Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Graduate School of Education News

Ashley Casebeer is earning her MEd degree with the goal of teaching elementary school students.Ashley Casebeer is earning her MEd degree with the goal of teaching elementary school students.

New master’s degree helps teachers improve their work in the classroom

Finding innovative ways to teach while facing the added challenges of large class sizes, tight budgets and changing curriculum requirements can sometimes seem daunting to teachers.

A new degree program at Willamette University’s Graduate School of Education aims to support teachers through these challenges by showing them how to adapt while maintaining a student-centered approach.

The two-year Master of Education (MEd) degree, which began full-time in the fall, is geared toward people who already have an undergraduate degree and teaching certificate but are seeking a master’s.

“Our coursework builds teachers’ knowledge and skills while helping them learn how to evaluate and improve their practices in the classroom,” says Associate Professor of Education Jill Bryant, MEd program coordinator.

“It’s tremendously valuable to our students to not have their master’s work be separate from their teaching. Our program melds the two together so that teachers can connect their lessons with what they’re doing in class.”

Learning In-Person or Online

The program is also sensitive to another challenge for teachers: time. Teachers need flexibility in when and where to do their master’s work, so Willamette’s program offers the ability to earn the degree either through traditional in-person classes or entirely online.

Either way, students learn from Willamette’s quality faculty and have multiple chances to network, whether it’s face-to-face or through online chats and discussion groups. Students can also move between the online and the in-person versions of the program, depending on their needs and schedules.

Ashley Casebeer MEd’12 chose the online option because she wanted a degree from what she calls “a prestigious school,” but she liked not having to commute frequently from her home in Portland.

Also, by doing the online projects at times that work for her — rather than being constricted to specific class times — she can more easily balance her master’s program with her work as a substitute teacher.

“At first I was concerned about how I was going to get to know my professors and classmates if the program was online,” she says. “But in reality, we feel very connected. We are constantly emailing and chatting online, and we also meet in person several times a semester.

“Our professors are in constant communication with all of us because they want us to succeed.”

Gaining Practical Experience

In addition to the degree coursework, the students earn an endorsement — for reading, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or special education — which is an add-on specialty area that makes them more marketable for jobs, Bryant says.

Casebeer, who has a bachelor’s in elementary education and recently moved across the country to Oregon, has not yet found her first full-time teaching position. But her goal is to earn a reading endorsement and teach elementary students.

“This program has prepared me for when I do have my own classroom,” she says. “I’ll be able to analyze what’s going on in the class, see what’s working and what’s not, and know how I can change that and become a better teacher.”