The children at the WELS preschool in Raleigh, North Carolina, would never guess that Mrs. Kiecker, the teacher they love so much, never planned on teaching preschool. But early childhood education (ECE)—and becoming a leader in ECE—is now her passion.
Even as an upper-level math instructor, Nicole Lehman ’10 sees the need to increase and improve her teaching techniques for students with learning difficulties. That’s what led her to the special education emphasis in MLC’s Master of Science in Education program.
In May 2014 you might not have chosen Andrea (Biedenbender) Van Sice as the most likely person to enroll in MLC’s master’s program. She’d just wrapped up her undergrad papers and exams, accepted her diploma, and turned her tassel. She’d just been assigned to Nebraska LHS. She was engaged to be married the next summer. Because […]
Taking His Leadership to the Next Level Kyle Bender DMLC ’93 is taking his school leadership to the next level. Though Kyle’s resume is already impressive, his experience in MLC’s new MS in Educational Administration program is giving him new tools he can use immediately in his ministry. “MLC is challenging me to grow professionally […]
“I’ve Been Waiting for This” Lynn Jungen Is Enjoying MLC’s New MS-Educational Administration “I believe my job is to help children use and develop their God-given abilities to serve their Lord, their family, their neighbors, and their congregation.” So says Lynn Craker Jungen DMLC ’80 of St. Peter-Mishicot, Wisconsin. As the sole faculty member—both teacher and […]
Gretl—her English name—is one of the newest students in our master’s program, and she takes the prize for a couple firsts. She is our first student taking courses from her home in China, and she is also the first student—and likely the only one ever—with an undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine.
After earning her degree in 2008, Gretl worked for nine months as a lab assistant in a Key Laboratory of Preventative Veterinary Medicine at the China Agricultural University. “Like most of the Chinese graduate students, I didn’t really know what I should do. Most students will either get a master’s degree or try to go abroad to study for a PhD. I was just blindly following everybody else.”
But her life was to take a very different turn. It began when she met MLC alumni teaching English during her college years. She became close friends with them, and from them she learned about MLC.
When her job as a lab assistant was not satisfying—she remembers experiments that didn’t work, no matter how hard she tried—she realized that her calling was to teach. She enrolled at MLC to study for her degree in elementary education, but twice her application for a visa was rejected.
Undeterred, she began volunteering at an English school and orphanage. A new task was placed before her when the orphanage staff asked her to take a 1-1/2 year old boy to Israel to have heart surgery. “I was being a single mom for this orphan boy in Israel. I witnessed so many miracles happen on this baby boy. He was condemned to death by the doctor because his heart problem was just so serious; however, his life was saved! He was adopted by an American family and lives in Minneapolis!” Gretl says this experience is a mark carved deeply on her heart and her soul, and it gave her courage in her own journey.
When she came back to China, she became the official Chinese manager at the English school and soon took on teaching duties as well. She now is employed at three different schools, where she teaches second grade science bilingually, seventh and eighth grade science bilingually, and ninth grade biology in English.
“The more I teach, the more limits I see in myself,” she says. “I know I need to be trained so I can serve better and in a more professional way. I trust MLC and know that MLC will equip me.
“I love my first course, Designing Classroom Instruction,” she continues, “because it already is starting to make my preparation for class much more efficient and easier than before. Before, I was trying hard to cover all the content in the unit; then my class plan became a meaningless mess. However, since I started to follow the thought of this course, my time used to prepare class is much less, and I am starting to focus on what students should learn and understand rather than how much I can cover. I really want to finish this awesome program. Then I can use what I learned from MLC to help more Chinese children and parents.”
A 1985 graduate of DMLC, she taught at California Lutheran High School for one year and St. Paul-New Ulm MN for 13 years. Then her life changed drastically, as she took a two-year leave of absence to teach at Sekolah Pelita Harapan (School of Light and Hope) in Jakarta, Indonesia, pursuing her childhood dream of being a missionary.
