When Valarie Shreves attended her commencement ceremony in 2019, she assumed she would only be recognized for earning a Master of Arts in Literacy. By the end of the night, however, she had accepted the role of adjunct professor with The University of Texas Permian Basin. “I graduated and accepted all in the same night,” she said.  

Shreves was kind enough to share her story with us, detailing her experiences before, during, and after her graduate program. As an adjunct professor and recent graduate, Shreves offers a unique perspective on our online MA in literacy program. Her account can help prospective students learn more about our online program and decide if it’s right for them.  

Joining UT Permian Basin  

Shreves has been “all over” Texas, teaching in Spring, Amarillo, Zephyr (where she earned her special education certification), and Early. While in Early, she taught at a low-performing school and witnessed the plight of struggling readers firsthand. “They’re so admirable in the amount of work they put in,” said Shreves, “but when it comes to reading and reading on grade level, they just struggle so much. I really wanted to help.”  

Spurred by her students, Shreves joined UT Permian Basin’s online MA in literacy program.  

“You see my hat there,” she said, pointing to a framed black graduation cap on her classroom wall. “It actually says ‘real teacher.’ I got to a place in my career where I questioned myself quite a bit.” According to Shreves, she began to consider a master’s degree after feeling that her career was in some ways underdeveloped. “The [MA in literacy] program lent me to … growing in a professional way that made me have the confidence to take a position like that, and that’s huge,” she said.  

Personal and Professional Benefits  

The appeal of our MA in literacy program, according to Shreves, is both personal and professional. “The program is very open to assisting an educator who wants to come in and learn something that’s geared towards what they need,” she assured. “Yes, there is an overall umbrella structure to it, but the flexibility … to help design a program that’s going to be the best fit for me and my students was an incredibly fulfilling experience.” With its online format and asynchronous elements, our graduate program allowed Shreves to tailor her experience to fit her main area of interest: using reading to motivate students.  

Foundations of Literacy was Shreves’ favorite course. While enrolled in the course, she investigated constructive education methodology in the elementary and middle school classroom. “We designed what was called a book box,” she explained, “and we got to design the box according to whatever our theme was.” Our online courses are designed to be directly applicable to educators’ careers, and Foundations of Literacy is no exception. “We now do a book study in my class,” said Shreves. “I got to explore new text and have great discussions and really dive into the activities and then in turn do that with my students.”  

Guided by Caring Professors  

When it came to the personal benefits of the MA in literacy program, Shreves praised the dedication of Literacy Program Coordinator Tara Wilson, EdD.  

“That ‘real teacher’ thing, I’m not kidding,” said Shreves. “I didn’t feel like a real teacher … I almost walked away from education. I was very close, and Dr. Wilson helped me get back on track to where I gained the confidence and the knowledge that I needed to become that real teacher that I already was.” Shreves describes Dr. Wilson as a source of encouragement who sees her students as important human beings and who’s there to help them gain the confidence they need to grow. “I was a real teacher,” stated Shreves, “but she helped me see myself again as that.”  

Along with Assistant Professor Shelly Landreth, EdD, Dr. Wilson strives to ensure that graduate students receive the support and encouragement they need, whether they’re online or on campus. “Both of those professors,” said Shreves, “I just wish I could bottle up how good their personality is to work with from a student standpoint because they just make learning fun.”  

Connected Through Online Learning  

“Being online doesn’t mean disconnected,” assured Shreves. “I still felt just as close to my fellow classmates as I do in a classroom in person.” She also enjoyed that our online program could accommodate the schedule of an educator and mother of high-school-aged boys. “[W]ith the structure of an online program,” explained Shreves, “I get to set my hours, I get to set where I work, [and] I get to set how long I work.” Through Canvas, UT Permian Basin’s learning management system, she was able to view lectures, work on group projects, and communicate with her professors and fellow students. This online learning environment was ideal for her, as it allowed her to progress at her own pace and earn a master’s degree in two years.  

Shreves was so impressed with our online MA in literacy program that she said it meets if not slightly surpasses the quality of an on-campus program. “I had the opportunity to take my own drive and extend a lesson if I wanted or go a little bit of a different way,” she said. In her opinion, our online program allowed students to better interact with each other, whereas on-campus programs can sometimes feel scripted. “Online, I really felt like we drove as students where the structure of the learning went,” said Shreves. “100 percent, I feel like online learning is just as great as anything [on-campus students] would get.”  

Becoming a Mentor for Students and Peers  

Earning a master’s degree and accepting the role of adjunct professor was only the beginning for Shreves, as she soon earned her reading specialist certification. This year, she applied for and was granted the role of multi-classroom leader (MCL), which entails looking out for her classroom and every other second grade class at her school. “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” enthused Shreves. “It’s been a great year.” 

“I feel like this degree has placed me in a position to be more of a mentor,” she added. “The degree itself has elevated the ability that I have as an educator to meet the needs of my students and to meet the needs of coworkers.” She also gained a better understanding of how education is a collaborative effort. It’s for this reason, she said, that she doesn’t lead by pulling others along. “[Dr. Wilson] didn’t lead from a structure that was above everyone,” Shreves explained. “She made it where everybody had a voice and everybody had something to offer. And we could grow from each other, including her.” 

A Real Teacher 

What advice does Shreves have for educators who are considering the online MA in literacy program? “[T]alk to Dr. Wilson,” she advised, “and find out what the program currently has to offer and ask some very specific things.” Dr. Wilson can be reached at wilson_t@utpb.edu. Prospective students can also submit a contact request form with any questions they may have about UT Permian Basin and the online MA in literacy program.  

Valarie Shreves may have joined our online MA in literacy program because she didn’t feel like a “real teacher,” but she graduated with an entirely different outlook on her career. “I went from feeling like I wasn’t a real teacher to turning around and teaching teachers,” she said with pride. The College of Education is proud to have Shreves as an adjunct professor. Here, she can provide students with the same support she received in our online classrooms. She is a shining example of what can be accomplished when educators share their love of literacy with students and peers.  

The team of educators in our online MA in literacy program would like to remind you that you are a real teacher. You have the ability to fulfill your potential by pursuing a master’s degree in literacy and becoming a leader for your students and fellow teachers. Apply to our online Master of Arts in Literacy program if you’re interested and becoming a teacher that everyone, including struggling readers, looks to for guidance.