Northern Arizona University
Master’s Degree in Elementary Education
Tell us about your educational background.
I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2011 with a degree in elementary education with an early childhood endorsement. I’ve been teaching since 2012 at Salt River Elementary School. I started out as a substitute teacher and then was eventually hired for a first-grade position at the school. I have been teaching first grade ever since. After many years, I decided to return to school to pursue my master’s degree. I graduated on November 25, 2020, with a master’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in reading K-8, with distinction.
Describe your most rewarding college experience(s).
When I first started with NAU, I was part of a cohort for two years. I really liked being able to collaborate with others in-person and build a strong network of support throughout that time. We took classes at night, on Saturdays and during the summer. I was hoping to find [something] similar for my master’s program, [but] I couldn’t find anything that would work while I was teaching full-time. An NAU advisor encouraged me to try online learning. I was reluctant at first but decided to give it a try. I didn’t have as close of a collaboration as with my cohort, but I gained a different kind of experience in that I was in charge of my own learning. I decided that I would go into each class with the mindset that I was gathering knowledge and skills to bring back into the classroom. This mindset, I believe, is why I was successful.
What are your future plans?
I will continue to teach at Salt River Elementary School. It was always my plan to get an education, become a teacher and bring that knowledge back into the Community to serve our children. Our tribe provides a wonderful scholarship program through [the] Higher Education [Department], and it is a privilege to have that opportunity. I do plan on continuing my college education in the future.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years I still see myself teaching; perhaps I will take more of a leadership role. I will continue learning and explore different areas in education.
Who or what influenced you to pursue your higher education?
My family always encouraged me to graduate from high school and go to college. In my head it was never a question of if I’d go to college, but when. I’ll admit there were hardships when I felt like quitting at different stages in my journey. I chose to start my college career at Scottsdale Community College and take my time until I met the requirements for the education program at NAU. I was also self-motivated to become a teacher because I wanted be a role model for the children in our Community, so they would have someone who understands where they come from in a way that my Mesa teachers didn’t understand me growing up. I think it’s important for our children to see themselves represented in the teachers who educate them.
Did you face any obstacles while attending college/university? If so, how did you overcome them?
I would say that an obstacle I faced was figuring out how to balance teaching full-time and being a parent while doing online classes. The courses were rigorous, requiring extensive reading each night and assignments due every other day. I chose to take only one class per semester so that I would not feel overwhelmed. I had to plan for myself how and when I would complete my assignments so I could successfully pass my classes. I printed out blank calendars at the start each class, read the syllabus and marked out the assignments for the entire semester. There were many late nights.
What advice would you give people considering higher education?
My advice would be to take that first step forward and meet with an advisor. Start with a small course load if needed. Keep trying and have determination. Tell yourself that you can do this and you will finish this no matter what, no matter how long it takes.
Is there anyone you would like to thank for their support as you pursued your education?
I would like to thank my entire family for always being supportive and encouraging, and for being understanding when I couldn’t attend all the family events because I had homework. I am grateful to my mother for providing a safe and nurturing environment growing up in order for me to pursue my dreams. Also, thank you to SRPMIC Higher Education for giving me the opportunity to further my education.
Who are your parents and grandparents?
My mother is Teresa Gonzales and my father is Neal Gonzales. My maternal grandparents are Shirley Martinez and the late Manuel Martinez. My paternal grandparents are the late Sybil Alvarado and the late Severo Gonzales.