Leigh Ann Eckols didn’t enroll in the Master of Education in Special Education online program at Lamar University to land a job. In fact, it was the other way around.
“I got a promotion at work, and I needed to brush up on my special education skills because I had been in general education for three years,” Eckols said. “Now, I do Individualized Education Program meetings. The students who need special education services are required to have a meeting every year, or more, if asked.
“I needed an update with the laws, assessment tools and intervention, so I felt like this program would provide good overall knowledge of what I needed. I have already been using the information from the M.Ed. curriculum.”
Eckols became the Admission, Review and Dismissal Facilitator for Galveston Independent School District in June 2016. She started the online M.Ed. in Special Education program seven months later and graduated in August 2018.
“I’m still learning on the job, but I think the program has given me a good basis,” she said. “If I don’t know an answer to a question, I know where I can go find it.”
Eckols grew up in Beaumont and set out to become a teacher taking courses in early childhood from Stephen F. Austin State University and ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lamar University in 1994. She also started a master’s degree program in childhood disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“My grandmother [Anna Lee] really wanted me to be a teacher,” Eckols said. “I thought that’s what I wanted to be, but sometimes the road of life takes you another way. I’m very shy. I was afraid to get in front of people. It terrified me.
“Then, I got into human resources. After being promoted up to the Illinois office, I was suddenly in front of people doing presentations and training. I said, ‘Look, I’m doing it.’”
Around that same time, her grandmother became ill.
“My dad [Douglas] called and said, ‘You know, Texas is now offering a new program where if you already have a degree, you can go into teaching,’” she said. “I said, ‘Maybe I’m ready.’ So, I moved back to Texas, got a teaching certificate, and here I am. I used to move around every three years, but apparently I like it here in Galveston.”
No kidding. Eckols has worked for Galveston ISD since 2004. She is thoroughly enjoying her new role after spending her first dozen years in the classroom.
“I like the variety of my job,” Eckols said. “I work with the kids, work with the teachers and meet with the parents. It’s never the same thing over and over again. It’s a rotating process.”
A Cardinal Again
Although Eckols has an undergraduate degree from Lamar University, she found out about the online M.Ed. in Special Education program indirectly.
“It was odd,” she said. “When I typed in ‘master of special education’ into Google, Lamar University was one of the top ones that popped up. I also had a friend who had gone through the program, and she said that it worked well for her. Lamar University ended up working out. The price was very good, too.”
The asynchronous online format was conducive to Eckols’ busy schedule.
“There was a lot of getting up very early in the morning to make sure I got some stuff done,” she said. “I probably worked three to five hours a day on reading material and tests. I’m self-motivated, too. I don’t need anybody to tell me to go to class or anything. This worked for me.”
A course Eckols particularly enjoyed was READ 5375: Content Area Reading.
“That course reminded you that you can help in every content area — reading, math, science, social studies,” she said. “It gave you the tools and strategies to help struggling readers. You don’t really think about it all of the time, but sometimes while sitting in math class, the kids can’t read the math problems.”
Another course especially applicable to her job is SPED 5334: Tests, Measurement & Evaluation.
“I just finished that course,” Eckols said. “It teaches instruments you use for evaluations, and it’s really making me buy into each of the tools. I hear about them and read them in reports, but this really let me know what the makeup was for each test.”
Eckols, who enjoys reading and playing music, said she surprised her friends and family by enrolling in a graduate degree program with all of the teaching experience she has under her belt.
“They were a little shocked that I went back, but they are very excited and supportive,” she said. “Everyone in my family has a college degree.”
The Lamar University online program was ideal for Eckols and her situation, but she believes going into it with the right frame of mind will take any student in any situation far.
“I would just say, ‘Go for it,’” she said. “The price is right. You get what you put into it. The more time you spend with it, read the material and understand the material, the more you’ll be able to use it at your job. To me, this is more hands-on than sitting in a lecture. It’s like I need to put it into practice immediately.”
Eckols is excited for the future and is looking forward to putting her M.Ed. in Special Education to good use.
“Eventually, I might want to move up to one of the regional offices or maybe even Austin and become more of a specialist in special education,” she said. “I would like more experience and maybe work in a district office first to get more background. The M.Ed. in Special Education degree will definitely help me do that.”
Learn more about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in Special Education program.