Shakura Weathers graduated from Concordia University Chicago with an M.A. in Reading Education and currently works as an AP Language and Composition teacher for a high school in Chicago, Illinois. With more than 10 years teaching English, we asked Shakura to tell us about her experience pursuing her master’s degree at Concordia University Chicago.
Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?
My freshman year of high school, I was blessed with an English teacher who had a love for education, an interest in each of her individual students, and a true desire to not just educate, but to be effective. Additionally, she displayed a quality that as a fourteen-year-old, I had not yet experienced in school: Passion. When discussing literature, her eyes would light up and she spoke as if she were the author discussing her inspirations for writing, her life experiences that prompted her writing, her loves and her losses. She was fervent in her literary opinions and challenged her students to disprove and support her literary sentiments. School was no longer the place where knowledge was dropped upon me, but a place where ideas were exchanged, learning was reciprocal, and lives were changed. I never wanted this to end, and so, at that moment, I was inspired to become what I had learned she was: a true educator.
Why did you choose Concordia University Chicago for your master’s degree in reading education?
At the time of my decision to seek a master’s degree, several of my colleagues were students at Concordia University Chicago and often spoke about the manageability of the coursework load, the accessibility of the program, as each of them were in cohorts that met much closer to his or her house than the actual campus, and most important to me, they loved the instructors, their passion for learning, and that many of them were current public school teachers as well, who could understand and address current educational issues. I was sold!
What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Concordia University Chicago, and how do you use them today?
As an inner city educator, yearly, I am faced with a wide range of students with varying degrees of knowledge, and as a secondary education certificate recipient, much of my undergraduate education assumed that students in the sixth grade and beyond had already acquired skills that many of my students had not. I needed to learn to identify and remediate deficiencies common in younger grades. Through Concordia University Chicago’s reading program, I learned how students acquire literacy knowledge, environmental factors that enhance or diminish their ability to do this as well as some of their counterparts, and most importantly, how to identify specific deficiencies and implement practical strategies to address them either as a reading specialist or within the context of the classroom. This helps me every day as now my differentiation of instruction is intentional, focused, and I feel better prepared to actually address the issue, helping my students swim towards proficiency and not just float through the year.
How has your reading education degree impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future?
Another unexpected aspect of my reading education program was that I not only learned to remediate, but I also learned to challenge students who are higher performing. As I now teach in a college preparatory setting where many of my students are high performing and few are in need of remediation, as a result of my reading education at Concordia University Chicago, I feel confident in challenging my students, choosing academically yet developmentally appropriate literature, and creating questions that engage, challenge, and encourage critical interaction with texts. Additionally, my reading education has been helpful to informing specific accommodations and modifications that will best help my students with 504 and Individualized Education Plans.
What was a challenge you faced during your reading education program, and who or what helped you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I faced during my reading education program was time management. In addition to lesson planning, paper grading, and other responsibilities that come with having a full-time teaching position, I now had all of the responsibilities of being a full-time student. What helped me overcome this was my students. If I was to be the teacher I once had who poured everything she had into her students, I had to acquire the knowledge to do so. Although it seemed like more work in the immediate, I knew once I was better at teaching my students where they were currently and utilizing effective practices to get them where they needed to be, my day-to-day work would be easier and more meaningful, and that is what pushed me.
What was the biggest takeaway from your reading education program?
My biggest takeaway from the reading education program is that no one is born disinterested in reading. I learned that if non-readers are created then so are life-long readers. This idea that either students liked to read or did not was replaced with the idea that disinterested readers can be converted into life-long readers through exposure to a variety of literature, remediation of any deficiencies that would diminish a student’s confidence in his or her reading ability, and attention to his or her personal interests, and it was my job to try.
What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the M.A. reading education degree program at Concordia University Chicago?
The advice I would give prospective students considering the M.A. reading education program is in the form of a quote I once read and never forgot: “There’s a difference between teaching and reaching.” Teaching a curriculum to the best of one’s ability can only happen if one is able to identify the varying ability levels of each of his or her students and teach to them. The reading education program allowed me to do that. I am no longer just teaching a curriculum; I am teaching and reaching my students, and it is the best feeling in the world.