Ashley Mays, first grade teacher for an elementary school in Missouri.

Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Mays, M.Ed. in Language & Literacy Special Reading

Ashley Mays graduated from Park University with an M.Ed. in Language and Literacy with emphasis on special reading and currently works as a first grade teacher for an elementary school in Missouri. As an accomplished educator with already six years in the classroom, we asked Ashley to share with us her experience pursuing her master’s degree at Park University.

Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you? 

I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I worked at an early childhood center in high school and saw an advertisement for Park University’s education programs. Around the same time, I had a Facebook friend request from my forth grade teacher who really answered all of my questions about becoming a teacher. I distinctly remember her passion for education so many years ago, and as an adult it inspires me to be the best teacher I can be. From there, I went to college and completed my student teaching.

I have spent the last six years as an urban educator and cannot see myself anywhere else. I am inspired everyday by the students I work with. I am thankful for the opportunity to have a career of serving my community and pouring into my students’ lives.

Why did you choose Park University for your master’s degree in language and literacy with reading specialist certification? 

During my third year of teaching, I had the opportunity to mold my reading block with my first-graders to look however I wanted it to look. I had one problem though. I felt very unprepared to do this. I decided it was time to start my master’s degree. I wanted it to be in language and literacy because I felt like that was a specific area I needed to learn more about. I went to Park University for my undergraduate degree and was still in contact with professors that I had during that time. I decided to have a conversation with one of them about programs that were offered. I loved what I heard about the program and everything fell into place super quickly. It was just meant to be!

What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Park University and how do you use them today? 

Through the language and literacy program, I was able to gain many skills I was lacking before. I learned a lot about reading assessment and the many different assessments I could come across during my time as a classroom teacher or reading specialist. I have spent six years at the same school, so the only assessments I knew anything about were assessments we used at my school. Learning more about assessments has better prepared me for the future if I need or want to work at a different school.

I also spent a lot of time conducting research over different strategies I could use during my reading block. All of the information was very beneficial. I am currently working in a first grade classroom with very diverse needs. The skills I learned through my program are skills I use every single day with my students. I can confidently say that I am a better teacher, specifically reading teacher, because of this program.

How has your master’s degree impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future? 

I have always said that I did not want to be in the classroom for my entire career. I would love to be able to use my education and knowledge in different ways in the future. With my master’s degree, I was able to move up on the pay scale at my school. This was an immediate benefit for my family. In the future, I could be considered for different positions such as a reading specialist or a reading specialist coordinator for a district. I could also teach some college courses for a university. These are all positions I am very interested in. My master’s degree has definitely opened up new opportunities for me.

What was a challenge you faced during your master’s degree in language and literacy special reading program, and who or what helped you overcome it? 

I faced a lot of personal challenges during my master’s program. My son had an emergency health issue that resulted in surgery and my brother spent months in the hospital after a near-fatal health issue. During these situations, I was very upfront and honest with my professors. I would tell them what was going on and why I wasn’t able to complete a specific assignment. They were extremely understanding and would allow more time for assignments. It is important to be upfront with them as soon as an emergency or challenge arises. They cannot help you if they do not know what is going on.

What was the biggest takeaway from your master’s program?  

My biggest takeaway from my master’s program was that I could be a full-time working mom and still follow my dreams and complete goals. It was hard at times, but the process of completing the program taught me so much about myself. At graduation, they had the children of the graduates stand up and as I watched my husband hold my 3-year-old up in the air, I sat there sobbing. I know that my son will understand the hard work I put in one day, and I hope that I have set a good example for him. I want him to know that he can follow his dreams and reach his goals no matter what.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the master’s degree in language and literacy special reading program at Park University?

If you are passionate about teaching students to read, helping students to become better readers, and fostering a love of reading in your students, this is a great program for you! My advice would be to find the best way to balance everything. While I completed the program, I taught full-time. I also found ways to spend quality time with my husband and son. It took a while to get into a good rhythm and find the best way to get everything done, but once I did, life was so much easier. Work hard to find that balance as soon as possible. Graduate school is challenging but it is an amazing accomplishment once finished.

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

I was very nervous before starting the program but quickly learned how to be confident in myself. You are capable of amazing things! This program was definitely worth the time and work I put into it.