Sunday, December 22, 2013

For K-12 Educators Thinking About Gettting a Doctorate . . .

Recently, a number of my friends and colleagues have either mentioned their intention to pursue a terminal degree or have asked my opinion about such pursuits.  It seemed appropriate and useful to take a moment to offer my, albeit limited, perspective on the issue.  I made several mistakes and would like to do what I can to save you from the more heinous of them.

#1: Determine if the degree is necessary for what you want to do
I thought I wanted to be a faculty member in a teacher preparation program, and every posting for these positions  required an "earned doctorate."  What I didn't realize is that being a college faculty member is not necessarily the same as being a teacher of teachers.  Academia lives largely in the world of theory, and my interests were specific: this teacher with this student at this time.  What I really wanted to be was an instructional coach.  I might have been able to pursue that career path without the degree.

#2: Know the difference between a PhD and an EdD
Speaking very generally, an EdD is a practitioner degree.  It deals largely with issues of local, state, or national educational practice, administration, or policy.  Those who pursue such degrees are often teachers or administrators who are seeking promotion to a principalship or a superintendency.  EdD programs tend to be more user-friendly in terms of scheduling--a lot of night and weekend classes--because they realize their constituents have challenging, full-time jobs.  A PhD is a research degree.  By the completion of a PhD, the recipient is expected to be an expert in some small facet of education.  The PhD is generally a more theoretical researcher.  The "best" research is that which can generate a theory which applies to multiple cases in multple contexts.  In academic circles, some PhDs turn their noses up at those who hold EdDs, although this attitude may be tempered by the prestige of institution that issued it.  The general public doesn't know the difference, and either degree entitles you to be addressed as Dr., which, let's face it, is all many of us really care about.

#3: Realize that, whichever degree you choose, you will have to read A LOT
I have included this in deference to my friend Elizabeth Nogan Ranieri.  The majority of your expertise will not be gained through coursework but through the dissertation process, and the first part of writing a dissertation is the dreaded literature review.  A thorough literature review requires that you read every piece of research that has been conducted in your area of interest, minimally, over the last ten years.  Depending on the topic, you may also have to got back a hundred year to read "foundational" literature.  This can be a long and tedious process, but it is essential.  What you're trying to do is 1) become an expert and 2) uncover the gap(s) in the research that your dissertation will, in some small way, fill.  This process may take years.  I'm not speaking hyperbolically; that is how much reading you have to do.  And almost none of it is particularly interesting. 

This is a picture of my dog, Daisy, who had the same response to Alan Glatthorn's book that I did.  Coffee will not help.  You will have to begin jabbing yourself in the thigh with the business end of a pen to stay awake during much of this reading. 
#4: Choose your school wisely.
If you only want the degree to be in compliance for a job for which you are already qualified, you can select the least expensive, least intrusive option.  There are lots of online EdD programs.  If, however, you are looking to take away from this experience more than a diploma, you need to do a little advance work.  Picking the right program is less about choosing a school than choosing a mentor.  Find out who the experts are in your field of interest.  You do this by reading many books and articles. Eventually, a few authors will emerge who appear to share your world view.  Now find out where those people are employed.  Hopefully, they're faculty members at accredited universities.  Now write to those people and ask them how interested they might be in mentoring you. It's quite possible the answer is "not at all."  That was Howard Gardner's response to me in a nutshell.  Better to find that out before you matriculate.  It's also possible that they're such rock stars that they're never actually at the university.  Again, better to find out before you go.  Spend six months to a year doing this research.  You'll thank me later.
#5: Talk to other graduate students
Let's say you've narrowed your choices down to Universities A, B, and C.  Visit each.  Ask if you can meet with your would-be mentor's team of graduate assistants.  If your mentor cannot make this happen, that's a red flag.  If your mentor is only willing to let this happen in his or her presence, that is also a red flag.  If you can get a students-only meeting, ask some hard questions about how your future colleagues are treated by their mentor. 
  • Does s/he encourage youto publish without him or her?
  • Does s/he insist on having first authorship on every publication?
  • Does s/he invite you to co-present at conferences?
  • Does s/he introduce you to people who might be able to offer you a job in the future?
  • Does s/he make unreasonable demands on your time, like calling meetings on Sunday mornings that last for six hours?
If you notice long pauses before anyone answers, that's a red flag.  Although the stories can be exaggerated, it is not unheard of for university faculty to treat their research assistants like chattel.

#6: Be prepared to leave
Unlike undergrad, success in a doctoral program requires more than maintaining your grades.  You also have to fit in with the priorities and expectations of the people to whom you report.  You can have a 3.98 GPA and still be asked to leave the program.  Alternatively, you may decide to flee the program.  If you've done your research, this is less likely to happen, but, as Robbie Burns noted, even the best laid plans "gang aft agley." Rent, don't buy.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is based solely on my experiences.  I welcome additional and alternative views.  And, for what it's worth, although getting it was a fairly miserable experience, I am very happy to have the degree.

