What Does Ph.D. Mean?
Thanks for your kind and thoughtful post. My chair made some key statements in the past few days that really stuck with me and gave me a frame for understanding your questions.
First off, you should know that when my chair came out of teaching to pursue his Ph.D. he fully planned on going back to the classroom when he finished his degree. He told me recently of a conversation with a lauded researcher he studied with in the field of early childhood education that influenced his thinking about his career direction. He said that his mentor asked him, “What are you going to do when you finish?” My chair answered, “I am going to go back to the classroom to teach.” His mentor said, “People don’t get Ph.D.s to go back to the classroom to teach. You have an entirely different set of skills with which to contribute to the field now.” That statement struck a chord with me. You ask, “Will I keep teaching?” The answer is yes, until I am not meant to but, I do have a new set of tools.
In your post you said,
let that philosophy stay embedded in practice. As we become veterans, some of us stay curious about the “why,” meaning we want to either pursue positions that let us teach other teachers or broaden our scope. For those of us who are extra-curious, we can have PhD programs (as we do now) that address this population.
I also believe that, because we already engage in advanced scholarship, we would already have built-in tracks for following up with a PhD while teaching. That is, without breaking the bank or getting a fellowship, thus pulling us out of the classroom.
What do you think, good doctor?
This is what I think. When I became an administrator and conducted 30 some two hour observations a year the most important lesson I learned was that I was not the best Head Start teacher in my school system. Sure, maybe the 25% but definitely not the the best. There were some 20 year veterans with more expertise as a responsive teacher and a bachelor’s degree than I would ever have with my NBCT and my Ph.D. I also learned that I was not interested in telling these teachers how to do their jobs. I did not want to leave the classroom to be this type of leader. I was interested in helping those few teachers with the opportunity for excellence, who had not reached it, achieve it. Finally, I learned that none of these excellent teachers considered teaching from the same perspective of practical experience and intellectual distance that I observed the profession. They were not interested in contributing to the body of knowledge of why and how we provide education. I am. They also didn’t necessarily want to transform education the way that the teacher leaders involved with CTQ do. So yes, we should provide the opportunity for teachers to to become researchers whenever possible. Who better to understand teaching than a teacher? With that said, I know it isn’t for everybody. I also know that it doesn’t make me more qualified to teach than the teacher across the hall. It does make me qualified to research teaching and teacher leadership and I think that is why pursued the degree. I want to create a better education for all students. One way that can be done is through research.
Another idea my chair mentioned was that there was a significant gap in the body of knowledge and scholarship of teacher leadership and its’ effect on the quality of schooling at the local, state, and national level. This gap in the research is critical to explore as we begin to create a self actualized teaching profession. Unless we can prove that research base that shows that a profession led by teachers creates better outcomes for children we will always be swimming up the political and financial stream. And, who better to do this than a teacher leader who has discovered his/her voice and the power of leading from the classroom.
One of the ways I believe this can be done is in how research is designed and framed. For example, my dissertation was an integrated methods study that explored the context in which I have taught for the past 15 years. The title was, “Successful Emergent Literacy Head Start Teachers of Urban African American Boys Living in Poverty.” It may make for some dry reading but I really tried to honor the perspectives of the teachers in my study by using literacy scores, a survey of cultural beliefs, and two rounds of interviews. It was complex, not completely successful, and difficult to finish. However, I found some things that made me think that it was worth it. I don’t feel I got farther away from the topic as some value-added and survey research does, but closer to the situational reality of teaching in successful teachers’ classrooms.
In the best of all worlds I would love to be a preschool teacher with the expectations of the academy. Academics are expected to teach, contribute to the field, and serve the community. I would love to do this from within the context of my preschool classroom. Maybe it is too soon for this to be real. Maybe not. Let’s find out.