When Caty Dearing enrolled in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program at the University of Texas at Arlington, she was a high school English teacher hoping to provide strong reading intervention to students.
"I struggled because I didn't receive a lot of instruction for that in my bachelor's degree program," Dearing said. "I was also in a place where I thought, 'Maybe eventually I'd want to do something different.' I wanted to make sure I equipped myself to do that."
Now, Dearing is teaching teachers. One week after finishing the master's degree program coursework, she became a secondary literacy coach at the Region 11 Education Services Center in White Settlement, Texas.
"The fact that I had a background in foundational literacy development helped me get this job," Dearing said. "Going through this master's degree program and coming out with a reading specialist certification allowed me to see the whole picture of literacy from start to finish."
When she enrolled in the online M.Ed. program, Dearing was working in Mansfield Independent School District where she had the opportunity to work with two different English coordinators — Stacey Anderson (former) and Theresa Pollok (current). Both of them had already earned master's degrees in literacy studies from UTA.
"They said such positive things about the program," Dearing said. "When I was looking at the work they did and thought about possible career options, I said, 'I eventually want to be in a place where I can help teachers the way these lovely ladies helped me.'"
What a Ride
The flexibility of the online format allowed Dearing to balance school with work and family time. She and her husband, Justin, have a daughter, Kinleigh (6), who plays soccer.
"If I had to actually go and attend classes, there's no way I would have ever been able to get my master's degree," Dearing said. "I could finish my school day and take my daughter to soccer practice, because I was able to look at things at the beginning of the week and set up my schedule. Once a week, I stayed at school and worked on my classwork after school."
The UTA faculty was also understanding about real-world situations. Dearing and her family had a vacation to Disney World planned before she enrolled.
"Our trip was right in the middle of my first course," Dearing said. "I talked to my professor and said, 'Can I do three weeks of work in the first two weeks?' She said, 'We will definitely make that work.' It was great that I was still able to continue living my life."
Dearing grew up in Mansfield in a family of teachers. She initially planned to become a school counselor after enrolling at Howard Payne University. However, she changed her mind after taking an English course.
"I thought to myself, 'I would love to be able to talk about books like this woman does and be able to inspire other people,'" Dearing said. "Plus, I've always loved literature and the process of reading. I changed my major to secondary education my freshman year."
It's a Big World, After All
LIST 5354: Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults was Dearing's favorite course in the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program. She continues using what she learned as material for professional developments at her new job.
"As a white female teacher, a lot of times I had taken for granted the text I put in front of my kids," she said. "It was text I was familiar with that had characters who looked like me. The in-depth exposure and the analytical thinking around all of the different texts not only changed my instruction, it changed my overall perspective on life and the way I interact with my students and teachers. It's been very beneficial."
Dearing put the skills she learned in the program to the test at home by helping Kinleigh's reading development.
"I started taking these classes about the time she was learning letter sounds," she said. "I had been a teacher for however long, but had I ever truly taught a kid how to read? I took it upon myself to treat my daughter as this guinea pig of sorts. By the time she started kindergarten, she was reading on a mid-year level because of the work we did at home. It was exciting for me to be able to be a part of that."
The students in Dearing's high school English classes also reaped the benefits of her experience in the UTA online program.
"As I learned different things, I shared them with my students," Dearing said. "I'd say, 'Hey, I read this book. I know you will like it.' So, my students were enjoying the process, as well. I miss the questions that they asked and getting to walk that journey with them where they are trying to figure out who they are as people. I enjoyed that very much."
Dearing had a lot of love and support from her family and friends while earning a graduate degree 10 years after completing a bachelor's degree in English with a secondary education emphasis and practical theology minor in 2008.
"They're very excited," she said. "My husband said, 'Go do it. If it's going to be beneficial to you, we'll make it work. Just go do it.' My daughter is an old soul, so she was so proud of me when I finished."
The experience culminated with an extra special afternoon for Dearing in Arlington in December 2018.
"I attended my graduation ceremony so Kinleigh would to be able to see me walk," she said. "She made a sign. I don't think I've seen her that excited, which was cool. I had former students come to my graduation, as well. That was special. They partnered together, came home from college and supported me."
Dearing also developed personal friendships with a pair of instructors, Dr. Peggy Semingson and Dr. Holly Hungerford-Kresser, along the way.
"Dr. Semingson asked me to help with a webinar for her pre-service teachers, so I got feedback from her about what I could do to reach out and expand out of the classroom," Dearing said.
"When I applied for my current job, I reached out to Dr. Hungerford-Kresser and said, 'Can you talk me through some possible interview questions and give me feedback on things that I should look at?' She took time out of her day to call me and talk to me about it. I felt very supported and encouraged, and I was able to use a couple of professors as references on my resume."
Although Dearing misses teaching in the classroom, she is happy the UTA master's in education program steered her in a different direction.
"I'm doing my dream job with the ability to take all of the things I care about and believe in and share them with other teachers, partner alongside them and help them be successful," she said. "I learned so much in the program about literacy assessment that I've been able to apply every day on the job."
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
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