Jessica and Keith Langosch will clink the champagne glasses on two years of wedded bliss this June.
By the end of the summer, they will celebrate two new and shiny M.S.Ed. in Educational Administration degrees from NIU – and they’re not the only married couple joining in that party.
Claudia Martinez-Carter and Deryn Carter, teachers at U-46’s Elgin Larkin High School, are also part of the Hoffman Estates principal prep cohort with the Langosches.
Their time in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations as not only students and classmates but husbands and wives has provided a unique perspective on the work-life balance required of graduate-level coursework.
It’s also demonstrated the multiple benefits – and, for the Carters, one challenge – of taking the academic journey together.
Leading the good list are understanding and proximity.
“Such as when you’re in school, and your spouse is not, on those Saturdays when somebody wants to do something and the other person says, ‘Sorry, I have homework,’ ” Jessica says. “We can dedicate certain days and certain times when we’re both going to sit down and do homework.”
“We’re in Lisle, so it’s nice to drive to Hoffman Estates together,” Keith says, adding that he also enjoys knowing that his wife is close by when tackling classwork late at night. “It’s definitely helpful. Having two people who remember things is kind of nice, and you can get answers to your questions right away.”
“ ‘Did you interpret this the same way I did?’ ” Jessica expands. “It’s the same conversations you would have with any classmate.”
For the Carters, married 14 years and parents to Mia, who is about to turn 11, and Dion, who is soon to blow out three birthday candles, their first lens is a financial one.
“In terms of classes, we only purchase one textbook for the both of us,” Claudia says. “But in terms of childcare, it’s been something that’s an extra cost for us.”
Yet it’s also offered them fresh perspectives on their marriage and, like the Langosches, an appreciation of the demands of graduate study.
“We’re really finding out that we’re different,” Claudia says. “Our values are very similar, but how we go about situations that test our values is different. I thought that was pretty awesome to find out about him and myself.”
Deryn is proud that he and his wife both were quick and willing to “step up” when needed to help maintain a happy household.
“Personally, I think that it helped with compromise so much more that we were going through it together. If Claudia was going through it and I was not, that would be a workload and a stress I was not familiar with,” Deryn says.
“Our level of compromise came naturally because we were both experiencing every class, every paper and everything simultaneously, he adds. “Over 24 months of going through the program together, we never had an argument or misunderstanding about why one of us felt stressed and the other did not.”
Beyond their shared status as married couples, however, their stories and paths to the M.S.Ed. program are quite varied – and exemplary of any graduate cohort.
A 2010 alumna of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, Jessica is a member of the transition program team. She works with students ages 18 to 22 to teach them functional math and independent living skills, such as how to get a job or how to take public transportation.
Keith, meanwhile, leads a self-contained Special Education classroom for ninth- through 12th-grades. He teaches consumer education and job training lessons, such as resumes, applications, interviews and paychecks.
“We’re the only Special Education teachers in the cohort,” Jessica says. “We both have always kind of been interested in leadership roles, more within Special Education. Obviously with IEP meetings, and with the LEAs who need to run the meetings, it’s typically the administrator in the building, so we could make a greater impact on those.”
Claudia teaches a sophomore AVID class that covers college and career readiness. Deryn, head coach of the varsity boys basketball team at Larkin, teaches AP economics as well as sociology and psychology.
She needs a master’s degree on her resume, and an administrative role in education intrigues her. He wanted the option to pursue larger leadership roles, initially with an eye on athletics administration, although he loves his current role and has no plans to move on.
They were attracted to NIU by the program’s hybrid online/face-to-face format, something that makes the commitment more manageable with their busy schedules: ‘I really like to sit and hear other perspectives,” Claudia says, “but because of our busyness, that hybrid piece of being online gave me an opportunity to breathe.”
During the program, however, Claudia and Deryn came away with realizations greater than their expectations.
“My focus has changed to the more academic side to pursue a principalship. I also became conscious about my own self – my strengths and my weaknesses,” Deryn says. “It’s amazing how quickly your mindset changes, from looking at things in the micro as a teacher, and how things affect your lesson plans, to how you start analyzing things in big picture like an administrator or building leader. That mental change happens very, very quickly.”
Claudia is focused on her communication skills – “just taking a step back and thinking about how to approach difficult conversations,” she says – and a new awareness of her personality.
“One thing that stood with me is that I’m a ‘green’ person, which means that I’m a human resource person. I really care about relationships,” she says, “where a person who’s a ‘red’ person just wants to know what they need to get it done.”
The Langosches also have enjoyed learning about – and meeting – different type of leaders.
“Having the professors in the classes be practicing administrators has been very valuable in being able to bounce ideas off of them and get feedback,” Jessica says. “The guest speakers also have valuable information, and we’ve been learning different things from each person.”
“We’ve been fortunate with the professors being active with the public schools in the area,” Keith agrees. “They’re not only telling you the things they know but about things they’re experiencing daily.”
Meanwhile, they’ve appreciated being asked for their own expertise.
“This semester, we’re in Law for Diverse Learners, and obviously, we teach diverse learners in Special Education,” Jessica says. “The instructors have never been afraid to ask, ‘What would you do?’ or ‘What’s your experience?’ ”