Deb, The Know-it-All

Sunday, December 15, 2013

More Homework Meme

Paul Cancellieri, my new colleague, co-presenter, and the dude who occasionally occupies the office next to mine, tagged me in the latest meme to strike the blogosphere: #MoreHomework. I appreciate the chance to share more about me, and perhaps enhance my connections. Now, I have to do three things:

First, I need to share 11 random facts about me that you probably don’t already know. Here goes:
  1. I have never been outside of North America.  This is a source of tremendous embarrassment to me.
  2. I get lost a lot, whether walking or driving.  My sense of direction is so bad that I once accidentally ended up in Tennessee and another time missed the entire state of Virginia.  This explains to some extent my reticence to travel overseas.  Bad enough being lost in a place where you do speak the language.
  3. I am extremely domestic.  I take immense pleasure in cooking, cleaning, and folding laundry.  My linen closet is a thing of beauty. 
  4. My not-so-secret desire is to be a chanteuse like Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys---including singing "Makin' Whoopie" in a red dress on top of a grand piano.  Karaoke is an acceptable although imperfect substitute.
  5. I love animals.  When I was about five, I dragged a stray dog into the house by the collar and claimed, "See what followed me home, Mommy?  Can we keep him?"  Mom was not convinced, and the dog was released.  As a substitute, I adopted an ant.  It disappeared from my hand somewhere in the grocery store.  I now have two dogs and two cats and have to avoid all adoption events because I will take them all home.
  6. There are a few things that always make me cry: audio of Dr. King delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech, the final chapter of Of Mice & Men, the ending of It's a Wonderful Life, and Tchaikovsky's violin concerto. 
  7. I appear incapable of sustaining a long-term romantic relationship.  Opinions vary as to the reason for this.  My well-meaning friends claim that I intimidate men.  My religious friends say it's all part of a plan.  My dark side says I'm inherently unlovable. 
  8. I considered going into stand-up comedy until I saw Christopher Titus in concert.  He was absolutely brilliant, and I decided that if I couldn't be that good (and I couldn't) I would not bother.
  9. I am a workaholic and a perfectionist.  I don't like presenting anything to the public unless I think it represents the gold standard of whatever genre to which it belongs.
  10. I love unusual words.  This explains in part my devotion to David Foster Wallace.
  11. I am to regional accents what tofu is to spices.  I pick up the verbal idiosyncracies of wherever I happen to live.  For ha-has, sometimes I'll put on a foreign accent for the evening.  I once convinced a guy in a bar that my name was Simone, and I was an exchange student from Paris.
Next, I am expected to answer 11 probing questions posed by Paul.
  1. If you could teach anywhere in the world (other than your current location), where would it be? Well, I don't want to teach overseas (see items #1 and 2 above).  I'd probably opt for a hard-core inner city district like Baltimore or DC.
  2. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Green Lantern? Why? I reject the options and choose Wonder Woman.  She demonstrates that beautiful, sexy women can also be powerful.  Plus, there is nothing about her uniform that I don't like.
  3. What is your favorite comedy movie of all time?  Tootsie.  Dustin Hoffman was utterly brilliant in both roles.
  4. Would you rather have the super power of invisibility or flying?  Definitely flying.  If I were invisible, I'd be concerned that I'd accidentally overhear an unflattering comment about me that the speaker would have the good manners to say only behind my back if I were visible.
  5. If you could drink milkshakes with any person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be?  I would have pretzel-salted caramel milkshakes with Dorothy Parker.
  6. Favorite dipping sauce?  Depends on what is being dipped, but if I have to limit myself I'll go with a pesto mayonnaise.
  7. What one quality is your greatest asset?  It's either my sense of humor or my honesty, although both have gotten me into trouble inadvertently.
  8. Put in order of most awesome to least: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, The Lone Ranger, Walker Texas Ranger, Galaxy Rangers, Army Rangers.  I've never heard of Galaxy Rangers.  Army Rangers, Lone Ranger, Might Morphin Power Rangers, and Walker Texas Ranger.  Walker would be rated higher if he had been played by someone other than Chuck Norris.  I simply can't stand that guy.
  9. What is the best way to reduce the number of school shootings in the United States?  I suggest something similar to what Everett Koop did to discourage smoking.  He didn't attempt legislation; he made it socially unacceptable to be a smoker.  As a county, we need to figure out how to make violence less sexy.  For a start, the news media could stop covering these shooting with such obscene joy.  School remains one of the safest places for children , but you can't get new viewers by telling them that their kids are more likely to die because of their bad driving than in a school shooting. 
  10. What mobile app do you use the most often?  My name is Deb, and I am addicted to Candy Crush.
  11. On a scale of 1 to 10, how dope do you dance The Robot?  What is this--1978? 
Now, I come up with 11 questions for others to answer.
  1. What is the worst piece of advice you ever received?
  2. What weekly household chore or errand would you pay someone else $100 to do?
  3. If you ran in circles where it was not only accceptable but expected to give your child a ridiculous name, what would you name your child?
  4. New York or Chicago style pizza?
  5. Describe a turning point in your life.
  6. What is the least  erotic behavior that your significant other could engage in that you would consider "cheating"?
  7. What major life goal do you anticipate accomplishing in the next five years?
  8. On a scale of 1-10, how important is it to celebrate New Year's Eve?
  9. If you could change one of your physical features, what would it be?
  10. What do you wish people asked you more often?
  11. Make up a new way to acknowledge that someone has sneezed (Note to Seinfeld fans: "You are soooo good-lookin'" is already taken.")

Here are the 11 bloggers I nominate to continue the More Homework meme.
  1. Camron Jalayerian (@iamcamronj)
  2. Denise Kiernan (@denisekiernan)
  3. Rebecca Gholson (@rsgholson)
  4. Matt Duffy (@mattjduffy)
  5. Mike Else (@professorkliq)
  6. Elizabeth Beck Wiggs (@e_wiggy)
  7. Nick Davis (@sandiegonick8)
  8. Ted Lyde (@tedlyde)
  9. Jeanette Rogas (@runnindwnadream)
  10. Toby Gray
  11. Chrissy Wojdyla (@chrissawoj)

Here’s how it works:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer.
  5. List 11 bloggers, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
  6. Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.