Gabriel Hoerger graduated from Concordia University Chicago with an M.A. in Principal Preparation and currently works as a seventh and eighth grade math teacher at a middle school in Illinois. As an accomplished math teacher for more than five years, we asked Gabe to tell us about his experience pursuing his master’s degree at Concordia University Chicago.
Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?
The standard response here begins with, “When I was a child, I always dreamed of being a teacher.” For me, this was not the case. Unfortunately for me, it was not a great experience that inspired me to be a teacher. As a junior in high school, I really struggled with my Algebra II course. I completed all of my homework, took notes in class, and studied for all assessments. No matter the amount of time and effort I put forth in the class, for some reason I was still struggling to receive a passing grade. As a shy student, I tried to avoid asking the teacher for help, but at this point I had exhausted all other options and gathered enough courage to talk to my teacher about what I could do to improve my grade in his class. He simply told me that there was no other way to improve upon my grade.
I remember leaving his classroom feeling demoralized and broken. I felt like a failure. This horrible feeling is what inspired me to become a teacher. A teacher can mean the world to a student. They can build a student up or tear a student down. I wanted to be a teacher that builds my students up. So I made it a career, and to this day, I hold a standard of being that teacher that provides the support my students need to be successful.
Why did you choose Concordia University Chicago for your M.A. principal preparation program degree?
I honestly had not even thought of moving towards obtaining a degree in principal preparation until a colleague of mine handed me a flyer about all of the programs offered at Concordia University Chicago. The flyer stated how it would only take two years to complete the program. What appealed to me was that there was a location offered right down the street from where I live and the fact that the program was arranged so that you were able to continue working while moving towards your degree. After attending an informational meeting, I was excited to get started and pursue this new educational program.
What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Concordia University Chicago and how do you use them today?
Well, I have not become a principal just yet. I finished the program and received my degree, but I decided that I still want to teach for a few more years before I decide to move on to becoming a principal. However, my view point as a teacher has changed immensely. I view my principal’s actions and leadership in a different light. There is a different type of leadership required to be a principal and so many more aspects that I did not even take into consideration before completing this program. This program has also encouraged me to take on more leadership roles at my school to continue the practice of leadership over teachers and staff.
How has your master’s degree impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future?
This program has made a great impact on the position that I would like to attain in the future. I realized that right now, I am not quite finished leading children. I want to focus on my practice of teaching children first. And when the time is right, I will be ready to move on to an administrative role. It will be a different type of leadership role as I will be responsible for leading the entire school community, but I know I’ll be ready to confidently take on this new career and challenge.
What was a challenge you faced during your principal preparation program, and who or what helped you overcome it?
The biggest challenge that I faced during this program was time management! Man, I thought getting my bachelor’s degree was hard! Now, I was going back to college to get another degree and working a full-time career at the same time. In the beginning, it was really difficult to balance both. After about a month, I worked into a routine that really helped me to become successful. During the week, my focus was on teaching my students. On Saturdays, my focus was on being a student. I would spend my Saturdays at a local coffee shop doing research, writing papers, and completing projects. This structure worked really well for me and helped me to maintain my expectations as a teacher and also learn how to be a principal at the same time.
What was the biggest takeaway from your principal preparation program?
I think the biggest takeaway was viewing challenges in two perspectives: as a teacher and also as an administrator. I have not yet stepped into the role as an administrator, but I continuously think about how I might make decisions in my current school. I have noticed that my views on certain challenges in the classroom have changed. I continuously think about the school’s mission and vision and how I am promoting those pieces as a teacher and leader in the school. I also give my current administration a lot more respect and gratitude when it comes to the amount of hard work and the many different hats that they have to wear on a daily basis.
What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the M.A. principal preparation program at Concordia University Chicago?
My biggest piece of advice would be to put a routine into place. It can be difficult to balance work life with student life. Find a routine that works for you that will help you to be successful in both. For me, I discovered that spending one day over the weekend towards my studies helped me to be successful. My other piece of advice is to get to know your professors. Many of them have had years and years of experience, and I learned so much from their experience that has really helped me to understand what it takes to be a successful administrator.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Have fun! There will be times that it will be stressful and overwhelming. Just remember to take it one step at a time. And remember, you are learning about a brand new career path! Take in all the new learning experiences as you grow from an educator into a leader!