Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Doctorate--Part Two

I thought I was getting the degree to make myself more employable, period; but the degree itself was the least I got out of the doctorate. Even the jobs which inevitably ensued from acquiring it paled beside the real effects of what eventually came of actually doing it. It was a period of rejuvenation for me. I would go to school tired to death from teaching and housework and come home hours later completely refreshed and ready to change the world with new ideas. And I think this was because I was so happy that my "invisible" experience teaching was finally becoming visible to everybody.

The graduate-level courses I was taking did not phase me in the least because there was little I didn't already know about education, either in practice or theory. And this was specifically because, beginning with Donna and Erika in Duxbury way back in 1979, and continuing with their little brothers and sisters in Fryeburg and Monroe through 1989, I had been annually teaching, developing curricula, researching resources, administering assessments, and evaluating programs quarterly in an on-going process (grades one through eight) for eight years straight, topping it off with two more years in Islesboro in the public school system (grades seven through twelve). It was as though I had been in hard training for this particular doctoral-level degree for a decade and now I could finally just sit there and take it all in--and then take it to a higher level still.

Few realize what goes into implementing a home education program, but the superintendents who supervised my programs certainly did. It may as well as not have existed at all for purposes of finding teaching jobs; no more than raising nine children over a period of forty-two years qualifies you for credit in Child Development courses, or running a household for almost half a century earns any practicum credit in a Home Economics degree whatsoever. And this was a pity, because home education at my house went on all year long, day after day, with no breaks for holidays and summer vacation. But academia has its own milestones to pass, and schools hire (and states certify) teachers who have passed courses in college, not teachers who have mastered the same skills doing the same thing at home. I had, by 1976, two degrees in English, a minor in history, and was certified to teach science, history, and English in the secondary schools; in addition, I had had three years teaching in college (1969-1972). Yet I had little chance of being hired because I had "no experience" --teaching at home did not count, and my college-teaching experience was seventeen years old. To make it worse, one superintendent told me he had decided he couldn't even hire me as a substitute, because this would interfere with my home education program, wouldn't it? It had been very discouraging to me to realize that the very practice which was giving my children (to my mind) a superior education was the very thing which was preventing me from finding work to support them.....

Now all of that was changed. I was back in the system--"visible" again, so to speak--going to school with the well-defined objective of making myself employable again. What I didn't realize when I began was that the home education experience my children would be having while I got the doctorate would be greatly enhanced by it--and it by them.

I had always found raising children and attending college highly compatible, complementary activities. It didn't matter what I studied, I could always relate what I was learning to something about my children. Once, studying for my B.A, degree in Portland in 1968 (at what was to become USM), I used Evie and Rachael as case studies in an undergraduate course in philosophy I was taking. For example, I could see that Evie's dialogues (aged five) at home with me and her sister were those of a Continental Rationalist, and Rachael's (aged three) those of a British Empiricist. Accordingly I inserted pieces of our dialogues with each other into my term paper to make my points. To my surprise and delight, the professor got it!....and I got an A.

Now, twenty-one years later, I again found my children perfect case studies for my courses! I got permission from the professor to study my own children's use of The Writing Process as a formal class in my home education writing class. My five children (Margaret, Andrea, Johnny, Joey, and Stevie) ranged in age from three up to thirteen; they, and I with them, sat around the kitchen table and wrote.

From a board at the University of Maine I copied the three questions we used to critique what we wrote. These were: " What did you like best about it? What part didn't you understand? What would you like to hear more about?" Was Margaret (only three at the time) included? She was the best part! Unable to read or write, Margaret scribbled out her entire stories and then read them back to us each time it was her turn (usually a continuation of the story about a little girl in a bear's cave--we all loved her stories!) Then, just like the rest of us, she would ask everyone at the table in turn the three questions (" What did you like best about it? What part didn't you understand? What would you like to hear more about?") and get feedback. We evaluated each other's work and built up portfolios which in turn were turned in by me to the professor at semester's end.

The real result was not, of course, just the A I received for the course (the children cheered), but substantial practice for my children (my students) in writing and critiquing of writing, as a community of writers within a family of writers, practice which continued in this form for the next ten years (until 1998) as long as I had anyone home to teach. I could, at this point, relate multiple long term results of those five years of my life and its effect upon my children and their respective educations. But since we have glimpsed that of Margaret at three, it might be instructive to glimpse her resume at twenty-two, and use her example as representative of the rest. Leaving much out, it includes not only a B.A. in English from UNH, (3.6 GPA in the major), but also the fact that she is an unpaid senior online editor of, author of numerous fanfiction stories online, even more offline, has worked in her university's Writing Center assisting other students with their writing assignments, and has had an editorial internship with Heinemann. As far as I know, she's written something every day since she was three, which is for the non-math people among you, no less than 6,935 days of writing. I repeat, the example of Margaret's growth as a writer is just one among many lasting, long-term results of that period of time when I worked (I thought) for a degree merely in order to become employable again.

It is hard to separate the mother student from the mother teacher in my mind. I am sure I was a better mother as well, because I was both a student and a teacher myself during those five years. Often it seems to me that the by-product of something one undertakes in life both outlasts and outbests the original undertaking's most treasured purpose by far--and that's the part (most mysteriously) which had not been planned for at all!

No comments:

Post a Comment