Earning an advanced degree is difficult under any circumstances. Throw in a pandemic, a devastating hurricane, and personal loss, and difficult can become overwhelming.
Erin Zeringue was among the University of Louisiana at Lafayette students facing an ever-steeper climb as she pursued her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, Instructional Specialist concentration, online during 2020.
She says even through a roller-coaster year, learning online allowed her to finish her degree and develop the skills to connect with and eventually coach other teachers.
“It has worked well for me; it has worked well for my schedule for my family,” she says. “Any kind of master's level program is going to be difficult, but I would recommend it to anyone. It will make you a better teacher. It will make you a better administrator.”
Come May 14, Zeringue will finally exhale as she earns her second Master of Education degree and prepares for her next challenge — updating seventh-grade English language arts curriculum for her middle school.
Finding the Right ‘Niche’
Zeringue started her undergraduate studies in law, but when a mentor suggested another path, she took their advice. Instead, she pursued education.
After earning her degree, she moved to Lake Charles and began teaching third grade. But, she says, it wasn’t the right fit. Zeringue took a year off to earn her first master’s degree in instructional technology. She returned to the classroom and found her “niche.”
“I went into middle school and middle school is my niche,” she says. “I just enjoy the age group for middle school. I feel like I can kind of talk to them and give them a little bit of lead and they’ll take off with projects and assignments.”
When Zeringue had her first child four years later, she opted to take a break from teaching. It was seven years – and four children – later that she accepted a new role as technology director for a private school.
To maintain her licensure, Zeringue had taken additional courses to earn a Plus 30 certification on top of her master’s degree, which brought her within reach of a second degree.
“What’s 12 hours?” she says.
She enrolled in the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction online degree program at UL Lafayette in July 2019 while continuing her technology role and working with her school’s middle school resource program.
“I loved my job; I was doing great,” Zeringue says.
COVID-19 Close to Home
In February 2020, Zeringue knew something was wrong. She was sick. She couldn’t breathe. Although she went to her doctor, testing wasn’t widely available for COVID-19.
Zeringue struggled to convey the severity of the illness she was fighting to those around her. It was only later she was able to confirm she’d had COVID-19.
She made it through her first courses of the year, but just as the second 8-week term was starting, the governor issued Louisiana’s stay-at-home order.
Zeringue was now working remotely to help her colleagues teach online using unfamiliar technology while keeping her second grader and high schooler on track with their virtual learning assignments.
“My heart goes out to people who have multiple children and are also teachers and had to teach from home, because it's not easy, it was not easy,” Zeringue says. “But we did it. We did it, and we did it well.”
Zeringue says she’d lock herself away evenings and weekends to complete her own coursework. She says she was mindful of the example she was setting.
“I had a model for my kids to show, ‘We have to work, and mom doing her homework and it’s important that you do and your work,’” she says.
Regrouping and Rebuilding
In August, one of the strongest hurricanes on record for the state, Hurricane Laura, devastated Lake Charles and the surrounding areas.
Zeringue and her family were among those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm. While her husband stayed behind to rebuild his business, Zeringue resigned from her job and relocated to Baton Rouge until their home could be repaired.
Although the situation wasn’t ideal, Zeringue took the opportunity to double-down on her coursework.
“I did have time to focus on my studies at the time,” she says. “I had never in the whole year I'd already been in the master's program had time to take off. So that was a blessing in disguise, being able to do really focus on my work.”
After 10 weeks, the family returned home. Shortly after, Zeringue lost her father.
Since November, the family has slowly getting back to normal, Zeringue says. But for Zeringue, it’s been a new normal.
She couldn’t return to her previous position, but has accepted a position with a new school, teaching seventh-grade English language arts.
“I'm enjoying it,” she says. “I have a brand-new team of teachers, and they have welcomed me with open arms.”
In addition to teaching, Zeringue will be putting her instructional specialist knowledge to use by updating the English curriculum for the entire grade level. She says her new skillset fits well with her nature.
“I'm a helper; I want to help people. Being in the master's program and focusing more on being a coach to teachers has helped me to recognize when to step in and help them and when to step back,” Zeringue says. “My mantra of life is never stop learning. I'm 43 and I'm still learning. You can’t ever stop learning.”
Take the first step to become a teacher leader or instructional coach in your school. Request information today about the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, Instructional Specialist concentration.