On the day that I received my first acceptance letter to a PhD program, I cried. At last, my dream would be coming true. When I was just twelve years old, I set the goal of earning a doctorate in English. What does a twelve year old know about graduate school? Not much actually. But I knew that I was completely in love with language: poetry, stories, reading, writing, and talking about words. My seventh grade English teacher inspired me with her expressive readings and her praise of my own writing. I knew that I wanted to spend my life helping others to love language as much as Mrs. Keller and I did. But I also knew that the kids made fun of my dear teacher. They mocked her enthusiasm for her work. I knew that I wanted no part of the jr./sr. high scene. The answer was college. I would become a college professor where no one made fun of the teachers.
Once I got to college, I was not disappointed. My small liberal arts school confirmed everything that I imagined “college” to mean. It even had old, ivy covered brick buildings. I loved my English courses, adored my professors, and pushed along toward my goal. I even joked with one seasoned teacher saying “I want your job!”
I did go to graduate school after college. I went straight into an MFA program in creative writing at a highly competitive program. I learned a lot. Most of all, I learned that I DO love teaching. While working on the MFA, I had a teaching fellowship (free school!), and I loved teaching Composition. So, during the last year of my master’s degree, I applied to PhD programs in Composition (housed in English Departments). I also applied to an Education program at the school where my husband would ultimately attend. I knew it wasn’t a perfect fit, but I thought I could make it work. Silly, I know. I enjoyed my courses very much, but I never quite fit with my peers. I told my story over and over…to fellow students, to professors, even to a couple of administrators. No one seemed to know what to do with me.
In the middle of it all, I became a mother, and my priorities completely changed. I still liked my work, but I didn’t carry the same sense of ambition or the competitive nature that is so important in academia. I liked the idea of finishing the degree, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about getting a job after graduation. I wanted to nurture a home and family, not just watch my kids grow up but really be a part of that learning and growing process. After the completion of my course work and the arrival of son #2, I took a leave-of-absence. I needed to sort out all of these conflicting ideas. Since January 2009 (the start of my leave), I have been hunting inside myself and waiting for God to leave a hint for me. Finally, in the last few weeks, I decided that I was ready to return to school, and I hoped that the uncertainties would work themselves out. I believe I could have made it work with the support of my parents, my in-laws, and of course, my husband.
Yesterday, I met with my advisor with the purpose of enrolling for the summer term. We had a long conversation which basically entailed my advisor saying exactly what I’ve suspect for the last six years: a PhD in Education is not going to get me the kind of job I want. Professors in Education teach future teachers–Education majors–how to be teachers. They typically have years of teaching experience in primary and secondary school. I have about eight years of teaching experience at the college level and no teacher certification at all.
Now I see. The acceptance letter to this program did not represent my dream coming true; it was an edited version of my dream. Not the real thing. For several years, I have been following a more convenient path in order to spend more time near my husband (not such a bad thing, all in all), but after several conversations with the people who love me and counsel me best, I decided that I must do the thing that will be best for my family (emotionally and financially)—the same thing that will allow me to be more myself and work toward the real long-held, long-loved dream. I will not be returning to this doctoral program.
So, today I begin on a new path. I’m a little sad—like you might feel after a difficult but necessary breakup—but the excitement of this new beginning is starting to sink in. I get to ask wonderful questions like “Who am I now that I’m not a student?”, “What activities were my boys and I missing out on because I was trying to read or research something for school?”, “What will ‘being myself’ feel like when I’m ‘only’ Mommy?”, “What will my ‘office’ look like now?” (so fun to imagine!), “What will my shelves hold?”, “What books will I read?”, and on and on and on.
On May 2nd, my husband reached his goal. He is Dr. Hubby now, and I felt that his graduation was my own victory in a way. I plan to relish “our” accomplishment while happily making tracks on my new path. The photo above is my honey in full graduation regalia, walking hand in hand with our older son after the ceremony. It represents so much of what I truly cherish.