When NLU student Elizabeth Kearney finishes her dissertation in the Ed.D. in Reading, Language and Literacy program, she will have two masters degrees and a doctorate in education. What does one do with that kind of firepower? In this Q and A, she told us what makes her get up in the morning, which NLU professors inspired her and where her passion lies.
NLU: Elizabeth, could you tell us where you work now, and what you’re doing?
Elizabeth Kearney: I work for the Chicago Public Schools as a part-time second grade teacher. I also work for Concordia University as an adjunct faculty member, teaching in their Master of Arts in Teaching program. I teach literacy courses.
NLU: That sounds great. What did you do before you started NLU’s Ed.D. program in Reading, Language and Literacy?
Elizabeth: I just worked for CPS. Studying at National Louis didn’t change what I taught at CPS. It gave me the opportunity to be a professor in addition to that.
NLU: How did you decide what to do in your career?
Elizabeth: I knew I wanted to be a teacher—I just didn’t know how far I wanted to go with it. I got my B.S. in Special and Elementary Education from Loyola University and an M.A. in Special Education from Loyola. Then I got a Master’s in reading from NLU, and I decided to go for my doctorate.
NLU: What’s your dream job?
Elizabeth: To teach as a full-time faculty member at a university in the area of reading, language and literature. I’m partially there, because I’m an adjunct professor.
I really like my life the way it is—I get to teach kids and adults as well. I like having a foot in both worlds. I’m in no rush to quit my day job.
NLU: If there were one thing that really made your work feel worthwhile and meaningful, what would it be?
Elizabeth: I think the best thing is learning how to teach struggling readers to read. That’s where my passion is.
NLU: When people are struggling to read, do they all struggle with it the same way, or is it different for everyone?
Elizabeth: It’s different for everyone. You have to consider their age, their background and the previous instructional methods used—that have worked, or haven’t.
NLU: What gives you professional satisfaction?
Elizabeth: Having kids say, “wow, that’s the first book I’ve ever finished.” For example, these might be seventh- or eighth-grade kids who didn’t like to read, and now they do. Or kids who said they were not good readers before, and they’ve changed their opinions of themselves, and now they’re good readers.
NLU: Have there been any faculty at National Louis who have been mentors to you?
Elizabeth: Yes, Dr. Susan McMahon. She taught the first class I took. I wanted automatically from the first night of the first class to glean knowledge from her. So it wasn’t long after that I thought of going for my doctorate.
She just excited a sense of possibility in me. I’ve taken four classes with her, and she has been really instrumental. She’s now the chair of my dissertation committee.
NLU: What is your dissertation topic?
Elizabeth: I’m writing about using literacy groups with struggling readers in the middle grades, sixth through eighth.
NLU: Are those like book groups?
Elizabeth: Yes. Dr. McMahon is one of the creators of a program called Book Club. She’s been inspirational in my decision to do a dissertation using literacy groups for struggling readers.
NLU: Are there things you have learned in the classroom that you have applied right away on the job?
Elizabeth: All the time. I wouldn’t be able to count the times. One time that sticks out to me is about Dr. Sophie Degener. I have always been stronger in my understanding of older children and she taught a class on emergent literacy—teaching beginning readers from preK to 3.
I learned so much from her—from understanding how little kids learn to read to their use of oral language and vocabulary and how that plays into it.
I was nervous about it—she put my fears at ease. She meets students where they are. I just learned so much.
NLU: What do you read for your own enjoyment?
Elizabeth: I enjoy historical fiction about women. But lately, I haven’t had much time to read. All I do is work on my dissertation and prep for classes!