Heather Ratterree had her sights set on a career in nursing until a volunteer tutoring position helped her see things in a different light.
“I tutored adults who were enrolled in an English as a second language course during their GED program,” she said. “We worked on English literacy and math so they could pass their GED exam. It was only supposed to be for the quarter, but I met such extraordinary people that I continued on for much longer.”
Ratterree’s tutoring experience inspired her goal of making curriculum decisions centered on students so she could better support them in their growth. She enrolled in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction online program at Eastern Washington University and completed it in May 2020.
She works at the Spokane-area PBS member station KSPS-TV as a contract employee in curriculum development. Her son, Jorden, is a sophomore in high school.
“He knows education is very important to me,” she said. “I have had to really work for it, because I am a single mom and it has taken me a long time to get to this point.”
Ratterree, who grew up all along the West Coast in a military family, started volunteer teaching while enrolled at Everett Community College, where she also worked as a receptionist.
“It was a slow realization that I ultimately wanted to go into teaching,” she said. “I was in an anthropology class that required a service-learning credit. That led me to tutor at a volunteer literacy center.
“I love supporting people in their success. I’d love to be in the classroom and also have influence on curriculum and instruction.”
After Ratterree graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and teaching from Western Washington University, she got her first real-world classroom experience as a substitute teacher in 2018. She enrolled at EWU the following year.
“I chose Eastern Washington because it’s an established state university,” she said. “I considered other online programs, but EWU offered the degree that I wanted, offered it online and offered it at an accelerated pace. The tuition was comparable to other online programs I researched.
“I was looking specifically for an online program because I was juggling all of those things. There was no way for me, being a non-traditional student, to attend classes in person. EWU has a good reputation and was what I was looking for.”
Although Ratterree had a few online courses during her undergraduate degree program, she had to have a different mindset in a fully online program.
“It was a little frightening at first, but I am a pretty organized person and a self-starter,” she said. “I made sure to know my resources. I advocate for myself when I need help, so I knew an online program was a good choice for me.”
With the online format, Ratterree could do schoolwork whenever it worked best with her schedule. Since she was doing the program at an accelerated pace, she took two courses at a time and spent 30 hours a week on studies. She completed the program in 14 months.
“The flexibility is big,” she said. “When I had those days off from teaching, it was great to be able to do coursework. Then, I had evenings off after I had worked all week and also the weekends. It worked for me.”
Tools of the Trade
EDUC 533: Instructional Systems Development was Ratterree’s favorite course in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction program.
“I liked that course because it involved technology, which is very important in education but can be very intimidating,” she said. “That class required us to build a website while diving into tons of new technology resources for students and for the teachers.
The technology courses were by far her favorite as she enjoyed learning about different blended and online learning tools. Yet, the most influential courses were the educational philosophy and advanced reading strategies courses.
In addition, hands-on experience gained in an internship involving curriculum development that Ratterree secured with KSPS paved the way for her contract employment down the road.
She had planned to travel to Cheney to walk the graduation stage, but she attended an online ceremony instead.
“I was looking forward to meeting some of my professors in person,” she said. “In particular, Dr. Ann Van Wig was such a huge influence. The pandemic has put a pause on our celebration, but I will eventually get over to Cheney to meet them.”
Graduating with her M.Ed. has been a huge accomplishment for Ratterree.
“I am the first in my family with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. I enjoyed working in this program and have gotten quite a bit of value out of it,” she said. “It was exactly what I needed as an educator.”
Learn more about the EWU online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction program.