This past Monday (March 13, 2017) I defended my dissertation successfully. My committee unanimously congratulated me and officially called me Dr. Jones for the first time. The moment was a culmination of four years of the most enjoyable hard work I had done in my life, and I could not have done any of it without the amazing support system I have in my life. I am thankful I was surrounded by so many of my loved ones on the day I defended, including my dad, step-mom, in-laws, my principal, my former English Ed professor–Dr. Crovitz, my wife, and maybe most special of all my daughter, Gwen. (There is a great picture of me losing it after my committee congratulated me, and I was holding her later in the post.) My mom lives in another state, so she could not be there for the defense; however, she will be able to attend my graduation in May. All of these individuals made me feel loved and supported throughout my time pursuing this degree. I think it is often true that a family earns a doctorate together. In addition to the love my family showed me, my committee members–Dr. Ritchie (my chair), Dr. Dail, and Dr. Rish–were instrumental in seeing me through the conception of my study to the finish line. Their expertise was paramount in my success, and I am thankful they each believed in the work I was doing. As I returned to work on Tuesday, my colleagues and students all made me feel my accomplishment mattered to them too. Hearing them call me Dr. Jones for the first time was an indescribable feeling. While I do not need anyone to call me Dr. Jones, my fellow teachers and my students using it this week was special. Needless to say, this entire week has been special.
While I still have a swath of revisions to undertake before submitting my final document, the dissertation is essentially done. The feeling this past Monday was surreal and wonderful. Four days later, I am still basking in the accomplishment, but I already have a hunger to do more with the work I started nearly two years ago as I prepared for my study. So while today’s post is a chance for me to announce to the world one more time that I successfully defended, I want to use the rest of the post to provide some insights about myself and education I feel came from my study:
- My passion in education has turned toward relationships–When I first started out designing my study, I was focused on Henry Jenkins’ participatory culture and identity in the English language arts classroom. However, as I started to explore Nel Noddings’ care ethics–a focus on maternal caring in relationships with students and teachers–I realized what I had probably known about myself for a long time. What mattered most to me is the relationships I was attempting to build in my classroom. Remember the old adage, “They don’t care what you know until they know you care.” While a bit cliche, that adage rings true on much deeper levels than a teacher sharing his or her knowledge. I distinctly remember being the impatient teacher. I was a teacher who would snap at a student I felt had not listened to instructions, or I assumed was being lazy. It took a few students anonymously calling me out on my behavior on a survey before I realized I did not like the teacher I was. It did not matter how innovative I was or how knowledgeable I was because some of my students were scared to even ask me a question. I spent the next several years deliberately eliminating my impatience and becoming self-aware of when my biases and assumptions were bubbling up in conversations with students. The result has been much stronger relationships with my students. In fact, when I describe the teacher I once was to my current students, they are often flabbergasted. They can’t imagine me being impatient or unkind toward a student. I would call that a success in my personal pursuit to be the kind of teacher any student would want. That all said, I did not realize the purpose of what I was doing until reading about and better understanding care ethics. When I finished my study, I realized I was most energized by how my participants discussed their relationships with one another and with me as their teacher. As I continue to research and look back on the data I already have, I want to concentrate on relationships and specifically caring and building empathy in the classroom with a very firm focus on preparing teachers to take on care ethics in their own classrooms.
- Adolescents need spaces in our schoolhouses to explore their identities–While I fell in love with exploring and understanding relational dynamics in the classroom, I still felt my inquiry into student identity exploration was important and worth developing. When my participants made zines, especially as I had designed the assignment, they in turn had a genuine opportunity to explore parts of their own identity. It’s important to note that in the case of my study, identity is fluid and can change even over the course of a single conversation. When my students zines focused on an aspect of their identity, I tried to focus on how this aspect of their identity was just one part of a multiplicitous whole. What was implied in the work students did was they shared aspects of their complex identity openly in their zine work. While I did have a few students refuse to make a zine (it’s important to note here these same students did not complete the alternative assignment either), most students engaged in the task and constructed a rich part of their identity. Students constructed identities connected to their gender, age, experiences, religion, ethnicity, and race. They focused on topics ranging from Islamaphobia to racial stereotypes to the benefits of playing tennis to hip-hop to hallway etiquette in high schools. The point here being that by providing my students a space to explore identity they did just that, and through that exploration they shared those identities with their peers and their teacher–many of which would typically go unnoticed or unexamined. How differently do we treat people when we start to know them–know their dreams, concerns, passions, interests? This type of work humanizes us does it not? It reminds us all our identities are valuable, and we are all doing this life thing together.
In a future post, I may get into the weeds a bit more about the two points above, but we’ll see how I decide to disseminate my data and results beyond my dissertation going forward. In the meantime, here is that picture of me losing it that I promised earlier.
Oh, and thank you to any of you who have followed along this journey with me. I felt your support too, even if from afar.