Although getting acclimated to the weather, food, culture, and language wasn’t easy, the people of Indonesia captured her heart: “At the end of my first year I met children from an orphanage and I fell in love! These children were pulled from Ambon (the capital city of Maluku, an island on the eastern part of Indonesia), where there had been fierce fighting between Christians and Muslims. Their parents were looking for a place that would provide safety, school, and other physical necessities until the fighting was over. These kids were traumatized, as many of them witnessed the death of family members or friends and some of the boys actually had to fight in the war. I started my work with them by bringing books to teach them English. It wasn’t long before I began staying overnight with them at the orphanage and becoming a part of their family.”
At the end of her second year, St. Paul’s asked her to return, and she did so happily. But the call of those Ambonese orphans was too much, and after one year in the States, she returned to to Sekolah Pelita Harapan, where she taught another eight years.
“What the young people of Ambon taught me and gave to me is immeasurable,” she says. By 2010, however, almost all of them had moved on to university, so Coral decided to move on as well, this time to a new school in Hanoi, Vietnam: Concordia International School, where she will teach PreK-2 phy ed and PreK-7 music next year.
With a new country, a new life, and a slightly lighter schedule, Coral decided it was time to pursue her master’s. She chose the M.S. Ed. program at Martin Luther College, focusing on the Instruction emphasis.
She admits that at first she was hesitant. Could she do this from 8,000 miles away? Would the online connection be accessible? Would she get the materials she required in hot and humid Hanoi?
After a few kinks—the books for her first classes, for instance, did not arrive on time—she is now online, on board, and on fire. Professor Gene Pfeifer’s course, Improving Instructional Methodology, inspired her. “It extended my understanding of how best to reach my students by addressing their unique qualities. I loved the instant feedback and the interaction with other WELS teachers. It was stimulating to communicate through posted responses; I think we all learned from everyone’s experience and expertise.
“I was able to take many of the things I learned and immediately implement them in my own classroom,” she adds. “I saw the effectiveness of organizing units with authentic tasks, practicing and promoting higher order thinking skills.”
She also appreciated the flexibility. “Doing this course online allowed me to work at times when it fit into my schedule. Because I live overseas, it was a huge plus to find all of my resources online. Although I did my best to complete all assignments on time, I was granted an extension when one was needed. That flexibility was greatly appreciated.”
Coral understands why some teachers may be hesitant about plunging into a program. “I remember very well the pressures of teaching in a WELS school,” she says. “Often we are stretched very thin, covering many different duties. We can get a bit bogged down in the day-to-day activities and forget how important it is to work on the craft of teaching and further our own knowledge as teachers.”
But Coral does not want to forget. She wants to work on her craft, increase her knowledge, and become the best teacher she can be. “The master’s program whetted my appetite for learning again. It reminded me of important truths about children and how best to help them as learners.”
As one listens to Chris Hintz (Emmaus-Phoenix) talk about graduate studies at MLC, it’s easy to see that a big benefit of the master’s program has been the opportunity to reflect—to reflect on the gifts God has given him and the opportunities to use those gifts.
At his 2004 graduation, Chris was assigned to Zion-Denver as vice-principal and grades 7-8 teacher. The call expanded to grades 5-8 and principal after a year. In 2008, he accepted a call to Emmaus-Phoenix, where, like many WELS teachers, he wears several hats: He teaches various classes in grades 4-8 and serves as AD, coach, tech coordinator, and youth group leader.
“God has richly blessed me in my ministry,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed serving in a different role at Emmaus than I served at Zion. In fact, the last three years of not serving as principal—and taking courses through MLC’s master’s program—have allowed me to assess my gifts and helped me recognize how I can best serve my Lord.”
Chris is completing the instruction emphasis in his master’s program. “Continuing my education in the MLC master’s program has given me the knowledge and confidence to improve my classroom,” he says. “Education is always changing. If we as teachers aren’t continuing to learn and challenge ourselves, our students and their education will suffer. Many of the lessons I’ve learned in my classes I’ve been able to implement in my classroom or ministry. I’ve also been able to support and encourage my colleagues in their continuing education.”
