Nothing compares to seeing a young reader’s eyes light up after they finish a particularly challenging passage. For Crystal Burchfield, a fourth grade reading and social studies teacher, illuminating moments like this are what propelled her to pursue an online Master of Arts in Literacy at The University of Texas Permian Basin. Now, with a master’s degree and master reading teacher and reading specialist certification, Burchfield is in a position to brighten the minds of every student in her classroom.  

We caught up with Burchfield to hear about her experience in our online master’s degree program and how it has benefited her life and the lives of her students.  

“I chose to earn an MA in Literacy because I knew that the knowledge would benefit my students in the classroom,” began Burchfield. “Also, I was specifically interested in the science of reading and wanted the knowledge and tools to help my students.” Every struggling reader is a unique learner—a puzzle, as Burchfield puts it—with their own strengths, weaknesses, and interests. At UT Permian Basin, Burchfield was given the means to differentiate instruction to the benefit of all of her students, regardless of their reading abilities.  

With her sights set on earning an MA in literacy, Burchfield’s next step was choosing a program that could fit the schedule of a full-time teacher, wife, and mother of three. Fortunately, one of the most affordable and accommodating universities in Texas is right in her backyard. “I chose UTPB because of the proximity to home, the option for online or in-person classes, and affordable tuition,” explained Burchfield. “Additionally, I wanted the opportunity to be able to collaborate with classmates, professors, and advisors in person, but still have the flexibility to have courses online.”  

Burchfield could attend UT Permian Basin’s online classes while benefiting from the social aspects of in-person learning—the best of both worlds. “UTPB’s online classes were rigorous and well structured,” noted Burchfield. “I liked that most of the professors who taught face-to-face classes were also online instructors.” According to Burchfield, the small class sizes on campus were a welcome surprise that allowed her to “make personal connections with classmates, instructors, and advisors.”  

This hybrid format, while perfect for Burchfield’s schedule, may not be ideal for other students. Rest assured, 100% online students receive the support they need to thrive in an online learning environment, including online academic advising, writing assistance, and library services.  

Lessons learned in our online courses are directly applicable to educators’ careers, as evidenced by Burchfield’s experience in her favorite course: Problems in Literacy. “It was wonderful to use my own students as ‘case studies,’” enthused Burchfield. “This allowed me to apply what I was learning in class and see results with my students. I was able to use information obtained during my case studies as documentation for RTI [response to intervention] for some students.” Burchfield would again apply reading theory in our practicum course. “The practicum course allowed me to try interventions with my own students. It was beneficial information as well as great documentation records for RTI,” said Burchfield.  

For Research in Literacy, Burchfield chose a thesis topic of the utmost importance to her. “My youngest son struggled to attain sight words and reading acquisition. He has also received speech services since he was three,” said Burchfield. “I chose this topic of research for my thesis based on my personal experience.” Graduate students have the option of writing a thesis, as Burchfield did, or researching three questions that reflect a current issue in literacy. Many of our students are surprised by the results of their in-depth investigation and express gratitude for the opportunity to explore these subjects so closely.   

Since graduating in 2019, Burchfield has used her newfound knowledge and skills to advance her career and earn her master reading teacher and reading specialist certifications. “I apply the knowledge from graduate school every day in my classroom,” said Burchfield. “It is especially beneficial when going over data with parents, RTI meetings, and collaborating with other professionals.” Burchfield believes that her MA gives her an advantage in her field, stating that most people in education become specialized in their subjects. “Reading affects every subject,” noted Burchfield, “and advice is often sought out from reading teachers about student performance in subjects.”  

Graduating hasn’t stopped Burchfield from keeping in touch with her peers. “I love that I still get the opportunity to collaborate with professors and fellow classmates to support literacy development in schools in the Permian Basin,” said Burchfield. Graduate students entering our literacy program join a tight-knit group of professors and students—pillars of support—who are invested in their collective success, as Burchfield can attest: “The program professors were outstanding. I never hesitated to ask any questions or seek advice regarding classwork or classes.”  

Earning a master’s degree has had a profound impact on not only Burchfield’s career but her entire outlook. “The amount of discipline and time management graduate school required will resonate with me every day,” reflected Burchfield. “Completing graduate school, while teaching full time and raising a family, helped me realize that I can tackle anything in life.”  

Education should always be accessible, for students and teachers alike. At UT Permian Basin, educators will find an online program where they can achieve more than they thought possible, and help struggling readers do the same.  

Does Burchfield have any parting advice for educators considering an online Master of Arts in Literacy? “Go for it,” encouraged Burchfield. “Education is priceless and UTPB is a place where you will thrive during your educational journey.” At UT Permian Basin, you’ll receive the flexible online format, supportive learning environment, and outstanding instruction needed to succeed in a master’s degree program. Apply to our MA in literacy program to take the first step toward earning your reading specialist certification and inspiring the next generation of readers.