Why I chose Rider’s teacher leadership master’s program

Students Christina Thomas and Yuliya Tsypenyuk reflect on their experiences with the program

In the following Q&A, two current students in Rider University’s Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership program, Christina Thomas and Yuliya Tsypenyuk, discuss why they chose the program, how their experiences have been thus far, and reasons they would recommend Rider to other educators who are interested in pursuing graduate degrees in teacher leadership.

Christina Thomas graduated from East Stroudsburg University with a dual certification in elementary and special education. A native of East Brunswick, N.J., she is now a teacher in the same school district she attended as a child, and in 2017-18 she was named Teacher of the Year in her school. Thomas is also currently pursuing a master’s in teacher leadership from Rider with reading specialist and supervisor certifications. Her goal is to become a reading specialist and an instructional coach and eventually transition into a supervisory role.

“Having this degree and the wealth of knowledge I learned from this program will help me be more successful in my career,” she says of her decision to attend Rider.

Yuliya Tsypenyuk earned her undergraduate degrees in elementary education and psychology from The College of New Jersey and is now a junior high school math teacher in the Merchantville School District. She is pursuing a master’s in teacher leadership from Rider with a concentration in math.

Tsypenyuk believes that her degree will allow her to contribute to her school system in new ways. “I work in a small district with few positions outside of teaching, so I plan on using my graduate degree to help me tackle necessary roles that other districts may hire others to do, such as curriculum writing,” she says.

Why did you choose Rider?

Thomas: I knew I wanted to go back to school, but I wasn't 100% sure where, or what I wanted to study. I knew I wanted to be a reading specialist, instructional coach and supervisor in the future, and I didn't want to attend different schools or keep going back to school for three separate programs in order to earn a degree. An acquaintance attended Rider for a master’s in the teacher leadership program with the reading specialist certificate. When I spoke to her about it, it sounded like everything I was looking for in one spot, at one time. I did my research and looked into it further. I liked that the classes were hybrid — mostly online with three in-person Saturday classes per semester.

Tsypenyuk: I initially considered Rider for teacher leadership after a friend of mine completed the program and spoke highly of it. After looking into other schools in the area that also offer teacher leadership, I thought Rider had the most interesting curriculum. I felt like the classes they offered were the most directly related to my current position, as well as future roles I could take on in my school.

What has your experience been like in the program?

Thomas: I really enjoy the program thus far. The workload is reasonable and the structure of the classes is manageable. I like the in-person Saturday sessions; it's nice to be able to interact with classmates and my professor on a face-to-face basis, rather than just on the computer. Another plus is that Dr. Judith Stegmaier-Nappi teaches the majority of the classes. I feel comfortable reaching out to her with any questions I may have. The weekly discussion board posts are very applicable to what I'm doing in my classroom, school or district. I find the information useful.

Tsypenyuk: Last spring, many of our class discussion posts were about problems within our schools and strategies for approaching those problems. I was able to dig into data that I normally would not consider. I learned a lot about my students and our school performance in general. My principal took notice of my questions and research, and I was subsequently added onto the school’s data team. Hearing my classmates discuss their schools and classrooms has allowed me to hear some wonderful ideas that I’m now considering adapting to my school, and has also give me opportunities to consider how I would help or offer ideas to schools dissimilar to my own.

Each class, I am assigned a leadership growth project and I have been working with my school’s administration to tackle problems and solutions. I think through this and my leadership hours, my administration has started to see me in a different light and given me more responsibility and leadership within the building. While I often was willing to take on different tasks and roles, I think this program has given me more confidence in my leadership within the school.

What advice would you offer to a prospective student looking for a program and considering a career in a teacher leadership role?

Thomas: I have already mentioned to a number of my colleagues that they should look into attending Rider for a master’s in teacher leadership. Although I'm going for a reading specialist certificate, there are seven other options to choose for a concentration. The wide range of positions you can hold after you graduate makes the program very enticing! The information taught by the professors can be easily applied to your current role in teaching. The Saturday classes make your weekday schedule easier. 

Tsypenyuk: Prior to speaking with a friend who graduated from Rider’s teacher leadership program, I did not know such a degree existed or what opportunities are available for those who have it. I was very interested in the variety of ways teachers can embrace that leadership role, and I would encourage students considering the program to learn about how they can utilize that degree within their district. It might help them determine specifically what they hope to get out of the program. I would also encourage students looking for a teacher leadership program to investigate the courses and curriculum offered for that program at different colleges. I found that the program differed widely amongst the colleges I initially considered and had to select the college that best aligned with my goals for professional development and my future goals.

What do you think makes Rider unique compared to other schools you were considering?

Thomas: I liked that Rider offered classes on Saturday mornings rather than after work. After school I have many activities, including curriculum and faculty meetings, tutoring, mentoring a new teacher, leading a book club and attending optional professional development sessions. Having to drive to a college for graduate school just would not fit into that already busy schedule. The fact that it wasn't ALL online was also an important factor. I like being able to know my professors, see them, and be able to talk to them. Online programs don't always allow you to do this. Rider also allows me to complete the master’s program and come out with two certificates (reading specialist and supervisor), whereas at other schools I would've had to go back for a supervisor certificate.

Tsypenyuk: I think one of the most unique aspects of what Rider offered compared to other colleges was the hybrid program. In my research, most colleges offered the teacher leadership program online and very few had in-person classes. As someone who never did online classes, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a 100% online program, but I also know that a fully in-person program could potentially be difficult when considering class start time and travel time in relation to my work schedule. I liked that Rider offered the face time with professors and colleagues while also allowing you to work online at your convenience. Classes on Saturday once a month are very doable and allow me to make personal connections and friendships with my classmates. Another big draw for me was the math concentration that Rider offers. As a math teacher, I found that few colleges offered professional development for math teachers, especially ones who do not teach at the high school level.