Jenna Pryor takes an all-in approach to the classroom — as a teacher and a student. Performing those roles simultaneously was a challenge during the last two years as Pryor began her teaching career and her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, Instructional Specialist concentration, online at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
As she completes her graduate studies this summer, Pryor says she’s looking forward to doing one thing and doing it well through the perspective and tools gained through her master’s degree.
Driven to Learn
Pryor, of Central, says she always knew graduate school would be in her plans.
“I just really like being a student,” she says. “I love the environment and learning more, so I always knew I wanted to pursue a master's degree.”
She completed her undergraduate degree in 2019 and decided to make use of her remaining scholarships by applying them to her Master of Education. As she explored master’s degree programs in Louisiana, UL Lafayette stood out.
“It was an online program, and that meant that I could do it alongside teaching,” she says. “It also offered a lot of different course types than anything that I had taken in my undergrad.”
But Pryor wasn’t just teaching.
“I just really love teaching, and I love school so much that I got very involved,” she says. “I had to go to all of the sporting events and help out with all of the clubs, and so I really just threw myself into that and so it did put a lot on my plate.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, it initially forced Pryor to take a pause and focus on her coursework before she faced an entirely new challenge.
“We had to figure out what teaching in the pandemic would look like,” she says. “This whole year of teaching was just reworking everything that you've learned about your profession, having to reconfigure that and figure it out in a brand-new way. It was definitely a lot.”
Growing through Graduate School
Pryor braced herself entering her online graduate program in August 2019. How would the expectations shift from undergrad? What would the online experience look like?
What she found was a rigorous, relevant curriculum and personable professors.
"My professors were all incredible communicators and as we started classes, they just made everything very clear,” she says. “I think that UL Lafayette’s Moodle system is very user friendly, and my professors were great at using that to make the transition as easy as possible.”
She says professors remained responsive through her time at UL Lafayette.
“Something that stood out to me about the professors I worked with directly was how quickly they gave you feedback, or if I wasn't really comfortable with something and needed guidance, they were so quick to get back to me,” Pryor says.
Even as her teaching delivery has changed, Pryor says she’s consistently applying what she’s learned in her graduate program.
“I feel like there's not a day that I walk into my classroom that I'm not impacted by something that I was learning about within my courses, whether that was a course I've previously taken in a different semester or currently,” Pryor says. "I can't approach my students without being drawn back to something I've learned or an experience I've had in my graduate program.”
Courses like Diversity for the Progressive Educator, she says, were timely and impactful.
“It was the summer 2020 semester, and our country was experiencing a lot of turmoil,” she says. “The course texts really put into perspective the student experience and what my students are experiencing daily.
“Throughout the semester, I was considering how they were being impacted by the pandemic and the current context in America. It just really showed me a lot about my students and different ways that I can approach them and understand what they walk into my classroom with, and really checking my perspective on how I view them and how I view our classroom environment."
Becoming a Ragin’ Cajun
With commencement in her sights, Pryor has a lot to celebrate — her 24th birthday, the start of her third year teaching, receiving her master’s degree, and a new community to call home.
“I've just fallen in love with my experience with UL Lafayette," she says. “Even though I’m in an online program, I just have really felt a part of the community, and I think that that says a lot about the professors, the University and the staff who work across, even outside, of the graduate school."
The full-time English teacher is also looking forward to redoubling her focus on her students as she takes a break from her own academics.
“This will be the first time I can walk into my classroom with my students being my sole focus. I've always had my priorities split between my own school experience in graduate school and them," she says. “Now I just get to be a teacher and really throw myself into that to take what I've learned these past two years and start to really apply that.”
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