Dr. Sandra Wieser-Matthews: Doctorate another example of Perham teacher's dedication to her students
"I've always wanted to be the best I can possibly be for my students," says Perham teacher Sandra Wieser-Matthews.
For her, it's far more than an ambition, but a lifelong goal she has actively pursued. Most recently, that desire resulted in Wieser-Matthews working hard over a three-year period to earn her doctoral degree in education. A doctorate in education is rare among k-12 educators.
Earning her doctorate didn't come easy, especially considering all of the other responsibilities Wieser-Matthews shoulders each day. As a mother, wife, teacher, and head coach of a successful speech team, there is little time for much else.
Yet, with the wellbeing of her students and family in mind, she somehow found a way to make it all work. This past December, she had the distinction of being the fourth person to graduate in her University of St. Thomas cohort that started at 27 strong.
In order to achieve this honor, once a month, for three years, Wieser-Matthews made the trek to the Twin Cities to attend classes at the University of St. Thomas. Starting on Friday night, she would attend the classes throughout the weekend, returning to Perham in time to teach her high school students on Monday morning.
The weekend classes were in addition to two full weeks of classes in the summer, and online work on a daily basis.
"I did it for myself, but also for my own children, my family, and my students," she says. On the monthly drives back and forth from the metro area, Wieser-Matthews says that her kids would often jump in on discussions she and her husband were having about the new information she was learning in class.
"Getting my doctorate helped me to really scrutinize education," Wieser-Matthews says. She found herself especially intrigued by the way education relates to economic status.
In order to earn her Doctor of Education in Critical Pedagogy, she was also required to write a dissertation. Her dissertation, which took her a year and a half to write, focused on computer access and democracy.
"I've always tried to find a better way to educate," says Wieser-Matthews, adding how her advanced education has helped her to become a better writer and researcher, therefore making her students stronger in those areas as well.
One of her favorite things is to get the students she teaches out of the classroom environment and into another setting, to enhance their educational experience. Recently, Wieser-Matthews took her college-level class to Ma's Little Red Barn in Perham to give their final speeches of the year.
Wieser-Matthews brings a variety of teaching experience to the job. This year marks her 24th year teaching in Perham, with prior experience teaching in Florida and Nebraska. Before she got into the teaching profession, Wieser-Matthews worked in radio and television.
While in Perham, she has taught everything from mass media to drama to photography, working with elementary through college students. She has also served as the head speech coach of the Perham Yellow Jackets Speech Team for the past 24 years. She started the program with just two students, growing it into today's successful team of 50 students.
Wieser-Matthews also spent 20 years in Perham as the Student Council advisor. Her latest project in the high school is working on developing online classes. No matter what subject or age group she's teaching, it's clear that providing students with the best education possible is her top priority.
"I got my master's years ago thinking I'd go into administration," explains Wieser-Matthews.
However, after looking at the role administrators often play in the education process, she says she came to the realization that she wanted to remain more connected with students. Ultimately, it was this pull that prompted her to retain her position as a classroom teacher, and focus on maximizing her effectiveness there.
Currently, Wieser-Matthews says she believes she is the only teacher in Perham who has her doctorate in education. With nearly a quarter-century of teaching behind her, that's not the only noteworthy example of her dedication to her students; it is evidenced in the way she has, year after year, decision after decision, made the choice to instruct, challenge, and inspire students in every way she can.