When Elizabeth Watson decided she wanted a master’s degree in education to better serve her gifted students, she didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
“My sister attended Western Carolina University and graduated with a degree in special education. To this day, she is the best special education teacher I've ever seen,” said Watson, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in special education with a focus on gifted education. “I chose to attend WCU for the simple fact that I thought, ‘Well, they must be doing something right at this university.’”
Well, they’ve had some practice. WCU first opened its doors in 1889 as a teaching college serving Western North Carolina. Today, its School of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Allied Professions offers leading teacher education programs — undergraduate and graduate, residential and online — with some of the best placement rates in the state of North Carolina. It has been a WCU mission to help students become teachers and current teachers to become even better.
And that’s where Watson, who just completed her seventh year of teaching, comes in. Watson was in her second year of teaching third grade in Charlotte when she was asked by her principal to teach a class of gifted students, which she accepted. School administrators also paid for her add-on licensure for gifted education. The extra education opened her eyes.
“This allowed me to truly see my students' potential and realize that, sure, they're high-performing, but with the right tools I can help them to outperform themselves, and to grow exponentially,” Watson said. “After seeing much success with this, I realized that this is a passion that I needed to explore further so that I could continue to grow as an educator, therefore continue to grow my gifted students.”
With the help of a graduate student scholarship, Watson enrolled in WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions online master of arts in education degree program.
“I wanted to not only help my students academically, but I also wanted to learn how I can address my gifted students’ social and emotional needs in order to help them find their voice and place in the world,” she said. “I wanted to teach to the whole child rather than focus solely on academic performance.”
As a full-time teacher, Watson knew well what it would take for her to become a student again, but WCU’s online program eased the burden.
"I think I speak for most teachers when I say that we are naturally flexible and inclined to make anything work with a bit of planning and discipline,” Watson said. “After I created a schedule for myself and stuck to it, it is definitely possible to manage both career and graduate school, especially as a distance-learning student. I didn't always have fun weekends, but I very rarely felt overwhelmed. Planning is key, and we teachers sure do know how to plan.”
A year after Watson started WCU’s online graduate program, she was promoted from the fifth grade classroom, where she had been working, to her “dream job,” as an AIG teacher, working with all grade levels and with all teachers, training them on gifted resources and curriculum to encourage use in the classroom.
“I’ve really enjoyed applying the learning from my graduate school in the classroom and in my professional learning community, as I was taking courses,” Watson said.
While COVID-19 restrictions suspended WCU’s commencement ceremony for May 2020 graduates, it didn’t dampen Watson’s enthusiasm for her accomplishment.
“Graduating from a program that I've committed myself to these past two years was something I am so proud of, and I really looked forward to walking,” Watson said. “However, I still look forward to making up for missing graduation in December.”
Location: Online and Main Campus
App Deadline: Apr. 15, Jul. 15, Nov. 15
Time to Complete: 24 Months
Full-Time or Part-Time
Concentrations: Literacy, STEM and AIG