Winston Mugford headshot

Winston Mugford, Master of Teaching

May 1, 2023

SPCS Commencement Feature

Winston Mugford is the SPCS Student Speaker at this year’s Commencement ceremony. He is a 32-year-old social studies teacher at J.R. Tucker High School in Henrico County who started the Master of Teaching (MT) program at SPCS in fall 2020. He graduated from Christopher Newport University in 2014 with a bachelor of arts in political science and theatre, with an acting concentration and minors in psychology and philosophy and religious studies.

We asked Mugford to answer several questions that we regularly pose to graduating students as they complete their programs of study. Here are his responses in his own words.

Why did you decide to return to school?

In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I reevaluated what I was doing in life. More and more, I started feeling like I needed a new purpose — specifically, I wanted to find a way to do something that I loved but that also allowed me to serve other people. That is why I wanted to return to school to pursue my Master of Teaching degree.

Why did you choose SPCS and the University of Richmond for your degree program?

I was inspired by my wife’s example! She graduated from the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies a few years ago. Her experience was so positive, and her dedication to the program so thorough, that I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

What’s the biggest challenge you faced as an adult student?

The greatest challenge I faced was overcoming the initial fear of diving back into school after so many years away from the classroom. In the beginning, I was worried that I simply did not have what it takes to succeed in a rigorous master’s program — that I might simply be too rusty after having been graduated from college for so long. I believe this is a fear that many people feel when deciding whether or not to return to school. When you get in the classroom and begin speaking to your professors (and seeing just how welcoming and helpful they are), those fears go away very quickly.

What’s the thing you like best about studying your major?

What many do not realize upon initially undertaking a Master of Teaching degree is just how much you will learn about yourself as a learner. So many of the skills we acquire in our process of becoming teachers can be turned around and used to improve our own abilities as learners in the classroom and in life. This is because the basic principles being learned are universal; they do not apply merely to high school or elementary students; they apply equally to adults.

Tell us about the faculty you’ve had.

Each professor in the MT program brought their unique perspective to bear on what we were learning. This is only possible because each of our educators in the program has so much experience actually teaching students in the classroom. They are not simply teaching us abstract teaching theories; they know exactly how to apply the theories being taught in real-world classroom situations. It is a gift to have such deeply knowledgeable professors, but it is equally a blessing to be in the company of fellow professionals who completely understand the experiences we are having as we practice the art of teaching ourselves.

What have you learned about yourself as an SPCS student?

Having worked in the arts previously (and completed theatre as a second major in college), I was aware that certain disciplines required hands-on experience to completely master. Teaching is the same way. No book can fully explain the best methods for teaching. That is why I am so grateful that SPCS placed such an enormous emphasis on having students actually get out in the field and practice teaching firsthand. I have discovered in the process that I do not need to be fearful about making mistakes, as that is the only pathway to true learning and improvement. Not every lesson I teach will be a success. Sometimes, I am going to have to adapt and improve in order to better serve my students. My experience at SPCS has taught me to be comfortable with that reality.

What will you miss most about being a University of Richmond student?

I will miss the rich discussions that I was so lucky to be a part of during my time at UR. What is incredible about being part of such an exceptional group of professionals in a classroom environment is that the conversations you have with your peers can end up being some of the most insightful learning moments. As a UR student, you are not simply learning from the professor in the classroom, but equally, you are learning from the incredibly bright minds around you. The University’s dedication to rigor and a dynamic learning environment is to thank for this.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you reach this milestone?

I am so incredibly grateful to all of my family. They made these past few years possible. My parents and grandparents have been pillars of support in every sense of the phrase. My wife has been the most dedicated partner I could ever ask for. And of course, I want to thank the many faculty at the University and SPCS who have helped me along the way. Going through graduate school during a pandemic is tricky! Luckily, the entire UR team has been prepared to make every step of the journey possible for all of us that are graduating.

What does graduation mean to you?

Naturally, I feel like this is the completion of a significant (and yes, sometimes challenging!) journey. However, I equally feel this is a jumping off point for so many of us. Graduation is the launch pad for our professional journey. From this point on, the possibilities only open wider to us. We can go anywhere.

In the future, Mugford wants to further hone his teaching skills. He hopes to take what he’s learned at UR and channel that knowledge into pursuing even more challenging goals. For example, Mugford hopes in the next few years to pursue National Board Certification as an educator. There are many additional teaching certifications and specializations he’d like to acquire as well. He sees himself pursuing these additional goals in order to improve the quality of the education he’s able to provide for his students.

He’ll graduate on May 6, 2023, with a Master of Teaching degree.