Q/A with Christine Rightnar, USC Rossier MAT Graduate
Name: Christine Rightnar
Program: Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
Graduation Year: 2010
Current Position: Third- and fourth-grade teacher
Current Location: Moreno Valley, California
What have you been doing since you graduated?
Life has been crazy since graduation. I graduated in 2010, and right after, I worked for a couple years as a fourth-grade teacher and reading intervention teacher. I worked with mostly struggling students who had difficult home lives. In 2012, my husband’s job moved us to Williamsburg, Virginia. I was able to get a job as a fifth-grade teacher at a Title I school with a great diversity of students. In my classroom, I also had several students with special needs. I felt that I was able to utilize a lot of what I learned in the MAT program at USC Rossier. After a year in Virginia we returned to California, and I returned to my previous school district. Over the last couple years I have become a coach for new teachers in our district and started taking on more responsibilities.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Truthfully, I didn’t start out expecting to be a teacher. I went back to school to pursue my bachelor’s degree after having children. While I was going to school to pursue a career in psychology or social work, I spent a lot of time volunteering in my children’s classrooms. That was when it hit me that a good teacher has a huge impact on the lives of kids. I realized that if I wanted to make a difference and help people, teaching was where I needed to be.
Why did you decide to earn your Master of Arts in Teaching online from the USC Rossier School of Education?
I decided to get my Master of Arts in Teaching at USC Rossier for a couple reasons. First, of course, an online program is convenient, especially when teaching full time. There were many programs that I could have chosen that were both easier and less expensive. I wanted a program that was rigorous, had a strong reputation in academia and would give me more tools to help students. The thing that really finalized my decision to attend USC was when I found out the mission statement of the program was focused on urban and high-needs education. It really aligned with my belief that to be a good educator we have to focus on the whole child, not just academics.
How did USC Rossier prepare you to become an effective teacher?
Being an MAT student gave me the opportunity to practice and reflect on what I was doing in the classroom. I had already been teaching for five years prior to the program but had never really stepped back to look at my teaching. Also, it gave me the opportunity to be a part of a large learning community. Having the chance to meet and discuss practices with educators all over the country was powerful and eye opening. I can truly say that USC Rossier improved my teaching.
As a teacher, what personal strengths do you find especially helpful?
Of course great behavior management, knowledge of your subject and the ability to design curriculum are extremely important; however, I believe the most important strength for a teacher to have is the willingness and the desire to understand and care for the whole student. Our job does not begin and end with the subjects we teach.
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
I don’t know that I can pinpoint one great success, but I always feel my most successful when I get through to a child who has had some sort of struggle, be it academic or social, and they are able to move past that and enjoy learning. I feel most accomplished when I can do this and truly joyful when a student who has struggled is excited to come to school.
Describe one of your greatest challenges working in a high-needs classroom, and how did USC Rossier prepare you to effectively handle this challenge?
I think the greatest challenge is understanding your students and their needs. As teachers we need to understand that students may come to the classroom environment with different tools, ideas and experiences than you might expect. Despite their various backgrounds, all students still have the desire to be successful, and it is up to the teacher to find what it is that will help them get there. I think one thing that USC Rossier taught me about this is that connecting with the student’s family and community is important to the success of the student. As teachers we need to be receptive and embrace the communities we work in. By doing this we gain insight into our students and their needs.
What advice do you have for current MAT students?
There is a lot going on in education today. Don’t get too overwhelmed. Remember that your focus and concern above all else is your students’ success. So get to know their needs. Set high but attainable expectations and have fun. Being a teacher is an awesome experience.