A new career path calls for a new degree.
Kim Donnell answered that call and went from teaching elementary school to teaching special education after enrolling in the Master of Education in Special Education -- Challenging Behaviors online program at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2018.
"I was in a general education classroom teaching first grade, and I ended up having a year that was especially heavy with special education," she said. "I loved it and decided I wanted to switch over."
Donnell, who teaches at Northwood Elementary School in Piedmont, Oklahoma, started co-teaching special education not long after she enrolled in the master's degree program and immediately got on-the-job training while attending school.
"I was with special education kids all day long," she said. "The way that Southeastern Oklahoma set up the program worked out great. The courses I have taken really made it so I have been able to lead some initiatives at the school."
The biggest key to success in the online program for Donnell was staying organized at every turn.
"I kept a checklist right beside my desk because I was doing multiple classes at a time to complete the program in one year," she said. "As long as I kept it organized and checked it off as I went along, I was good. It was a great master's degree program."
Donnell was a stay-at-home mom to her daughter, Skyler, for several years before initially enrolling in college. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in general studies from the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in 2012.
"I took a course that made me fall in love with early childhood development," she said. "One class led to another, and I was originally alternatively certified as a teacher."
Once Donnell decided to switch to special education, she knew she had found the right degree program at the right university for her needs.
"The price was really good," she said. "The coordinator for the special education department, Dr. Kathy Boothe, is amazing. After that first course, I knew I could do it and that was going to be the place for me. I did a whole bunch of research and talked to multiple schools. Southeastern Oklahoma was the most proactive."
SPED 5073: Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, one of three Challenging Behaviors specialty courses, was Donnell's favorite in the curriculum. She spent about 25 hours per week on schoolwork while taking two courses per semester and working full-time.
"That course was incredible," she said. "However, it wasn't the only one -- there were so many great courses in the program."
Donnell was also impressed with the responsiveness of the SOSU faculty in the online program.
"I had such a great experience with all of the professors," she said. "Any time I emailed them, I always got a response back immediately. I also got an opportunity to write with Dr. Boothe. We got a couple of papers published. It was a great experience."
In the Lead
Donnell did not attend the graduation ceremony for her undergraduate degree, but she plans to be in Durant to walk the stage in December 2018. Her friends and family, including her husband, Clint, will be there to help celebrate her big accomplishment.
"Most of them are very excited," she said. "Lots of them had that funny response of, 'Oh my gosh, I could never do that.' That was probably the response I got more than anything when I told them I was going back to school to earn a master's degree, but the online program is great and makes it manageable."
Skyler, 20, was living at home and attending UCO during most of Donnell's time in the online master's degree program.
"We studied together some," Donnell said. "It was fun when we could talk about our classes and what was going on in each of our programs. It was a great bonding experience."
Donnell's new position and the knowledge she gained in the online M.Ed. in Special Education -- Challenging Behaviors program has her planning another career shift.
"I started some positive intervention supports at my school that we are going to work on implementing next year," she said. "The administration at my district helped me accomplish some things in leadership. I'll probably try to become a principal in the next couple of years. Eventually, I wouldn't mind being a special education director."
Donnell, who enjoys gardening and solving puzzles, is happy she followed her passion for teaching special education to the M.Ed. online program at SOSU.
"You have to manage your time, make it a priority and stay organized," she said. "I talked to Skyler about doing her master's degree at Southeastern Oklahoma. I have recommended it to a lot of people. It is a fantastic program and was a great experience."
Learn more about the SOSU online M.Ed. in Special Education -- Challenging Behaviors program.
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