Vanessa Petek, a social studies teacher for a high school in Minnesota.

Alumni Spotlight: Vanessa Petek, M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction

Vanessa Petek graduated from Concordia University St. Paul with an M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction and currently works as a social studies teacher for a high school in Minnesota. As an accomplished educator with nearly a decade in the classroom, we asked Vanessa to share with us her experience pursuing her master’s degree at Concordia University St. Paul.

Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?

After being told I couldn’t be a mermaid, I decided at the age of eight I wanted to be a teacher. As I got older, the plan never changed. Thanks to great teachers, I discovered my love of knowledge and learning. I had especially wonderful history teachers who showed me that our past isn’t memorizing dates and names but a story to be shared and remembered. My love of history guided me to become a high school social studies teacher where I can share this story with the next generation.

Why did you choose Concordia University St. Paul for your master’s degree in curriculum and instruction?

I chose Concordia University St. Paul for my M.Ed degree in curriculum and instruction for two main reasons. The first factor was the online flexibility. Not only was I able to complete the program from the comfort of my couch, it was also at a pace that worked with my busy home life. The second factor was the affordability. I could enhance my teaching without having to worry about finances.

What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Concordia University St. Paul, and how do you use them today?

I gained so much during my time at Concordia. I learned how to better support my students as readers. My professors demonstrated many strategies for different reading levels. The part I struggled with was how to help all students when there were so many different abilities in one classroom. I gain student-specific and whole-classroom strategies that will support reading for all students.

I also was able to incorporate standards without compromising my student-lead courses. I was overwhelmed by the need to incorporate all the standards and keep the lessons relevant to my students. My instructors had tools that were varied to be able to scaffold the lessons and reach each of the standards in a variety of ways. With so many diverse learners in each classroom, the skills and tools I gained are enabling me to support the variety of abilities.

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?

My master’s degree has given me more confidence in building my courses. As an online charter school teacher, I was looking to find ways to reach all students in an online environment. Through the master’s program, I discovered many strategies that scaffolded both reading and content learning in ways that met our state and school standards. I also now have the skills to determine where a student is for their reading levels and find material that they can comprehend and be successful with each unit.

What was a challenge you faced during your curriculum and instruction program, and who or what helped you overcome it?

There were a few challenges that came up as I was working on my curriculum and instruction master’s degree. The first one was trying to balance work, school, and home life. It was great that all the instructors had gone through the same program, so they were able to give great advice when I had concerns about an assignment or I was in a crunch. My classmates were also helpful. We were able to bounce ideas off each other and support each other when we needed something extra. The capstone was especially worrisome for me. My husband was great at helping me find time to complete my research and get it all written.

What was the biggest takeaway from your curriculum and instruction program?

The biggest take away for me was the strategies I gained. I use them in my classroom all the time. Everything from content area specifics to scaffolded instruction, I have been able to enhance my lesson plans with the strategies I gained from the curriculum and instruction program. Another big take away was the collaboration that was able to happen. I learned so much from my other classmates, and it was great to have such a variety of teachers in the same program. Elementary teachers, English teachers, teachers at brick-and-mortar schools, new teachers, teachers who had been teaching for 20+ years – we had such a great blend of experience. It was great hearing from different perspectives and knowing that the program was applicable to so many different classrooms.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the M.Ed. curriculum and instruction program at Concordia University St. Paul?

I would like to tell prospective master’s students that it is totally worth it. If you are contemplating and the only thing holding you back is worry, go for it! You won’t regret the work you put into it. The courses are relevant, the instructors are relatable, and the work itself is applicable to a modern classroom. You can do it, and you are worth it. You will gain so much, and it will show in your lessons and in the progress of your students’ achievement.