In addition to courses in his emphasis, he’s chosen courses in the other three emphases as well, courses that match his ministry at Emmaus.
One is from the special education emphasis: Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities, taught by Dr. John Juern, child psychologist. “It’s given me a better understanding of my students from a clinical perspective,” Chris says, “helping me to better understand why students are struggling and how to help them.”
Another is from the technology emphasis: Enhancing the Curriculum with Technology, taught by Dr. James Grunwald, MLC. And a third is from the administration emphasis: Curriculum Design and Implementation, taught by Dr. LeDell Plath, retired WELS administrator and principal mentor. This course, Chris says, has helped him bring fresh ideas to the table as the Emmaus staff revises curriculum.
Chris reflects that these duties seem to fit his God-given gifts and interests very well. He loves sports (especially the Brewers and Packers). He likes to dabble with computers (although he admits that his “unofficial tech-guy” status may be based less on his technological gifts and more on his relative youth). And, of course, he loves classroom teaching.
“Because I was a principal right out of college, I wasn’t able to give my full attention to my classroom,” he says. “These last few years, it’s been nice to give a more dedicated focus to my classroom.”
Chris knows that the Lord has a plan for his ministry, and he believes that being in the MLC master’s program is one way he can prepare himself for future opportunities to serve. “Lord willing,” he says, “I’d like to receive a call to teach high school history someday. The classes I’ve taken have been a wonderful blessing to my current ministry, and I believe they will help me in the future too.”
Chris began the program in 2009 and hopes to finish in 2013. He’s married to Nikki (Jaeger), and they have two preschool children, Kaden and Kirsten.
What advice does he give to other WELS teachers wondering if the MLC master’s program is right for them? “The master’s program is great. The knowledge that you, as a called worker, will receive is important for your continuing education and the ministry you serve. Yes, it is challenging. There are a lot of assignments and high expectations, but it’s worth the effort. God has given you gifts and talents that will be strengthened through this program. The professors have been very helpful and have shared a wealth of information. I’ve also been able to reconnect with classmates from college and get to know and work with some great teachers that I didn’t know before entering this program.”
New Master’s Program at MLC: Training for Principals and ECE Directors
This new master’s program, approved in September by the Minnesota Board of Teaching, is intended especially for early childhood directors and principals like Rendy.
“The MLC Master of Science in Educational Administration program is unlike any other educational leadership training program,” says Dr. John Meyer DMLC ’87, director of continuing education and graduate studies. “It focuses on the unique needs of WELS principals and directors.”
WELS school leaders are more than simply administrators, Meyer says. “They are a combination of principal, superintendent, and spiritual leader.” As such, they face complex issues, some of which are unique to Lutheran schools.
The new master’s program guides them through these issues, including . . .
- creating a Lutheran mission and culture,
- leading necessary change while identifying things that cannot change,
- establishing financially sustainable schools,
- sustaining and growing schools, and
- encouraging communication and involvement among congregation, faculty, and parents.
Rendy Koeppel is excited about tackling these important subjects, and the courses he’s already taken in the leadership emphasis of our current MS Ed program will transfer smoothly into his new program. He believes it will take three years to complete the program because he wants “to properly balance the daily work of my call and sufficient time for coursework.”
The existing MS in Education with a leadership emphasis, the one Rendy Koeppel was enrolled in, has served WELS very well, says Dr. Meyer, with 42 principals and early childhood directors completing it.
Some leaders and directors will continue to choose that program, which permits them to customize their programs with a blend of administration, technology, teaching, and special education courses.
Others will opt for the new MS in Educational Administration degree, which includes some instruction courses but focuses more heavily on leadership.
Rendy Koeppel is convinced that deciding which program to pursue is less important than deciding to pursue a program. “WELS educators need to be at the top of their game to best serve students and families,” he says.
“I believe ongoing professional development is key to achieving excellence in ministry and avoiding stagnation in the important work that we are called to do. This MLC program certainly helps me as an administrator to improve and better serve my Lord, my school, my congregation, and our synod.”
By Laurie Gauger
Martin Luther College
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New Ulm, MN 56073
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