Connie Smith, seventh grade English and religion teacher at a middle school in Pennsylvania.

Alumni Spotlight: Connie Smith, M.Ed. with Special Education Certification

Connie Smith graduated from Holy Family University with an M.Ed. with Special Education Certification and currently works as a seventh-grade English and religion teacher at a middle school in Pennsylvania. We asked Connie to tell us a bit about her experience at Holy Family University. Check out what she had to say.

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

I always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a young child. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school when my English teacher inspired me to one day also teach English. She made reading books fun and engaging. We would have classroom discussions and share our opinions and ideas about characters. She also took the time to help us improve our writing skills. This experience encouraged me to one day become an English teacher. I wanted to help students while making the learning process engaging. I enjoy giving students the opportunity to share their creativity and ideas. Ultimately, I want to make a difference in my students’ lives. Thank you, Ms. Mancuso, for inspiring me to become an English teacher—I have no regrets!

Why did you choose Holy Family University for your master’s degree in education with special education certification?

I chose Holy Family for my graduate degree because their schedule and timeline appealed to me. I liked that it was not only online-based but there was one course every eight weeks. Being that I am a full-time teacher, this type of program made it manageable for me to complete assignments. I could work on my assignments on any given day during the week and did not have to spend time traveling to the campus. In addition, I was able to earn my degree within two years. With it being solely online and only two years, this program was rather reasonable and affordable. I felt as though Holy Family checked off all the boxes.

What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Holy Family University, and how do you use them today?

I became more knowledgeable of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. This was a term that I learned about throughout my undergrad and heard often through colleagues. During my graduate program, this concept was strongly emphasized in many of my classes. I learned different ways of applying it to practice. For example, the UDL framework stresses the importance of students articulating goals for lessons. The reasoning is that it allows students to gain a sense of ownership for the learning process. Since I teach seventh grade, I try to encourage them to become independent and responsible, and I feel as though incorporating UDL in my lessons is extremely beneficial for my students.

How has your master’s degree impacted you in terms of your current position or position you’d like to attain in the future?

My master’s degree has reminded me of the importance of meeting the needs of all students. Throughout many of my courses, it was often emphasized that students have many different learning styles. We completed activities where we ourselves had to see which learning styles fit us best. I became more aware and knowledgeable of the various ways there are to learn. When planning lessons now, I try to incorporate a variety of activities and assessments in order to meet all of my students’ needs.

What was a challenge you faced during your master’s degree in education with special education certification program, and who or what helped you overcome it?

One of the challenges I experienced was trying to complete group assignments/projects. Although most of my peers were also full-time teachers, we all had different schedules which sometimes made it difficult to communicate with one another. Google Docs was a great tool to use and was certainly helpful with this challenge. If I wanted to work on my portion in the beginning of the week, I could type it in the document, and my peers could add to it whenever they were available. Initially, I had my concerns when I first saw group projects listed in the syllabus; however, I enjoyed them because it gave me a chance to learn from my peers and connect with them more.

What was the biggest takeaway from your master’s program?

The biggest takeaway for me was hearing about the history of people with disabilities. We watched and did research about people at Pennhurst Asylum. Although the documentary was rather difficult to view at times, it was certainly eye-opening. It made me realize that in this day and age we have so many tools and resources available to help those with disabilities, but are we using them? I think we are on the right path to becoming more accepting of those with disabilities; however, I still feel as though much improvement is needed. Perhaps there needs to be more training on how to use these tools and resources and more education in regards to the different types of disabilities.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the master’s degree in education with special education certification program at Holy Family University?

My advice would be to always reach out and ask questions, whether they be directed towards the advisors or professors. Before I started the program, I reached out to my advisor in order to gain more insight on the anticipated timeline and required courses. This gave me a better idea of what to expect. As for my classes, I never hesitated to ask my professors questions, whether they were about the actual content, assessments, or assignments. I always received responses rather quickly which I think is a huge factor when choosing a school. I strongly believe in communication, so I felt at ease knowing I would hear back from someone in regards to any questions.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to point out that I really enjoyed working with the other classmates in my cohort. I always enjoyed group discussion posts, because it gave me the opportunity to hear about their classroom experiences as well as their perspectives on a given topic. Sometimes I find that one can learn best by listening and communicating with others.