As I mentioned in my previous post, I had an amazing opportunity to sit down with Michael W. Smith of Temple University during my time at NCTE this past weekend. Dr. Smith was gracious enough to spend about an hour and a half of his time with me on Saturday to take a closer look at my current study, which you can read a little bit about here.
Humorously enough, I wasn’t nervous about sitting down with him until he actually arrived. We exchanged pleasantries, smiles on each of our faces, but that quickly changed once he had sat down. Suddenly those places that like to sweat when you really don’t want them to decided to become hyperactive. Dr. Smith had a look of dismay on his face almost from the outset and began by asking me questions I legitimately didn’t have answers for; what I hadn’t remembered through nervousness and sudden uncertainty was that I hadn’t mentioned that this was a pilot study through experimental apprenticeship–essentially, my study is simply practice. Once I was able to finally voice this and Dr. Smith realized that this wasn’t necessarily my future dissertation, he immediately took on a look of great relief and calm. Looking back on the moment, I have to laugh, but in the moment itself, I was worried I had done something so tragically wrong in my study design that it was unsalvageable. Now that he knew where I was really coming from, our conversation took a terrific turn where he really demonstrated some patience with me considering I am only in my second semester of my course work. He was able to help me understand what real questions I might be able to answer with my study as well as how to code my data for future interpretation. Basically, as he put it, I needed to evaluate my study in a way as to avoid having to apologize for my findings and data. He was certainly critical, but his candid advice has given me a great deal to think about moving forward with the study, including conversations I’ll be having with my professors and mentors through this process, which is of the utmost importance to me. My biggest takeaway from my discussion with him, however, was a new found understanding of the area of research that I’m truly interested in as well as what my professional decisions might be after my program is complete.
Despite the reality check Dr. Smith gave me from his academia point of view, I was re-energized and refocused after my roundtable discussion on Sunday. Strangers who had genuine interest in my study sat with me to hear me talk about it, its pursuits, and initial findings. They asked great follow up questions, and their genuine interest showed me that there are many practitioners who want to see my findings and interpretations. In contrast to my chat with Dr. Smith, this discussion wasn’t nerve-wreaking at all; instead, it was invigorating and gave even more life to my study.
What I think I know now is that I was biting off a lot more than I can quite chew right now, but that by taking such a large bite, I’m setting myself up for greater success in the future. And as luck would have it, my study very well could produce a great article or two despite it not necessarily being dissertation ready. (Who knows–maybe it will be when it’s all said and done!) What I think I know now is how careful a study should be constructed to produce valid data and to help avoid unnecessary ‘victory narratives,’ which I know I’ll struggle to avoid constructing at times. What I think I know now is that there are people in the field, professors and practitioners alike, who find my study valuable, interesting, and worthy of investigation and discussion. What I think I know now is that you cannot allow one great scholar to define the direction you want to take your studies, but that there is wisdom and guidance just the same in his or her words. What I think I know now is that my passion is in empowering students and giving them agency in the language arts classroom. What I think I know now is that I can have a genuine impact in my field while pursuing dreams in my high school classroom and possibly a college classroom one day as well.
What I think I know now is that I’ve chosen the right career, the right program, and have begun to find my voice.