When the Teacher Becomes the Student: The Value of Lifelong Learning

By Betsy Piland - December 11th, 2020

For nearly 20 years, Julie Meiklejohn has been teaching English and Language Arts to the high school students of La Junta, a town in southeast Colorado. 

Julie Meiklejohn La Junta Colorado

But, even with all that experience, Meiklejohn says, she had been considering a master’s degree for some time, even starting a program at CSU Pueblo at one point. But the hour-plus commute on top of being a single mom and full-time teacher just wasn’t sustainable. 

Fast forward a few years, when the Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) reached out about a partnership that would allow educators to earn their Master’s in Teaching and Learning from CSU Global at no cost. 

Meiklejohn didn’t hesitate. She graduated from the program in 2017 – the same year her son graduated high school. 

Becoming a Master of Time Management

Earning her master’s degree online took some getting used to, she says, but overall was a great experience. “I discovered that I had a lot better, or maybe I came up with better, time management skills,” completing the program in a year and a half while teaching full-time and coaching her students’ speech and debate team. “It was a challenge. Four o’clock in the morning became my friend!” 

“There were a few times where I wondered, ‘Gosh, am I going to be able to do this?’ There was one December where I had three classes at a time. We’re headed into Christmas, my speech and debate season was ramping up – it was just a lot. But I did it, and was so proud of myself.” 

Meiklejohn said that she appreciated being able to take what she learned in her CSU Global courses and immediately apply it to her own classroom. She’d always been intrigued by Understanding by Design, a way of designing unit plans. After an in-depth study, Meiklejohn thought, “‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing,’ It was really cool to see the whole process, to see how it all fit together, and then be able to do it with my kids.”

Learning Beyond the (Online) Classroom

Her online education even took an offline detour for a few days. One of her professors invited her and a classmate to a conference in Boston where they gave a presentation on their experiences with distance learning. The bonus for this high school English teacher? A guided tour of the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the JFK Presidential Library. 

Meiklejohn is quick to champion both her students and fellow educators, always encouraging them to have confidence in themselves. “Know that you can do it,” she says. “It’s going to be hard, but you’re going to be so proud of yourself when you’re done.”

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