As Jill Duvak works with students in her new role as a reading specialist, she will teach from experience. The veteran educator has dyslexia, and growing up, reading was difficult.
"I initially went into teaching because my educational experience was not like everybody else's," Duvak said. "I had a high IQ, but I didn't know anything about what we now know as twice-exceptional. They didn't know what to do with me. School was so hard that I didn't want anybody else to have that experience."
After graduating from the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program at the University of Texas at Arlington in May 2019, Duvak didn't have to wait long to reach her goal.
Just months after participating in her commencement ceremony, she started her new position at Carol Holt Elementary in the Mansfield Independent School District, where she has worked for 15 years.
"I graduated in May, passed my certification test in June and got my job in July," she said. "It was perfect. It's been a great summer."
Duvak is not surprised that her master's degree has already helped advance her career. Funding she received through the TEACH Grant program gave her the incentive she needed to go back to school, but she also chose her degree program with care. Many of her colleagues endorsed the UTA online M.Ed., based on their own positive experience.
"UTA has a good reputation with other teachers I work with who earned degrees there," she said. "I liked the program and the flexibility of being able to do it online. We had some other teachers in our school who did the online program, and they are fantastic teachers who said they learned a lot and recommended it."
The Extra Mile
Duvak grew up in Muleshoe, Texas, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from West Texas A&M University in 1995. While in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program, she taught second grade at Alice Ponder Elementary School.
"This program enabled me to work at my own pace and was great," Duvak said. "I gained a lot of good information that was very usable. I had very good support from the instructors. I talked four other people in my school into doing the program with me, which was good. We had a little cohort group."
LIST 5354: Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults was her favorite of the 10 core courses in the curriculum.
"It was eye-opening," Duvak said. "I could take the information right back into the classroom and immediately evaluate what I was already doing."
As she applied what she learned in the program, her teaching methods began to change. Her new skills also influenced the way she engaged with students.
"The M.Ed. program was a lot of work. It required me to do things with my class that I wouldn't necessarily have jumped in and tried on my own," Duvak said. "It gave me the push that I needed. I changed and tweaked some things. I sold my team on it, too. We all started doing things differently."
Duvak is a first-generation college student. It's an achievement she's proud of, and one that has made her long career in education possible. Now she's the first to finish graduate school, and help others who experience dyslexia or reading challenges.
"My family and friends were excited for me," she said. "My husband, Devin, was probably the proudest. We came from families that didn't go to college, so to have somebody earn their master's degree was a new experience for us coming from our background."
Duvak feels she has been "called and led to be a reading specialist," and her passion for learning is infectious. In fact, she has inspired the next college graduate — and teacher — in the family. Her daughter, Abigail (19), is attending the University of North Texas and plans to follow in her mom's footsteps by becoming an educator.
"I think I was a good role model for her," Duvak said. "We got to go back to college together. She showed me a few tricks. A few things changed since I went to school the first time."
She offers this insight to educators who may be considering the UTA program as a way to boost teaching skills or make a career pivot:
"I learned a lot and was thankful that I did the online UTA M.Ed. program. I would recommend it to anybody."Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
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