As a college student for the first time in more than 25 years, Holly Poe expected to encounter some bumps in the road while she earned a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in Literacy Studies with ESL certification online.
The biggest roadblock came in the form of PowerPoint.
“I started during the summer, and I didn’t know anything about PowerPoint,” Poe said. “We had to create one for class. I couldn’t figure out how to do it. My youngest daughter, Christian, walked into the bedroom where I was curled up in a ball, crying. I thought I was going to fail my class because I didn’t know how to do it.”
Once Christian informed her she needed to install the PowerPoint program on her computer, it was a relatively smooth road to graduation day.
“I was not computer-literate when I started, but I was pretty darn computer-literate when I finished,” she said.
Poe graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington online M.Ed. program with a 4.0 GPA in 2013. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education and Teaching from the University of Mississippi in 1985. Poe has been a teacher at South Panola High School in Batesville, Mississippi, since 1999. She is an English II Inclusion Teacher, Cross Country Coach, and Site Test Coordinator for the Mississippi Assessment Program-Alternate (MAP-A) Assessment for SPHS.
Poe learned about the UTA online program from a university representative who gave a presentation to her district. Before that meeting, Poe had never heard of UTA before.
“Online really was the only way I could do it,” she said. “I had toyed with going through the Ole Miss program, but they required so much class work on campus. With a daughter who was a junior in high school and who was in multiple clubs and in the band, I found it to be just a perfect program for me. I didn’t miss a thing her junior year or senior year.”
Another reason why Poe chose the UTA program was that it qualified for TEACH Grant assistance. She fulfilled the requirements this year.
“I was very appreciative of the assistance, and it was one of the factors in choosing UTA, along with the reciprocity between Texas and Mississippi as far as licensure,” Poe said.
One of the biggest reasons Poe, a widow, wanted to continue her higher education was to set an example for Christian and her sister Chelsea.
“It was time,” she said. “One of my daughters was finishing college and one was a junior in high school.
I’ve always pushed the importance of education. I just thought not only did I need it for myself, because it was time to further my education, but I also wanted them to see the importance of furthering my career and not just stopping with a bachelor’s degree.”
Chelsea, 26, graduated from Cal State Fullerton after attending Ole Miss, while Christian, 22, graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi having majored in speech pathology/audiology and deaf education. The fact that Christian was still in high school while Poe earned her master’s degree helped Poe tremendously — long after the PowerPoint incident.
“I’m very OCD,” Poe said. “We got up and went to school — she was at the school where I teach. After school, she did band, and I went for my walk. By that time, she was done and we hit the books. We studied at the same time. Half the time we studied together. I had taken two courses here and two courses there to keep my certification up, but online really helped. I could study in my pajamas on my bed. It was great.”
Christian also accompanied Poe around town for a diversity project.
“She had fun,” Poe said. “She would go with me to interview people when I had to go for an ESL class. We went to the Spanish mission here, and my daughter was in band with some of the kids who attended church there. We did some interviews, took some pictures and did things like that together. She really got me through that first five-week session.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea was a National Merit semifinalist who scored a 29 on the ACT. She majored in musical theater, which led to a job at Wilhelmina International Models after she went to Los Angeles to help out at a bridal shop owned by a teacher’s aunt.
“Two weeks before it was time for her to come back to Ole Miss, she had a photo shoot, signed a contract, shipped her cat out there and moved,” Poe said. “It’s really far away, but she’s happy. That’s what’s important to me — that they do something that makes them happy.”
Meant to Be
Poe completely understood Chelsea’s need to pursue her passion in college.
Poe said, “People told me I was crazy for letting Chelsea, with her ACT score — she’s brilliant — go into theater. I said, ‘No. I want her to be happy because my mother would not let me do what I wanted to do.’ I wanted to play piano. I had a full scholarship. She said, ‘No, you need to be a court reporter because that’s what you did so well in high school.'”
Even with 12 years of piano lessons under her belt, Poe adhered to her mother’s wishes for two years before she dropped out of school. She returned to school to study speech language pathology.
“I loved the special education classes so much that I changed majors,” she said. “I just stuck with it. God knew what He was doing; God always knows what He’s doing. He laughs at our plans. He laughed really hard at my plans. I wasn’t meant to be doing anything else.”
During her career, Poe has taught special education, inclusion, transition, reading and English. Her passion is to lead kids to literature and help them read better, which led her to the Master of Education in C&I Literacy Studies online degree program.
“The program was perfect for me as far as courses and professors go,” she said. “I never felt like I was this odd person with a number at the other end of the computer. I felt like I was part of it, and I still do because I’m still in contact with Dr. Kathryn Pole and Dr. Peggy Semingson. We’ve maintained that friendship. They’ve come to me for my help with some things, and I’ve asked them for help with some things. We stay in touch.
“I felt more like a person they knew and wanted to know, even with distance learning, than I have felt in some brick-and-mortar classrooms. They really go out of their way to make you feel known, respected and cared about — I love that about UTA.”
Poe also loves working in reading and literacy, especially when she can see her students learning.
“I love teaching reading, I love reading, and I love watching kids learn to read and learn to love to read,” she said. “I love watching that light bulb come on when they finally understand how to figure out something in context, or when they decode a difficult word, when they say, ‘Don’t help me, Ms Poe, I can do this now!'”
Poe has no doubt that the master’s degree helped her land her current position when she was moved from a self-contained special education classroom to teaching English inclusion in August 2015.
“UTA did a great job,” she said. “Because of all of the testing classes we had, which is something I do a lot of, I was able to help improve on our student computer program. When it’s a computer program, high school kids just click letters and numbers and don’t really pay attention.
“We did our own reading evaluations, and I was able to use some of the materials I got from my classes at UTA. We were able to get accurate reading levels on all of our kids and were able to remediate better because of it. The degree has helped me tremendously.”
Poe said two of the courses in the M.Ed. curriculum were her favorites.
“Being a reading teacher geek, I ate up that phonics class [LIST 5373 Foundations of Literacy Learning in EC-6 Classrooms],” she said. “I loved it. I loved the Pre-Adolescent & Adolescent Literacy [LIST 5326] course; it was very beneficial to me because I teach high school. I’ve brought a lot of books to my classroom that my kids have liked and I’ve shared with the other English teachers. I learned a lot. It was tough having to read so many books and do reports on them in that short a period of time, but you get it done when you get into a routine. It was great.”
And while Poe had favorite classes, she enjoyed the entire program.
“UTA had everything I was looking for. I fell in love with the whole program from the first class,” she said. “I loved learning with people from all over the country, and we did have people from all over the country.”
Poe, who also coaches cross-country and is an avid runner, was not able to attend graduation, but some of her classmates helped make her feel like she was there.
“We had tests at that time, so I could not get away,” she said. “But, I have made three close friends I stay in touch with. They went, took pictures of my other friends with them and sent me programs. Through the program, I have made a lot of good friends I stay in contact with, aside from my teachers.”
Of course, her daughters were excited for her, too.
“They were pleased,” she said. “It came down to, ‘You need to do something for yourself.’ School was it. I wish UTA would come up with an education specialist program because I’m getting the itch again.”
If she does go back for another degree, Poe will not be fazed by PowerPoint.
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. Literacy program.
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