Growing up, Rachel Hattaway became fascinated by weather. She was obsessed with the movie “Twister” and convinced her friends and family she would become a meteorologist one day. She even set her sights on becoming a storm chaser.
When the time came for college, she enthusiastically enrolled in the Atmospheric Science program at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM). It only took one semester for Hattaway to realize it wasn’t her calling.
She can laugh about it now, but at the time, she was at a loss. She had underestimated math’s role in the profession, and that simply wasn’t her strength. When she asked her mother, “What’s something I’m good at?” Hattaway said the answer came back quickly: “Well, ever since you and your sister were little, you’ve always played teacher.”
Given that Hattaway’s mother, aunt and other family members were teachers, she had a long tradition and many role models to inspire her. She eventually decided to join them.
She also found an academic home at ULM.
Hattaway went on to earn a dual bachelor’s degree in Secondary English and Spanish Education from the university in 2010, a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in ESL in 2015 and a second M.Ed. in Educational Technology Leadership in 2021. She’s now working on her Ed.D. in ULM’s Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction online program.
With her new path also came a new calling: improving education for students in Northeast Louisiana’s rural communities.
Learning Through Mentorship and Collaboration
Hattaway was born and raised in West Monroe, Louisiana, so ULM had always been on her radar. Once she enrolled, she found a welcoming spirit, professors that cared and a host of resources for students.
“ULM’s my second home at this point because it’s what, 17-and-a-half years on and off,” she said.
One reason she’s kept coming back to the university is the mentoring she has received in its online graduate programs. Hattaway believes the time spent working directly with her professors has helped her put theory and pedagogy into practice.
“They opened up that door for me,” she said. “They find a way to talk to us if we need help.”
Hattaway also chose her online doctoral program at ULM after carefully considering the role collaboration has played in her career. Rather than moving into administration, she felt the best way to continue having an impact on the lives of students she served would be to stay in the classroom and help other teachers doing the same.
“With curriculum and instruction, I can work with people,” she noted. “Instead of being in charge of an entire group of people, I’d rather be with them.”
Leading with collaboration has given Hattaway many innovative ways to empower her students. For the last 11 years, she has taught English and Spanish at Rayville High School in Rayville, Louisiana, where she serves as ELL/ELA content leader. In addition, Hattaway is a certified Louisiana mentor teacher, allowing her to support both her colleagues and her students in the Educators Rising program at Rayville.
“I want to be for them what my [ULM] mentors were for me,” she said.
Partnering for Success
Hattaway’s approach to collaboration and mentoring has evolved with each degree she has earned at ULM, as she has added new tools and techniques to her skill set that directly apply to her work. As a doctoral candidate, her research now focuses on preparing new teachers for success and long-term careers in education.
“My dissertation is going to be a case study on my school,” she said. “How can mentorship positively impact novice teacher retention in a rural high school or a rural public school system in Northeast Louisiana? I wanted to be as specific as possible because this is about us, and this is about my teachers and the impact that they have on my students, our students.”
Teaching may have been Hattaway’s second choice, but in it she ultimately found her purpose, as well as an active community of educators at ULM to share her journey. “We have formed undeniable bonds that nobody else could possibly understand,” she said of her online classmates.
Hattaway believes that exchanging ideas and weathering challenges together is important, especially for teachers. She advises others considering an online master’s or doctoral program in education to reach out to their peers as well.
“Form a community with other people who are going through the program with you,” she suggested. “You will make some amazing friends. … Because everybody’s in it together.”
She also offers some practical advice for online students, along with a little encouragement.
“Have good internet. Follow deadlines. Adhere to the guidelines and the rubrics,” she said. “Make good friends. Have a community with you, and just know you’re going to make it. Don’t give up.”
Hattaway still loves weather and would love to storm chase at least once in her lifetime. “I think weather is so beautifully unpredictable, and that appeals to my curious nature,” she said. But she has found her true calling in the classroom, working with students and teachers, in a place where her curiosity is engaged every single day.
Learn more about ULM’s online Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction program.