Alumni Profile: Tracy Niccum, Special Education Life Skills Teacher
Is it better to do something you love, or learn to love the career you have? Many people, like Tracy Niccum, struggle with this question on a daily basis.
Tracy had gone to college and completed her degree only to find out that what she was doing didn’t make her happy. She was torn between staying at her current job, or making the decision to go back to school in order to pursue the career she really wanted.
Today, Tracy is working in a career she is passionate about. She is a special education life skills teacher, working with students who have multiple developmental delays and require a functional academic curriculum. Her new career keeps her happy and fulfilled, but reaching her dreams required her to make some major life adjustments.
While already working a full-time job, Tracy made the decision to go back to school and earn a degree in special education so she could achieve her longtime dream of becoming a teacher.
“I wanted to make a difference in a child’s life,” she said. “I think all teachers want to be remembered by their students as having a positive influence on them.”
She began her educational journey at a local community college, but working all day and going to class at night began to take a toll. Her inability to balance a full-time job and class work made her feel like a failure. That’s when she found WGU Missouri.
“I had a full-time job and liked the idea of working online at my own pace,” Tracy said.
WGU Missouri’s competency-based, online format made it easier for her to pursue her degree while allowing her to maintain the full-time job that was providing her with financial support.
“I felt like I always knew what was expected of me and what I was supposed to take away from each class, while being able to work at my own pace,” she said.
Tracy is more happy than ever now that she has received her degree from WGU Missouri. Most days, Tracy works with her students in a self-contained setting, which allows her to build strong relationships with the kids in her class. She keeps most of the same students every year and says they are like a family.
“It is so rewarding to see the growth these students make,” she said.
Her favorite part about being a teacher is being able to see her efforts and the students’ hard work come together.
“That success is like winning the lottery!” she said.
Tracy’s ultimate career goal is to clear up the misconceptions associated with students in special education programs.
“I wish people knew that students in a life skills classroom are just as capable of learning, accomplishing goals, and leading productive successful lives as any other student,” she said.
Tracy has high expectations of her students because she believes in their abilities to meet any challenges put in front of them. She wants her students to have the same opportunities in life, education and employment. “A career in special education can be overwhelming, but the rewards far outweigh all of the challenges,” she said.
Tracy notes that earning her degree from WGU Missouri has allowed her to work with amazing faculty and students, and says the experience has truly changed her life for the better. “I learn something new every day and have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s daily life and future,” she said. “It has allowed me to better care for my family financially and be more confident and happy with my path in life.”
Tracy has advice for anyone who is hesitant about earning a degree from WGU Missouri and starting a new career path: “Do it! Don’t wait. It is an amazing experience and the most positive college experience for non-traditional students,” she said.