Sarah Pichler and her daughter, Aubri.
When COVID-19 hit, Sarah Pichler made the most of a difficult situation by enrolling in the Master of Science in Education (MSE) – Special Education online program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
"I figured that there wasn't much to do, and this would be the best time in my life to earn the master's," she said. "For moving up in my career, I knew this was the only way I could demonstrate my abilities and hone my skills, like reading intervention. I am always wanting to learn more and had a desire to challenge myself.
"I also was recommended by a previous mentor last year in a different school district. I thought, 'Why not? Why am I not doing this?'"
Pichler is a special education teacher at Templeton Middle School in Sussex, Wisconsin. She previously worked in the district as a special education paraprofessional. She is also a single mother to her daughter, Aubri (11). The flexibility of the online format was key to her return to higher education after a brief hiatus.
"I searched late one night and saw the UW-Superior online program for elementary education, which is the easiest way for me to learn since I was supporting my daughter by working during the day," she said. "I like to read information, reflect and learn it. Returning to UW-Superior for my master's program in special education just made sense. My goal is to finish in 12 months."
The experience of returning to school and having homework has also solidified Pichler's bond with her daughter.
"Aubri is learning virtually, too," she said. "I am trying to be a positive role model on how to do it the best way. She thinks that it is the coolest thing that I keep getting degrees and finishing what I wanted to do in the first place. My family is excited for me, too."
All That Buzz
Pichler grew up in the same town where she now lives and teaches. Even as a little girl, she knew that she wanted to pursue a career as an educator.
"I started school when I was 3 years old. I had a speech teacher who I thought was amazing, and I wanted to make an impact like she did for me," she said. "I originally wanted to teach first grade or second grade. When I got a job in special education prior to graduating with my bachelor's degree, I knew instantly that it was what I wanted to do and had multiple special education teachers I worked with who were incredible role models for me.
"It made sense with my speech background; helping people is where I need to be. If I ever stray away from special education, it will still be within the realm of helping people."
The MSE will be Pichler's third degree from UW-Superior. She graduated with an associate degree in 2015. Three years later, she became the first person in her immediate family to earn a bachelor's degree.
"I have the regular and special education degrees and licenses," she said. "I also have geography and social studies licenses. Being marketable with the master's degree and having that variety will keep me valuable to the district."
So far, SPED 755: Reading Issues and Interventions, SPED 750: The Exceptional Learner and SPED 704: Assessments of Learners With Exceptionalities are Pichler's favorite courses in the program.
"Reading Intervention helped me a lot because I was in a different school district last year, which limited my exposure to specialized intervention based on student needs," she said. She loved learning "more information about reading intervention and how to incorporate research-based ideas within to differentiate" in her own classroom.
"I realized what I needed to do. I had that class in September, when I started my new job. It aligned exactly with what I was [teaching] and made sense."
Pichler is on track to complete the online MSE in Special Education program from UW-Superior in June 2021. She's hoping that she can walk in the commencement ceremony if the pandemic is less of a public threat.
"It would be nice to do," she said. "I went for my associate degree ceremony but not the bachelor's degree one."
When COVID-19 hit, Pichler and her daughter bought inflatable kayaks and enjoyed some time on the water in the summer. "We also got into photography, and we ride horseback together whenever we can make time for it," she said.
While Pichler wraps up the final months of the program, she continues to apply what she is learning to her job on a regular basis.
"It's reflective and pertinent information," she said. "I find myself using what I learned in class and bringing it up in meetings. I have definitely gotten great value out of the program, so far."
Pichler is also happy to be back at UW-Superior earning another degree — especially since she can make the most of extra time while staying safe.
"If you are already in the field of teaching, the program applies to your career as an educator," she said. "It makes it manageable and applicable to everyday education jobs, even if you are not in special education. It matters, gives perspective and can make your job a whole lot easier."
Learn more about UW-Superior's online MSE – Special Education program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.