Guest Post: Jaime Bonato, Ph.D.
Why I went for my Ph.D. and what I learned: A classroom teacher’s story
I’ve always loved being a student. Always. I love the schedule, the structure, and the school supplies. I was hired for my first teaching job, a high school math position, before I finished my undergraduate degree and started teaching on an intern credential. After finishing my credential I went straight into a master’s program focusing on Curriculum and Instruction. Teaching was my life. I devoured any professional development I could get my hands on, and I tried any new teaching practice out.
Then my own kids came along, and while I still liked teaching, it wasn’t the center of my world anymore. I moved from being a classroom teacher to a “teacher on special assignment,” providing professional development and support to other math teachers in my school district. This brought new excitement to me, and once again I fell in love with teaching, but this time it was more of the art of teaching rather than the act of teaching. I wanted to know what practices best-supported learning and how to share these practices with other teachers. My new position allowed me to step out of the day to day classroom and the stressors that come with teaching (paperwork, parents, overwhelming workload) to focus strictly on instruction. My position allowed me the privilege of travel and attending conferences, meeting other teacher coaches and instructional “experts.”
I picked up a few evening courses for a university teaching methods classes to intern credential teachers. It was teaching these brand new teachers that I found my passion again. I asked my supervisor at the university how I could eventually take my part-time gig to a full-time position. She said, “you need a doctorate.” My new mission became getting a doctorate.
Finding a doctoral program that fit my lifestyle was tricky. First, I explored the benefits of both the Ed.D. route and the Ph.D. route. I decided on a Ph.D. (this decision is an entire additional blog post!). Once I knew I wanted to go for the Ph.D. I began researching programs. At this time I was a divorced mom with two young children and needed to stay local. I also did not have the financial means to become a full-time student.
Serendipitously, I attended a session at a math teaching conference. The speaker, a professor of math education, inspired me and after the session, I shared with her my educational goals. I thought for sure she would laugh at my impossible dream, but instead, she told me about a program at her college (a university that is across the country from me). It was low residency, I could attend face-to-face summer courses for two weeks and the rest of the work was done remotely. I applied, was accepted, and figured I probably already had at least one committee member for my dissertation, so I committed.
I dove head-on into the program and came away from my first summer residency with fifteen new friends and colleagues, a new sense of drive, and a lot of things to think about. The following school year I re-examined my role as an educator and decided to head back into the classroom as a full-time teacher. Instead of professionally developing other teachers on these great instructional strategies, I was going to put my words into action. Side note: teaching was a lot harder than I remembered, and all the wonderful instructional strategies were not as simple to implement in a classroom with other demands – discipline, paperwork, outside force influencing students social and emotional welfare. Despite these obstacles, my personal teaching practice totally changed. I felt like a first-year teacher again.
I defended my dissertation five months ago and was hooded two months ago. Since then, I have taught more college-level courses to credential students, and have taken on teaching another AP course at my high school. My summer was spent, as usual, preparing for the next school year. I have casually searched job positing for full-time professorships…but, I also am rekindling my love of teaching high school. I wanted to earn my Ph.D. so I could teach at the college level full time and help new teachers develop their craft. However, I think that it actually helped me develop my craft.
Through the process of graduate work, I was forced to examine parts of myself that I had never considered. One of the program requirements was a self-study on my socio-cultural perspective. It was the first time I stopped to analyze my personal history and how it truly impacts my worldview. I learned a ton about the history of schools, the horrible things and the wonderful things that have happened in American education over the past two hundred years. I explored leaders and leadership styles. And, not just leadership in the field of education, but in business, in politics, and in general. I stepped out of my classroom, and out of the district building and saw education as a system. I still believe the most impactful “part” of the system happens in the classroom, but there are so many moving parts that influence what the classroom is. I have a new respect for my colleagues and students, as learners, and as humans.
Some people have asked me what I want to do next, and why I’m still in my classroom. I ask myself these same things. I’m not sure what’s next, or if there is a next, but I would never trade what I learned and experienced in the doctoral program.
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