“I use my story of advancement to help those who want to drop out”: Q&A with Felisha Skipper, MEd ’17
Many teachers are understandably doubtful of the online learning experience. After all, we’re teachers. We know what a difference eye-to-eye contact makes. But by linking our graduate programs with a strong community and the right professors, Concordia made Felisha Skipper a fan when she earned her MEd in Educational Leadership.
What inspired you to work in education?
Education is my second career. My first career was in social work. I thought, why not try to catch them before the negative main event occurs. Maybe I can make a difference there.
What made you choose Concordia University-Portland?
I’m a Christian, and I love that we’re able to incorporate that spiritual aspect into learning. That’s probably what I loved the most. Also, the expedited classes and the accelerated program was enticing, although I had no idea it was going to be so intensive.
Did you feel like you had support from your fellow classmates and colleagues online?
My colleagues were very supportive of one another. Many times we had to share parts of our lives in order to connect the dots in discussion boards. And so, we became a little team. Every time I started a new course, I was so glad to see a familiar name and a familiar face. You got comfortable depending on feedback from certain individuals. And so, when you weren’t sure about some work a colleague would come back and say, “Hey, you know, as usual, you nailed it.” Or they let you know you impacted them in such a way.
What was the hardest part about earning this degree and what helped you through?
The hardest part about earning my degree was the time. I work full time, of course, at a turnaround high school. So, that’s already very stressful. I’m also a wife and a mother as well as an active church member with a lot of responsibilities. Juggling all of those things, and still coming home every night to finish assignments or work was a challenge.
My husband and son tried their best not to cause more issues. Plus, I have a girlfriend who was so helpful. She would call on a Saturday, and offer to pick up my son, “So you can have a few hours to work on your paper.” Some nights she would take him to get pizza. That was very helpful because you don’t want to feel like you’re stealing time away from your family. And you don’t want your children to feel like you don’t have time for them or feel guilty, because you’re on the computer they want to play. She was really helpful and took some of the sting out of the balance of trying to get the work done and not giving your kids the attention they need.
How did this degree program change your mind about online learning?
I wasn’t a fan of online learning. I was very, very apprehensive. But only because I didn’t know it could still be great; that it could still be just as much learning and interaction as in a classroom. I’m a visual person. I want to see you. I want to talk to you. And that was one of the things I thought I was going to be compromising. Plus, I was afraid of not getting the answers I needed quickly.
From the time I signed up with Concordia, though, everyone was hands-on and communicative. They were calling. They were emailing. They were making sure I was okay. Making sure I had what I needed. In classes, the professors were on it and would contact me. If I was struggling, I would just send a private email saying, “Listen, I’m not getting this. What am I missing?” And they would call me on the phone to talk to me. One was out with her family and still called me. I just hadn’t expected that. It was great.
How do you think that your educational advancement will benefit your students?
I think my students benefited from my degree even while I was in the program. I’m a graduation coach. I’m constantly encouraging and trying to motivate individuals who want to drop out—to individuals who have commitments to family or siblings because their parents aren’t being parents. So I use my own story of advancement. When I was growing up, I missed a lot of school because we lived in a lot of shelters. I thought I was dumb because I couldn’t do the work. And it took a long time to realize I wasn’t dumb. I just missed too much school.
So my story is their story–even now. I’m able to encourage them and share a bit of who I am and where I came from to help them. I understand standing in line for government cheese and peanut butter or picking up furniture off the side of the road. And I’m still going on, getting this degree. I made it this far.
I also plan on using this degree to accomplish more goals. I really want to open group homes for the homeless teen population. I want it to be faith-based. I want to be the change that I want to see.
What specific challenges are you trying to address?
In our community, low socioeconomic status leaves many students without food and without clothes. Some of our students and their families live in their cars. And so, we have programs coming into the schools to work with our social workers to try to meet their needs. Just to get them in the classroom. Just to get them to live to see another day and perhaps help their families. For bilinguals, it’s getting people involved that can speak their language to find resources in the community to learn English.
I also do a lot of volunteer work with my brothers, two of whom run non-profits. And when I find a student who can benefit, I connect them as well.
What do you hope your students will remember about you?
When my students look back, reflecting on Miss Skipper, I hope and I believe, they remember that if they couldn’t count on anybody else, they could count on me. If they didn’t feel like anybody in the world cared about them, that Miss Skipper always had their back. And that she always will. Because it’s true. And I’ve had the pleasure of seeing students that I’ve had when they were in 7th grade, 8th-grade return as adults. They’re still around, coming to Christmas dinner… They’re my kids. I share them, but they’re mine. Whatever they need… And so, I hope when they look back, they’ll be able to say, Miss Skipper was tough, but she loved me.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and a MEd from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She is now the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland.