As a recent graduate, I have pondered my journey to completion and what it actually took to get here. Even though the Louisville Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute hours applied toward my coursework, my official entrance into the doctoral program came the fall of 2011 with a seminar course. For many students, I can imagine, their initial experiences in a program can determine their trajectory for the remainder of their studies.
This seminar introduction to deciphering qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods; writing literature reviews; and developing a path for research was akin to mental Olympics. I felt pushed, pulled, and stretched in new, very demanding directions. For the first time in a very long time, my brain felt out of shape. For over seven years I had attended professional development, created innovative lessons, crunched impossible amounts of data, and learned how to be a more effective teacher, but none of these experiences trained me to run this marathon.
During that first semester, I remember wondering if I would ever learn it all. Would or could I learn enough to earn a doctorate? Fortunately, our professor named our fears and welcomed them. He encouraged us to wrangle literature and make sense of published data. My brain hurt. I felt, well, dumb, and may have said as much to my classmates (and professor). By the end of the semester, though more knowledgeable, we all had glazed eyes with expressions of "what the hell have I gotten myself into?!" plastered on our faces.
When I think about some of my attempts with data collection and analysis even closer to the end of my coursework a few years ago, I realize now the incredible patience my professors must have had. For instance, only experienced researchers should attempt to record and analyze unstructured interview conversations and try to make sense of their contextual significance or explain that significance in class. Thankfully, I learned from these experiences. With guidance and understanding (surely everyone has early researcher mistake stories), my professors modeled what I hoped to become.
Being a student influenced my teacher lens in my middle school classroom. I hope I became more sensitive to students' struggles, more flexible with my instructional approaches, clearer in my expectations. At the minimum, I hope I found ways to stretch my students' brains. For that reason, I encourage teachers to pursue higher education--a master's degree, endorsement or certification, or doctorate. Enroll in MOOCs or a study group to which you are accountable in some way. Be a student again. Yes, we have well over eighteen years under our belts as students, but (sigh) that is the same argument we hear with members of legislature. Becoming a student after being a teacher revealed insights I never would have discovered otherwise. I promise it was worth it.