use of media aps for communication with her classmates, she said.
“The library has been extremely helpful for getting a lot of professional articles that I needed for my classes,” Terry said. “You just log in through the University of Arkansas Libraries. You would normally have to pay for access to many of those professional journals, but you get access to them for free through your University of Arkansas account.
“As for communicating with my fellow students, I had a GroupMe Chat last semester with all the classmates in some of my classes,” she said. “That was very useful. If something was unclear, instead of having to email the professor all the time, we asked each other. If all of us were unclear, one person could email the professor, and we would all get the answer.”
Terry was one of 25 people to receive the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship for online U of A students for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“I was so excited to receive the Manning Scholarship,” Terry said. “The scholarship means so much to me. It really helps lift a great burden from me so that I feel good about going to school and being able to support my children.”