Katie Hamm always knew she would follow her passion and become a teacher. She just didn’t expect the class sizes to be quite so large.
“I never worked, and I thought I was going to homeschool [our kids], so I figured, ‘I’ll just be degreed and have more credibility in my homeschooling,'” Hamm said. “That’s where I thought my path was going. I was homeschooled, and I just love teaching. We waited 10 years to have our kids. I thought, ‘I’m not just going to sit around and wait for us to have babies.’ So, I went into teaching and never stopped.”
Hamm is now set to begin a new chapter in her career as assistant principal at Skyview Elementary in Pinellas County Schools of Pinellas Park, Florida. In August 2016, she graduated from the University of West Florida with an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership Certification that she earned online. Her first administration position came one year later.
The online format was essential to Hamm since her two daughters, Emma (6) and Ava (3), were very young when she started the program, and she was teaching full-time. She said affordability and accreditation also helped sell her on UWF.
“I didn’t really have to sacrifice all that much family time,” Hamm said. “Don’t get me wrong — there were some crazy weekends where I had to tell the girls, ‘Mommy is working. You have to stay out of this room.’ When I needed to spend more time than just when the kids were sleeping, I guess my family and friends could all see this is where I was going and where I should be going, leadership-wise.”
After she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida in 2004, Hamm went straight into the classroom, where she taught kindergarten, first and fourth grade. During her time at USF, she took a couple of online courses.
After a decade of teaching, Hamm, whose sister is also an elementary teacher in Florida, decided it was time to pursue a move into administration.
“I thought about it for six months to a year before I decided to do it,” she said. “I called in November, then started classes in January. I recommend the UWF program to everyone. I have one person that I’m still trying to convince and a few others who are looking into it. For them, it’s more of a cost issue. I told them it’s totally worth it when you go through it and see what’s on the other side.”
It’s easy to see why Hamm was so pleased with the results. She has no doubt the online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership Certification helped her land her new job.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without it. My advice would be to just do it. Just start the program, and you will learn so much about yourself and our profession as a whole through the required courses.”
The online format not only allowed Hamm to spend more time with her family, it helped her plant the seeds of a career in administration at work.
“It was fantastic,” she said. “I was able to do team leader work and take on leadership tasks that are designed in the program but work with my school — all in normal time frames. It worked out great.”
Hamm said she had a strong support system to help guide her along the way.
“My family structure is incredibly supportive, which helps,” she said. “My administrators were also very supportive and eager to give me extra tasks because that meant there was extra stuff they weren’t having to do.”
Three of the courses in the online program — EDG 6285: Data Driven Decisions Using Standardized Student Achievement Data, EDA 6240: Introduction to School Finance and EDA 5191 Leadership in Education: School Improvement Theory and Practice — were especially appealing to Hamm.
“The data-driven course really helped in getting my attention focused,” she said. “That’s how our state works in the education system. Sometimes you can get so bogged down in curriculum and standards, but you really have to look at the data to see if you taught what you thought you were teaching and to see if the students learned it.
“It can be such an easy and nice segue with both staff and parents. It’s not just saying, ‘I’m picking on you or your child,’ but rather, ‘Look where my data has led me; here’s why we got to this conclusion; let’s go back and revisit.’ I loved that course.”
Hamm enjoyed the finance course because she loves budgets and finite answers. She also liked learning how to work with several different types of personalities in the leadership course.
“You have to do all of the introspective evaluations and self-reading,” she said. “We had to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator Test. That was great because it really helped me realize who I am as a teacher, who I am as a leader and how I will interact with those around me who think and see things differently than I do. That one was really impactful.”
Now that she has advanced her career with the help of a graduate degree, Hamm is ready to enjoy life and to help raise her daughters. She said she loves spending time at the beach, reading and cheering on the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers during football season.
“I missed reading,” Hamm said. “That was the one part of the program that made me really sad — there was no time for fun reading.”
Through the completion of the online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership Certification program, she developed some lasting friendships with her professors and fellow students.
“Even though you’re not in a classroom with the other students, you’re still talking to them all online regularly, so you don’t know faces but you definitely learn names,” Hamm said. “I even had a professor who traveled the state and agreed to meet up with us in various places. I hosted her at my school, and there were about six or seven people in the Pinellas County/Hillsborough County area who came over for a meet-and-greet. That was fun.
“There’s a strong sense of collaboration and community among the students because you’re all in it together, doing the same thing. You’re at different grade levels and there are different purposes for why you want the degree, but you’re all going through it together.”
Hamm is ready to take all of the things she learned from the program to her assistant principal position and continue to make a difference as an educator.
“My husband [Wes] jokes that I waited to start the program until we had the least time and the fewest financial resources that we’ve ever had in our lives,” she said. “I waited to go back until we had small children, but it worked out just fine.”
Learn more about the UWF online Master of Education in Educational Leadership Certification program.
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