The Importance of Blog Love/Why I Didn’t Get a Ph.D.

kim-kardashian-and-glamour-magazine-galleryFirst of all, thank you to the dozens of people who responded so kindly over the past few days with a wave and “We’re still here”!

And thank you as well for allowing me finally to confirm up there whether my use of ending punctuation in a sentence with quotation marks has been correct all these years. (Pro-tip: If the heart-breaking question, huffy exclamation, or staid statement belongs to you, the writer, put it outside the quotation marks. If it belongs to the speaker, put it within the quotation marks.  To wit:

“I can’t believe Kim Kardashian gave birth in high heels!” Stacey declared.


I can’t believe that I didn’t stab her eyes out with my high heels while she declared that “I can’t believe Kim Kardashian had her baby in high heels”!)

Anyway, thank you.

In the spirit of reconnecting, I also sent a couple of apologetic, inquiring emails off to old blogger friends this past week. I’ll leave them anonymous because I haven’t asked their permission to say anything about them. I was struck, though, by the sadness in both their replies: very glad to hear from me, but both remarking that I was the first blog correspondent to follow up with them in awhile. I suspect, too, that in the habitually isolating profession that is ours, connection becomes all the more treasured.

Oh, friends, readers, countrymen…er…countrypeople: No guilt trip intended. But you have no idea what power you have. Leave those comments. Send those emails. You are being heard. You are missed when you do not.


Part of the adventure this year that kept me off the blog was finally giving a Ph.D. education program a shot.

I applied to six, with the assistance and kindness of more people than I can name. Results: three rejections, two acceptances, and one “You can’t find my transcript? Here’s the email proving I sent you my transcript. You can’t give me a decision right now? Well, we’ve already decided, so… thank you?” Guess we’ll never know about that path less taken. NOT COOL, ROBERT FROST.

The acceptances were generous and wonderful and exciting. My husband and I embarked on weeks of intensive research, involving hours on the Internet and consulting with people in the profession and academia and our financial advisor and climbing high Asian mountains in sandals of yakskin.

I took a day off. We sat in a coffee shop with legal pads. For four hours. During which we asked repeatedly if we were cheating the waitress out of tips and could we have a little more coffee.

In the end, for a gazillion non-John Grisham-like prosaic reasons, we decided against it. And when I say “a gazillion,” I mean “three of the legal pads were labeled  ‘cons'”.  Here’s probably the best summary of it, which I wrote in an email to the professor who advocated for me the most strongly on this adventure:

The bottom line is that even if we stripped back to the barest of bones, even if the miracle of a decently paid church position and professorship occurred within commutable distance of each other (never mind our families), within a slightly-less-than-dysfunctional public school system, in June of the year I graduate– even if that happens, the doctorate would still mean an accrual of heavy debt, and a necessary uprooting, that we would be fighting for the rest of our lives, right when we need most to be stable for our children and other loved ones. We have more commitments on that front than are typical. So it sucks, and I’m just heartbroken. But I am also at peace. If that makes any sense.

A few weeks later, the Chronicle of Higher Education printed this article, which sounds exactly like they bugged our coffee shop booth~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

grumpy catI write this not only to explain some of my silence this year, but also to mourn a bit.  On this blog, going on almost five years ago, I recognized the dead end uselessness of getting a Ph.D. with the intent of remaining a classroom educator. In the intervening time, we continue to think that firing teachers is a viable alternative to providing sustainable and differentiated career advancement, and instead of celebrating and nurturing the kickass teachers we have, we use completely inaccurate data to pick on teacher preparation programs, like a schoolroom bully who can’t spell.

In otherwords: nothing has changed.

So it sucks, and I’m heartbroken. And about this aspect of my decision, I am not at peace. Don’t think I ever will be.

I’d love to hear your stories about Ph.D. work or professional advancement, and/or the lack thereof.  I will run them past some folks I know at the amazing Center for Teacher Quality who are working hard to change this, and get some feedback for you.

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Blog Love/Why I Didn’t Get a Ph.D.

  1. I got a “back in action” email from you which delighted me no end. So great to have your writing back in our lives.

    I am sorry for the loss of this particular dream. You’ll still pursue the things that dream represented, right? Engagement, knowledge, contributions to the profession, et cetera?

