Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Career Crossroads with a Ph.D.

When I started the Ph.D. program nearly five years ago it was because I needed to know about literacy instruction, how it affected my middle school students, and how to do it better.  Fast forward four and a half years and see how the direction has shifted ever so slightly.  But a few degrees on the compass changes everything.

My dissertation, successfully defended on March 28, 2016, documented a narrative inquiry study about planning professional development.  Interest in literacy instruction and student motivation led to studying those topics, but this interest also led to presenting at conferences, co-facilitating institutes, and planning large-scale professional development to be implemented across the country.  My friend and colleague in the National Writing Project who I worked with in the most recent planning adventure has often said that teaching her high school students fills her.  That is partially true of me, too.  But more so, being with other teachers as we plan, work through school demands, and become smarter together fills me.

Knowing I belong in a professional development or adult-learning career, I have applied to various universities within the metro area.  I also keep my eyes open for curriculum positions.  So today I come to a crossroads in my career.  As I consider my family and the ages of my children, the idea of commuting to a university in downtown Chicago makes me queasy.  I continue to apply for positions at these institutions of higher learning because I am passionate about teaching pre- and in-service teachers.  However, commuting to satellite campuses and teaching online courses are my best family-friendly options.  Unfortunately, a newly-minted Ph.D. cannot (or should not?) make demands such as these.

Nervous and scared of the unknown, I began applying to the local school districts when junior high language arts position openings started appearing.  After teaching 8th grade in Kentucky for ten years, this feels safe to me.  No matter what I tell myself about needing some Illinois classroom experience or getting known in a school district, it is safe. Period.  My whole family would continue comfortably within my comfort zone (and theirs, too) if I return to the middle school/junior high classroom.

A few degrees on my compass has changed my direction and now I'm facing risks, a scary unknown.  I realize now that I should embrace the words spoken by the director of national programs at the National Writing Project during our recent initiative:
You know it's scary but you keep having these experiences where you walk up to that scariness and then you do it and then you're on the other side of it and you realize you can do things you didn't know you could do.
Am I ready to walk up this new pathway?  Is my family ready for the scariness of possible commutes, irregular hours, unpredictable pay?

It's time to decide.  My next interview is in just a few hours and I need to prepare my answer if offered a position.