In a classroom full of students, Melissa Cipponeri feels like a kid on Christmas Day.
"The way I feel about teaching is like when kids think about Christmas and get those butterflies in their stomach," she said. "I love being with my kids, helping them reach their potential and seeing the excitement on their faces. My favorites are the kids who have struggled the most. Sometimes you are the only person there for them, so that is very important to me. It is my calling."
Cipponeri is enrolled in the Master of Education in Educational Leadership, Principal Certification online program at Eastern Washington University. She is an internship away from graduating, but she and her family are in the process of moving from Texas to Florida.
"I went back for the master's degree because I hope to eventually move into a leadership position in my career," she said. "I don't necessarily have to be a principal. I know that's the traditional avenue, so I got the certification. I thought that was an excellent option to have."
The online format was the only way Cipponeri could earn a graduate degree. She has not taught since moving to San Antonio and becoming a stay-at-home mom to her sons, Vincent (6) and Angelo (3). However, she will return to teaching in the 2019-20 school year.
"My husband, Joseph, is in the Air Force, and his schedule is erratic,'' she said. "To be able to do the degree online and at my own pace was very convenient. My sons are a little wild, so it is nice to have the option to work on school when they settle down and I have my peace and quiet time."
An Eagle Again
Born in Auburn, Washington, and raised in Spokane, Cipponeri graduated with a bachelor's degree in social studies teaching with an endorsement in English language arts from EWU in 2009. She earned that degree on-campus, which led her back to the nest for the master's degree.
"I liked the environment as a brick-and-mortar school and the staff when I was there for my undergrad degree," she said. "I know the quality of education and caring is there at Eastern. It is also a good teaching-oriented school, which I like a lot.
"I knew that positive experience would carry over into the master's degree program — and it has. When my girlfriend, who lives in Spokane, told me about the online program, I said, 'Heck, yeah. I am all about Eastern.'"
EDUC 505: Current Issues in Education is Cipponeri's favorite course in the online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership curriculum.
"That course grounded me back in education and its issues," she said. "Things have changed in four years because education is fluid. New research has cropped up during that time."
Although EDUC 520: Methods of Educational Research was the most difficult course Cipponeri took, she enjoyed it and gained valuable insights into leadership.
"When I was a teacher, I knew that professional development was important and that you could do research, but it felt kind of far away," she said. "Now that I have taken that course, it feels more manageable, and I understand the process and my resources a little bit more."
Cipponeri already has a different overall outlook on her profession because of all she learned in the program. She is eager to apply that knowledge as an educator.
"Before I did my master's degree, I was a department chair," she said. "Taking these courses, I have thought, 'You know, I could have done that so much better.' I am able to reflect on my practice and know I can bring more to the table next time I have a leadership position."
Cipponeri did her student teaching in California, where English as a Second Language (ESL) certification is required. She taught high school English full time for five years in the Vacaville Unified School District.
"I have never taught in Washington, but Eastern has been very supportive," she said. "They were great about helping me with my student teaching. They have been flexible for nontraditional students and ones with military ties. That is a big thing. Not every school is understanding of the military community and how difficult it can sometimes be."
Once Cipponeri goes back to doing what she loves, she hopes to work toward landing a position in a district office or at the district level working with kids in an ESL-specific role. She believes the master's degree is laying the foundation for her return to make one of those aspirations a reality.
"My husband pushed me to go back to school,'' she said. "I wanted to do it and take the leap, but I thought it would be nerve-wracking being in school again. He is also now in school earning his bachelor's degree. He said, 'You need to just do it.' I have been using his GI Bill [benefits], so that was also a big deciding factor. My parents are very proud of me."
Cipponeri plans to come home for the commencement ceremony at EWU once she completes the internship. She is excited to think about her family watching her walk across the stage and hopes her sons will feel just as strongly about education as she does someday — butterflies and all.
"Vincent takes notice of what I am doing," she said. "He totally gets it."
Although returning to school has been tough to balance with raising two young sons, Cipponeri knows she made the best decision for her career and for her family.
"In Florida, you have to have your master's degree before they will even let you do an internship," she said. "I know that having your master's degree is preferred but not required a lot of times, but it definitely makes you very marketable."
Learn more about the EWU online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, Principal Certification program.
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