  2. Thanks, Chris. 🙂

    I hope I don’t sound too whiny about the path I chose. #firstworldproblems . I am really at peace. But holy crow. Until the profession actually catches up with the basics of being professional, let alone treating folks with doctorates wisely, all the Common Core in the world isn’t going to help.

  3. When I was searching for a doc program, most of them (in my area, anyway) required full-time student status so I would have to quit my job and work for peanuts in order to earn the degree. Our household income would effectively halve if that happened, so it wasn’t even an option.

    Luckily I found a program that allowed me to balance both work and school commitments, but the outcome ostensibly involves my taking an administrative job, which would include a pay bump. I also worked a second job for two years prior to starting and socked away enough cash to pay for the first year’s tuition outright and only have to take student loans for two years instead of three.

    You’re right; there’s very little incentive aside from intrinsic desire (which, unfortunately, doesn’t pay mortgages) for a classroom teacher to earn a doctorate. If you’re lucky you might bump a column or two to the right on your pay scale, but that will rarely, if ever, be enough to offset the cost of a degree that will cost – at barest minimum – $35-40K in tuition alone.

  4. This post certainly brought some emotions back to the surface for me. When my oldest child was 1 year old I started a doctoral program in education. I was at a school that was not satisfying to me and I needed something to stimulate me so I started on weekends and evenings. Two years later, I took a year off of teaching, became a full-time student to finish classes, landed a GA position and refinanced out house to put some $$$ in our pockets. The classwork and being a student again were very fulfilling. What stood out the most about the experience is that I realized I still had quite a bit in the tank as a high school classroom teacher, I just needed a new school. We relocated and I conducted my dissertation research after writing three of my chapters and passing my qualifying exams. Then I blundered on IRB paperwork and had to ditch my research. Time, distance, frustration, and costs sapped my momentum and I never finished. I look back with some financial regrets, but I have no regrets about immersing myself in school again. I knew I would never see financial compensation that matched my lost wages – tuition was not a big deal since I went to a state school – but that was not my motivation. With the proliferation of online course options I would encourage you to at least dabble in that. If you have an itch to learn again in a structured environment, it might be worth it.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story, Jim. It means a lot. I recognize quite a bit of my thinking in your own.

    Money is not either the most practical or culturally acceptable reason to do Ph.D work, I’ve found. I don’t know if that reasoning works in reverse; but it was my experience, having now spent the first half of my career being underpaid as a teacher married to a minister who is also underpaid, that when you’re already behind the eight ball, making another decision to go further into debt simply isn’t wise. If it was just me in a wood-heated cabin drinking rainwater, that would be one thing. But what right have I to put in jeopardy the college experience of my children, for example, based upon the advantages I now own due to (wait for it) having a college experience? So you see.

    You are absolutely right in that the key question is now “How can I play with smart people?” And perhaps this should be my next Tweet. 🙂

  6. It’s funny you should write this now. I started a phd program a few years ago, but got pregnant. When I realized that I could only do two of three important things in my life: raise a child, teach, and go to school, I decided to give up going to school. A few years later I’ve regretted that decision and am now reapplying to phd programs. I’m spending my summer re-studying for the GRE since mine is now long expired. I’m crying my way through horrid math formulas I haven’t seen in 15 years wondering what I’m doing. Why wasn’t I ready to leave the classroom when I dropped out of my phd program 2 years ago? Will I be ready now? Part of the decision to go back is that I’ve run into many other jobs that “just being a teacher” doesn’t qualify me for, but being a phd candidate/dr of education will. Even if I don’t want to be a professor the phd opens more doors.
    But one of the most frustrating aspects I found within my original phd program was that it felt very “anti-teacher”. Few people were actual classroom teachers, or ever had taught. The fact that I currently taught was odd to most of my professors and classmates. It wasn’t set up for educators, but for those in the education field. I won’t go back to that program, but I am concerned that many phd programs are similar. If those studying our field don’t respect us, how will anyone else respect us?

  7. You’ll want to hook up with The Center for Teaching Quality, Ann– there’s some like-minded people there about re-professionalizing the field. What programs are you looking at? (And yes, those math formulas are horrible.)

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