Success: 73-Year-Old Set to Earn Southeast Master’s Degree

McGee Reinvents Herself as Reading Intervention Teacher
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Aline McGee

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., May 13, 2015 – Seventy-three-year-old Aline McGee has found the road to – and from – Success is paved with strength, courage and resilience.

A native daughter of Success, Arkansas, in northwestern Clay County, McGee has lived up to her hometown’s namesake. She will graduate from Southeast Missouri State University May 16 with a Master of Arts in elementary education, armed with a degree she plans to continue using next fall at Ripley County R-IV Lone Star Elementary School near the Mark Twain National Forest where she is intent on improving her students’ reading scores.

“You are never too old to learn,” says the K-8 reading intervention teacher in Doniphan, Missouri. “Education has always meant everything to me. I will consider my job as a teacher well done if I can pass on to my students some of what I’ve learned along the way, such as the value of determination and perseverance, the importance of personal responsibility, but mostly the need to always have a passion and a dream to work towards and look forward to.

“When I walk across that stage to receive my diploma, I will have a feeling of satisfaction that I persevered and hope that I have encouraged the youth and senior citizens in our society” to do the same.

McGee reinvented herself after she and her late husband retired to southeast Missouri from the Washington, D.C., area several years ago. Her first career was spent as a cost accountant, serving five years with the U.S. Air Force Military Airlift Command at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Rota, Spain. She holds a Bachelor of Science in business/accounting from the University of Maryland, which she earned in 1984.

In their retirement, McGee and her husband were frequent golfers, but she said she quickly tired of hitting the links. Just 17 miles from her native Success, she began serving as a substitute teacher at Lone Star, which evolved into a teacher’s aide position. Along the way, she began driving back and forth to Southeast to earn an elementary education degree, which she completed in December 2006. Eventually, Lone Star Elementary hired her full time, where she has been employed now for seven years.

“I love it,” she said. “There are really good kids here.”

The more McGee taught, the more she felt the need to advance her teaching skills.

“I pursued my master’s because I realized that I needed to know more about teaching reading if I wanted to improve students’ reading scores,” she said. “I wanted to continue to learn, stay active and stay current in the methods of teaching.”

In fall 2011, she again hit the road for a four-hour round trip to Cape Girardeau, attending evening classes at Southeast in pursuit of a master’s degree, all the while continuing to teach elementary school students by day. When the program became available online, McGee shifted to the more convenient course format.

“That saved me hours of time from driving to Cape for classes,” she said.

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Aline McGee defended her master’s thesis on campus last month.

Being an online student, though, was not without obstacles, she said.

“It was challenging to learn the new technology required to participate in classes online,” McGee said, adding that Moodle, drop box and participating in forums were all new to her. “Taking on the challenge of becoming a student and learning the required new technology at the same time was a little overwhelming. I definitely started off with some hurdles to overcome.  It took me longer to complete projects and turn in homework.  I also had to focus on becoming more organized as the additional work load took away from time that I would normally use to prepare lesson plans for my classes.”

Shortly after beginning her master’s degree program, McGee’s husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and she began devoting herself to his care. At the same time, she faced her own health challenges, including knee surgery, eye surgery, sinus surgery and a heart procedure.

Coping with the recovery of a major surgery can be challenging at the best of times, but adding research, studying and class deadlines can quickly escalate into an overwhelming test of someone’s focus and determination, McGee said.

“While some of the curves that life throws you can be overwhelming and draining,” she said, “I think ironically that, at the time, the focus that being a student required was also the catalyst the helped me find the energy and determination to meet these challenges head on.

“With great difficultly, I just lived day by day and dealt with each situation as it came up the best I could,” McGee said.

She said she completely withdrew from people, events and life, and immersed herself in taking her husband to his many appointments, turning in her assignments and working.

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Aline McGee is a K-8 reading intervention teacher in Doniphan, Missouri.

