When 55-year-old Patrick Toth looks back at his career path, he can see how every step led him to where he is today.
While working as a social studies teacher at Page High School in Williamson County, Toth recently earned a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction through MTSU Online and the university’s flexible course options — and he feels more fulfilled than ever.
Toth previously worked for Minnesota Public Television in his home state and nearby Nashville Public Television where he would create media resources and nontraditional educational resources for at-risk children. He always felt passionate about education, even though his job was in a different world.
“I wanted to inspire the kids and give them creative outlets because they didn’t necessarily have that at home,” said Toth, a Franklin, Tennessee, resident. “I decided to professionalize it and get in a classroom and eventually get my license to teach.
“I feel like it is my role to connect with kids and watch kids grow and work with kids and be invested in their growth,” Toth continued, reflecting on why he says this is the last career for him. “I want to be able to cultivate that curiosity in them.”
Ever since he decided to earn his master’s and enrolled at MTSU, Toth says he has been telling everyone he meets about the College of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction program, which he finished in May 2021.
“The program was very challenging, but the ease and access to take the classes and work with the cohorts and the professors and still be able to teach made it the best fit for me,” he said. “It was so effective, and it worked out so well for me that I could teach full time.”
The program’s coordinator, Ashlee Hover, says MTSU constructed the program not only to be flexible but to build off what the students are already doing in the classroom or workplace.
“The courses are designed so students can directly apply the learned strategies and self-made products to their current teaching or workplace setting,” she said. “When students graduate, it is my hope that they will continue to use what they have learned for improving curriculum and instruction.”
Deeper connection to his students
Toth said the other universities he looked into did not have an online option for the programs he was interested in. MTSU meanwhile has built a robust catalog of online course and program options, recently named to Newsweek’s list of America’s Top Online Colleges 2022. Hover also highlighted the benefits of online courses, saying she hopes the cohorts are filled with diverse colleagues in different locations to gain a better perspective of different types of learning.
Toth said he also appreciated that admission to the program through the College of Graduate Studies did not require the GRE or MAT tests. Toth said he is not sure he would’ve been able to adequately prepare for the tests while teaching full time.
“Those tests don’t make as much sense for those of us who want to go back to school when we’re a little bit older and have already been teaching for several years,” he said. “When you’re there to further your practice, what good does a test do to show that you can do it? I was already doing it.”
Instead of the tests, Toth was required to submit letters of recommendation, examples of his work, and transcripts showing his academic standing.
Toth was open with his students about going back to school, and he was a little surprised to hear so many students say their parents or older siblings or even their grandparents were doing the same thing.
“It was fun when my students would come in on Monday and I would find out we had very similar weekends that were filled with homework,” he said. “There was a camaraderie there and it was helpful that we could share some commonality.”
Toth said he has taken so much away from the master’s program that he uses every day in the classroom. Teaching can be so numbers-driven — focused on measuring a student’s grades, what percentile they’re in compared to other students their age, or how many absences they have — and Toth said the classes in the Curriculum and Instruction program showed him how to track student success without reducing every student to a mere statistic.
“The classes were not nonpersonal and clinical, but they were really about having the best classroom experience for the students,” he said. “I learned so much about how to take the data from test scores and assessments and use it to raise achievement levels.”
Toth said while the degree was a personal achievement for himself and his family, it was also for his students, so he could be a better instructor for them.
“Having a master’s degree is showing my kids that I really love what I do,” he said. “And I love the kids, too — when a teacher can be as tired as we all are and still miss their students after a week off, it shows that you really do care.”
If you are interested in the Curriculum and Instruction program or any other online degree from MTSU, visit MTSU.edu/Online.
— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)