“Making sure that his daily necessities such as meals and clean clothes were met, getting him to his many doctor’s appointments and managing his daily needs – it quickly became apparent that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease is every bit as difficult as I’ve heard,” she said.

“It became paramount that I bring in not just enough money to live but also the extra money that was required to help manage my husband’s illness,” said McGee. “Managing a career and going to school during this time was not only challenging but very stressful.”

She said the last four months of her husband’s life proved to be the most challenging time of her life. She shuttled him to hospitals three hours from their home, making it extremely difficult to manage his healthcare, her job and her studies. He passed away on July 4, 2012, at which time she withdrew from a course to handle personal matters.

She said Dr. Cynthia Gordinier-Harkey, assistant professor of elementary, early and special education, graciously gave her a year to finish a course in which she was enrolled, and several others stepped in to help. She credits her friend, Donna Hudson, for encouraging her to continue her studies; her son, Sean, who patiently provided technology support over the phone; and several other Southeast faculty members – Dr. Min Zou, assistant professor of elementary, early and special education, and Dr. Julie Ray, chair of the Department of Elementary, Early and Special Education, for going the extra mile to help her complete her degree.

“It took a village to get me through the master’s program,” she said. “I cannot thank these people enough for caring. Those wonderful women professors who have an understanding of the challenges women encounter while attending college were a tremendous help.”

Ray said, “I first met Aline when she came to campus for an advising session and to enroll in courses.  I was impressed then with her dedication to her students and her passion for learning.  I have continued to be impressed as she worked through all of the challenges of her personal life, as well as learned the technology for an online program.  She’s a great example of someone who has ‘the will to do,’ and we are all proud of her for not giving up.  The real winners, though, are her students and colleagues at Lone Star because she’s using what she learned in her coursework to improve her school’s reading instruction and helping all of her students become successful readers.”

McGee said it took almost a year for her to be able to physically and emotionally resume her studies after her husband’s death. When she returned to her master’s coursework, completing her course of study became even more important as she felt the need to honor her husband’s memory because of “his unwavering faith he always had in me and my dreams,” she said.

Last November, she added another challenge to her plate as her youngest son got married in St. Louis on the same weekend her research action assignment was due. Again, Zou graciously granted her an extension on the deadline.

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Aline McGee’s goal is to help all of her students become proficient readers.

“Although I was tasked with many difficult challenges the past few years, it was with the help, understanding and unwavering support of my friends, family and the wonderful faculty of SEMO who continued to inspire me to complete my master’s program,” McGee said. “It’s a testament to our school that we can accomplish anything when we come together and support the best in us.”

The reward for her perseverance, she says, is that she feels better qualified as a reading teacher and that her students are benefiting from her education. She says the benefits of her practicum experience were extraordinary, and she thanks a small group of her students and their parents who brought them to school on Saturdays to improve their reading skills.

“I want every child that I help with reading to reach their benchmark of becoming proficient readers,” McGee said.

After graduation, she said she plans to travel and possibly write a realistic non-fiction book. She hasn’t ruled out pursuing a doctoral degree somewhere down the road. And come fall, she plans to return to her passion as a reading teacher at Lone Star Elementary.

“My advice to anyone who wants to start a degree program is not to ever give up,” she said.

“Run, and don’t stop, to the nearest university and enroll for summer classes,” McGee said. “Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from pursuing your dreams. Years go by so quickly and before you know, you have wasted too many years on trying to overcome the fear of failure, not having the money or not having the time.

“Community colleges and universities will help you find ways to finance your education, and, in the long run, having a better paying job will make it worth all the work,” she said. “Please don’t listen to the people who say you are too old to be going to school. You are never too old to learn.”

The mother of three sons, McGee said, “Learn to count your blessings along the way and remember that all of the people who are a part of your life will always be there to help and encourage you along the way” … to Success. “Too many people have returned to school and earned degrees.  Why are you any different?”